Before this week I was mostly only aware of Bo Burnham as the writer/director of EIGHTH GRADE and as an actor in 2020’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. He seemed like a young, promising talent to me, and I’d heard he had some comedy background, but I really had no idea that he’d been doing stand-up since he was a teenager. It wasn’t until a friend’s recent social media post about him that I learned that he’d got his start on YouTube and had his first Comedy Central special at age 18. That day I watched Burnham’s 2016 Netflix comedy special MAKE HAPPY and thought “well that was fine, what’s the big deal?”.
So I went back to my friends who were fans to find out why they were all clamoring about him. “He’s just one of those people who always has to be performing“, one close friend said. “He’s willing to try new things, even if they fail. And he learns and tries something else. “ “He’s hilarious, but also depressing,“ said another. And with a brand-spankin' new Netflix special, I figured this was another great opportunity to find out what he was really all about. And WOW, I’m so glad I did.
Burnham wrote, directed, performed, and edited INSIDE throughout the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic within what appears to be a one-room apartment or perhaps just a part of his home that gave him the privacy to create. He’s literally stuck indoors during the stay-at-home orders, but he also uses his signature silly songs and observational comedy to give us viewers a look inside his mind, his emotions, and his creative process. Without the live audience and film crew he’d usually have for a special, he uses only his body, voice, musical talents, lighting, and editing to take us on an emotional journey through the past year of his life. A journey that felt quite familiar to me and probably will to many of you. Most of us were stuck indoors for over a year with nothing but our thoughts to keep us company. And while folks like me binged watched other Netflix shows to get by, Burnham created a funny, sad, and thoughtful piece of art.
Burnham is 100% aware that to some he’s just another cishet white comedian, a dime a dozen in Hollywood. He stands out by using his self-awareness to tell stories that can resonate with anyone. Going back to my friend who told me that Burnham is the type who just “always has to be performing”, he’s upfront with his intentions and grateful that the audience is along for the ride, without ever forcing his style upon anyone. Not for you? That’s fine. But if you’re willing to give it a chance, he’ll absolutely entertain you.
BO BURNHAM: INSIDE and MAKE HAPPY are both streaming on Netflix.