A year ago, the greatest comedy special of all time dropped. It’s no exaggeration to say Bo Burnham’s Inside one of the most memorable and impactful pieces of art to come out of the pandemic, somehow managing perfectly to capture the isolation and claustrophobia so many of us felt, while not mentioning the dreaded ‘C’ word at all.
The connection people made to it immediately upon its release was undeniable, and the wave of fan content that has flooded our feeds since has been nothing short of amazing. Bo’s silence over the year since the special has left many unanswered questions, but the hundreds of podcasts, reaction videos and essays about what different aspects of the special meant have dissected it piece by piece.
There are several reasons why so many of us connected to it so strongly. The fear and uncertainty and insanity and boredom of quarantine was an experience shared by people the world over and nothing like we had been through before. Being physically isolated meant we needed to find other, find more creative ways of making that human-to-human connection, and a lot of that was via technology. It’a theme that comes up regularly through the special.
Secondly, I think a lot of people felt under pressure to use the ‘free time’ that was awarded to some of us to start new creative projects or learn new skills, while many of us simply didn’t have the mental capacity to do anything other than try to get through each day. Although Bo did create a modern masterpiece in that time, there were many moments in which he makes it clear that it took a significant toll on his mental health, and that he didn’t always feel able to live up to his expectations (and perhaps the expectations of others). It’s a feeling that many experienced but few expressed. As somebody struggling a lot with my own mental health around the time Inside was released, I felt huge amounts of guilt for ‘wasting’ my time in lockdown by doing nothing other than trying to survive it, with no emotional bandwidth to try to better myself through making art or learning a language.
Describing Inside as a comedy special almost feels like doing it an injustice, because that doesn’t encapsulate what it truly is. While it’s true that — comedically — the first half is nothing short of genius, it takes a turn after the interlude where we start to see Bo’s vulnerability show and catch glimpses of how much isolation (and to some degree his fame in general) have impacted his mental health. He has spoken frequently in the past about how planned and meticulously put together his specials are: “to the word, to the gesture”. It’s impossible for the audience to know if the vulnerable, behind the scenes moments Bo shows us as Inside progresses are truly candid or if Inside is, too, perfectly crafted and intentional from beginning to end.
The new and unexpected video on his YouTube titled The Inside Outtakes is being dubbed by some fans as ‘Inside 1.5’. Much of it feels chaotic and haphazard as we are shown snippets here and there, but it’s undeniable that much of the content truly is behind the scenes. We catch moments where he is talking to himself, workshopping different versions of the final songs under his breath and playing with the lighting. But in addition to the more candid moments, we have been blessed with new songs and skits that didn’t make the final cut.