Bo Burnham’s Netflix special is the best comedy show I never want to see again

I’m a reply guy by trade. I earned my stripes online by taking apart s—ty sports columns, banging out instant counterpoints to takes I deemed to be phony conventional wisdom and angrily tweeting replies to Adam Schefter. What I noticed, far too late, was that my need to reply to EVERYTHING became part of my character, online and off. When I had a conversation with anyone — even my family — I was only listening so that I could form a brilliant reply. When my wife irritated me, I would spend hours sketching out a future argument with her in my head, and then go start that argument. When I watched a movie, I spent more time thinking about what I would f—king tweet about the movie after it was over than actually paying attention to the movie itself. 

All of this is bad, and it’s why I should really keep my mouth shut about “Bo Burnham: Inside.” And yet … here I am. Making content out of my reaction to it like a desperate, needy loser.

“Inside” is Burnham’s latest Netflix special. You might remember Burnham from his excellent work in “Promising Young Woman,” or from his earlier standup. But “Inside” isn’t really a stand-up special. Shot by Burnham himself while in quarantine, it takes apart that format and reworks it into a one-man show.  

If this sounds unappetizing to you, you’re not alone. I myself never trust a comedian who wields a guitar. I am a meat-and-potatoes stand-up consumer. I’m instantly exhausted anytime the Netflix menu says a comedy special is going to last over an hour. I am someone who once convinced himself that “Louie” was a brilliant show when, deep down, I really thought it was a fiesta of incoherent, depressing crap … salvaged only by the actual stand-up parts bookending most episodes. I hate all of the auteur comedy that spawned in the wake of “Louie.” I hate musicals, and “Inside” features more singing than talking. And, most important, I can’t spend one more goddamn second talking about what it MEANS to be online as often as I am, and as often as most people are. That conversation never goes anywhere except back into itself.

A still from the new Netflix comedy special

A still from the new Netflix comedy special “Bo Burnham: Inside.”

Courtesy of Netflix

That was bad news for me, because “Inside” is very much about how the internet, and the world in general, has encouraged everyone to be a reply guy, especially white guys who are needy and bored (check and check). For that purpose, “Inside” is brilliantly written, convincingly performed, and extremely f—king funny in its first half. If you’d like to hear more of that praise, my services aren’t required. You can already find such reviews elsewhere. Many of them. Or you can join the TikTok hive, which has already let out a collective “I felt that” in response to Burnham. All of those raves are justified, and they give you an accurate sense of what Burnham’s special is like. 

But they’re also traps. Because “Inside” is about how Burnham, or at least the character of himself that he’s playing, has been preconditioned by the internet to believe that the outside world is a waste of a time and that living with yourself online — posting s—ty Instagrams and reloading them to see if they’ve been properly appreciated by others — is the only way to live. This is a harmful act of self-delusion and Burnham goes to great lengths to get that across to you, the viewer, passively watching at home. So if your response to that primal scream is not to go out and enjoy a burger with your friends, but to instead go BACK online to eat more of your  own tail, well then you’ve already proven Burnham correct while simultaneously doing the exact thing he doesn’t want you to do. You’re still f—king around in a hall of mirrors, wasting daylight.

And, unfortunately, I’m still right here with you.

If I wanted to issue a contrarian take about “Inside” — and I’m trained like a seal for such thought exercises — I’d point out that Burnham doesn’t actually live alone, and is just cynically exploiting the internet’s love affair with itself. Burnham openly wonders if anyone, anywhere, can ever shut the f—k up anymore. That’s a test no one is willing to pass, and that includes Burnham himself. But if Burnham is operating out of cynicism here, he sure is doing a fantastic job of it. If the man is being disingenuous, he’s sure doing a good job of hiding it, and of peppering some of his opening numbers with brilliant, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway gags.

A still from the new Netflix comedy special

A still from the new Netflix comedy special “Bo Burnham: Inside.”

Courtesy of Netflix

HOWEVER, I will tell you that “Inside” ended up exhausting me in the end. The second half really does fall into the Arty Zone where I admired everything Burnham was saying while also hoping the special would end so that I could just go have a snack. Maybe hang with my dog. My favorite part of that second half was a painfully brief moment where Burnham tells normal jokes about pirate maps. These jokes were deliberately harmless, and yet I latched onto them like they were a f—king lifeboat. As with so many novelty specials, I ended up craving regular stand-up instead of what I was watching. 

Because regular stand-up can be equally deep without any adornment. Dave Chappelle shot arguably his finest moment as a stand-up during the pandemic with “8:46.” And famously clean comic Brian Regan finally made himself vulnerable in his live outdoor special filmed at Red Rocks, where he joked openly — and hilariously — about having OCD. That’s the beauty of stand-up. Most of the time, all you need is a microphone. Best of all, it keeps all the meta to a minimum.

But Burnham couldn’t perform live, due to both the pandemic and his own anxiety, so he tried something more ambitious instead and dialed up the meta to inhuman levels. That’s the point of “Inside,” but ultimately why I also never want to watch it again.  This is a painstakingly crafted treatise on what it’s like to live inside your own mind in an age where millions of outside voices are bombarding that mind endlessly. So I can forgive a lot of its sins, including: 

-The relatively joke-free back half
-The music 
-The fact that everything is shot like a solemn iPhone ad
-The deliberately unkempt apartment
-The flagrant abuse of the camera slowly pulling in and then back out. 

A still from the new Netflix comedy special

A still from the new Netflix comedy special “Bo Burnham: Inside.”

Courtesy of Netflix

But I can’t say I enjoyed all 87 minutes of this project, and I suspect that was by design. Burnham is charming and willingly vulnerable in his attempt to pull off the “Kid A” comedy. But his fatigue in “Inside” ultimately ends up being contagious. You don’t leave this special walking on air. You SPRINT the f—k away from it at full speed.

And if you don’t, then you’re part of the social disease. With “Inside,” Burnham’s exhaustion is the point. Every idea he incepts throughout —“Just don’t burden me with the responsibility of educating you. It’s incredibly exhausting”; “I’m so worried that criticism will be levied against me that I levy it against myself before anyone else can” — is basically a cry for help from Burnham, and not merely for himself. He didn’t go Full Introspective for you to be like, “GO OFF, KING,” after the fact. 

This was a comedy special designed as a warning to you, the online person watching and processing from inside your home. Burnham’s central mission was to make you so aware of your life online that you’re ruined for it after the fact. That was the message. Burnham is a spiritual reply guy like me, and he f—king hates it. 

So if you’re still here, reading this ephemeral reply to what he had to say instead of being ANYWHERE else, that message never got delivered. You can be online still. I sure as hell will be. But you’re exactly as much of a part of this whole thing as you want to be, and the deeper you get in, the harder it gets to pull yourself back out. 

Source link Comedy

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