Inside Discusses Serious Topics Through Comedic Lense


(Image from Netflix)

Zach Kwon

Inside, a 2021 comedy special created by American comedian and musician Bo Burnham, explores mental health, performing arts, and more through a series of varying mediums.

Inside premiered on Netflix May 30, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entirety of Inside was filmed in one room, with no crew or audience. Additionally, Burnham is the only person to appear throughout all of the hour-and-a-half-long film. Inside has received critical acclaim for its self-aware humor, music, cinematography, and presentation of daily life, winning three Emmy awards and being nominated for four.

Burnham addresses viewers periodically throughout the film, updating them on his experience while filming. In no particular order, he performs various songs, stand-up comedy bits, and more. Notable examples of such bits include a song about Jeff Bezos, a video game streamer parody, a rant about worker exploitation, an anti-suicide lecture, a song warning the viewer of the pits of the internet, and a “thank you” message, where Burnham superficially thanks the viewer for watching the special, all whilst brandishing a knife.

Throughout the special, Burnham speaks directly to the viewer and discusses a range of miscellaneous topics. He does this through a variety of mediums, ranging from music to stand-up comedy. Burnham confesses to the viewer in his previous special Make Happy (2016) that the reason he stepped away from live comedy was due to panic attacks he had while performing.

The topics Burnham discusses range from a lighthearted song of him poking fun at white womens’ Instagram feeds, to an ironically upbeat song detailing a mental breakdown. The special also includes some more mature subjects. Burnham discusses include his suicidal tendencies, deteriorating mental health, and his shame regarding his past comedy. Regardless of the seriousness of these themes, Burnham keeps the viewer engaged through his fast-paced transitions between bits, never allowing the viewer to sit on one subject for too long. 

A notable part of Inside was its quality. Although Inside is the result of one person with their camera in a single room, its lighting, cinematography, and vivid shots looked as though they are produced by an entire camera crew. Burnham makes a point of showing the length and hard work of production to viewers—he never shaved or cut his hair during the filming process, so his hair and beard grew progressively unkempt. Burnham also intentionally includes snippets of production in the final cut, such as him setting up his equipment. 

Inside’s technical feats aren’t the only thing of notice. The content of the special itself is what makes the show special. Unlike Burnham’s previous works, Inside is not explicitly a comedy. In fact, Burnham discusses very depressing themes, giving commentary through his comedy. 

Inside balances witty, funny, deadpan, serious, and somber simultaneously. Although some may be off-put by the serious subjects Burnham discusses, especially content that contrasts with Burnham’s traditional comedy, Inside truly is a unique combination of art, music, theatre, and documentary. Its brilliant lighting effects and skilled framing wrap it together, making it a Netflix original that everyone should see.