Bo Burnham hasn’t released a comedy special since 2016’s Make Happy. Within five years, he directed and wrote a critically acclaimed film (Eighth Grade), acted in several films and directed a couple stand-up specials for Jerrod Carmichael and Chris Rock. Those stand-up specials, also including Make Happy, are the most visually striking I’ve ever seen. Inside fits alongside those specials visually, being one the most beautiful and well-shot pieces of art in recent memory, and outside of that, is completely unique and one-of-a-kind.
Looking at the special objectively, it’s hard to even call it a comedy special. It’s more of an abstract art piece that features comedic elements and more songs than you might expect. The entire project was made by Burnham alone in his home in a single room. He handles everything from the cinematography to the editing. Inside is much longer than a typical comedy special, clocking in at around an hour and a half.
Despite that extra length, the special never drags, even with it being much slower paced than his previous specials. He uses this longer run time to explore many topics spanning from the increasingly wide-ranging scope of the internet to Twitch streaming to sexting -- all of which have funny and increasingly meta results. He covers a lot more than I’ll mention here, and it’s all effectively resonant, regardless of if it hits comedically, which often isn’t his goal.
This is why it’s so difficult to call this a comedy special. Burnham seems preoccupied with making his audience think about the content they’re constantly ingesting and to be critical of it instead of just mindlessly consuming. The vast majority of this special is commenting on topics relevant now, all of which are handled poignantly, and in doing so Burnham creates a time capsule into the landscape of the world in the last year.
Making the viewer laugh rarely seems like his primary goal throughout the runtime of this special, particularly in the last fifteen to twenty minutes.
The final portion of this special is all over the place comedically, tonally and emotionally. All of that is by design, he even admits to it in the special. This special, at its core, is a continuous look into Burnham’s diminishing psyche during last year’s lockdown. The production of this special took over a year for him to finish, and by the ending moments you can see both the physical and mental toll the production has taken on him. It’s enthralling and hard to watch at times. This is exacerbated due to how hard it is to tell if these effects are real or just part of the constant act he’s putting up for his audience.
It’s really hard to break down everything that makes this comeback special so great and stand out so much, not just from other comedy specials but from all of his previous work. If you’re a fan of Burnham, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this too, even if it’s not chock full of laugh out loud moments like his previous two or three specials. Every person who watches this will come away with a different interpretation of what exactly it is that they just watched, with it falling somewhere between a strange outlier among his other great specials or the absolute pinnacle of quarantine art. I happen to fall in with the latter opinion.