This author was lucky enough to get to see Bo Burnham introduce the Scottish Premiere for his first feature Eighth Grade At the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival. As an usher escorted this viewer to his wheelchair space his question was “big Bo Burnham fan.” Huge One of my favourite Moments at any screening occurred when Burnham introduced his film by asking the Scottish audience what’s the age equivalent for Eighth Grade was in Scotland (13-14.) There was a Q & A afterwards. Burnham spoke with great passion about his work and the experience and themes within the film. He was not averse to engaging in some on the spot banter with the audience. This writer got to see one of his media creation heroes in the flesh. Knowing that he was still the insanely sharp-minded writer and comedian that had captured early YouTubes attention 13 years earlier was very reassuring. After the screening thus huge fan spoke to two people. These were the sort of attendee to book all of this festival Q & As regardless of the film featured. They had not heard of Burnham before but were massively impressed with the film and Q &A. It’s always fun to watch new fans created.
2016s Make Happy special was his effective retirement from live comedy at the time. It would be very easy for Burnham to become even more uncomfortable with the size of his audience and how many people he inspired in the general musical/comedy creation space. It wasn’t like he was tired from the media industry is altogether. Beyond Eighth Grade, he had roles in Promising Young Women and The Big Sick. He’s still on board to write the songs for the new Sesame Street film (which makes an obscene amount of sense even with the R rated nature of most of his material.) Nevertheless, after a five-year gap here comes 87 minutes of new material shot entirely independently in lockdown over the past year.
In a way, there’s nothing to be said about “Inside” that hasn’t already been covered 10 times over. It’s a spectacular piece of work. A virtuoso one-man performance art piece that shows Burnham skill at anything he turns his hand to. This writer did want to address one thing regarding the special. The idea that this “isn’t funny.” Going back to his earliest more shock humour centric YouTube videos Burnham has always been an insanely clever writer. From “what” onwards he has been more focused on infusing potentially complex socio-political commentary into digestible audience cottages with catchy tunes and the same clever lyricism that’s always been there. If he had stayed a pure shock value act content creator he might still have something of an audience. The Lonely Island is still around and has developed a potent cult fanbase. it’s the strengths of the other elements beyond comedy in the writing and performance that makes Burnham work resonate with such a large audience. The kind of thing that YouTube and Reddit based analysis over-thinkers will run into the ground. The blend of sincerity, Commentary and humour when it’s executed this well held some much broader appeal. From this special alone the visual and musical composition of both White Woman’s Instagram and Welcome to the Internet demonstrate this perfectly. Burnham represents a voice who has had a front seat to the evolution of Internet viral culture. He’s going to use this voice as an effective means for social commentary. This idea is expanded onto the broader cultural landscape with skits and songs like How The World Works and Turning 30. The special also effectively captures not only the psychological horror and mental impact that millions have faced due to the pandemic. It also explores how creative-minded people, have borrowed into their art as a means of coping with the pandemic induced outside world. Yet also knowing the content produced may be nothing more than something to feed the ever-hungry internet algorithm. All of this is incredibly sharply delivered by one of the most versatile creatives working today. Sexting is the only song that fits with Burnham’s earliest material but this is fine. The whole piece may is a little bit fragmented at times. The best moments are some of a brilliant creative best work. Burnham the comedian may have taken a back seat to Burnham the social commentator. Underneath all the shock humour this side of him as a writer and performer has been building for at least the last 10 years
The idea that Bo Burnham’s Inside “isn’t funny” is frankly ludicrous. His best material has always been that which fuses social commentary universal themes and clever lyricism into a complete package. The new specialist simply a pandemic induced evolution of his style. Whether or not he decides to do a large scale tour again remains to be seen. His creative power remains firmly intact