Bo Burnham: The Importance of Staying Inside


Bo Burnham

Jonathan Lee, Staff Writer

In his most recent Netflix comedy special, Inside, Bo Burnham achieves what no other filmmaker has done before. In the midst of a global pandemic, Burnham had no choice except to create the entire film all within the same room, without the company of an audience or crew, unlike his older specials.

Having started filming Inside in March of 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, Burnham took over a year to finish the special through performing original and satirical songs, as well as clever and comedic skits. 

It seems nearly impossible for a film about a man with nothing but a camera, a piano, and his thoughts to be entertaining. However, Inside is engaging, funny, and enlightening in a way that highlights feelings of anxiety, depression, self-isolation, our strange relationship with the online world, and what it truly feels like to be stuck inside.

These strange and dissociative experiences are difficult to understand, though Burnham is able to truly capture and depict the feeling that is generated from them. By capturing these emotions within his comedy special, Burnham gives the audience the ability to not only understand his fears and anxieties, but to understand theirs as well, making Inside deserving of recognition and to be seen by others. 

“Welcome to the Internet”

Reaching over 94 million views on YouTube and over 2.2 million likes, Burnham’s song, Welcome to the Internet, perfectly encapsulates the experience of what it is like to be within the online world. 

Burnham fills the room with a pale blue light, projecting other tiny green lights slowly spiraling against the walls, creating a hypnotic effect that pulls the viewer in. The song starts at a slow tempo, with Burnham offering the viewer the seemingly harmless idea that whatever they desire can be found on the internet. As the camera slowly zooms in, he attempts to hypnotize the viewer with his promises. Burnham begins the song with:

“Welcome to the internet

Have a look around
Anything that brain of yours can think of can be found
We’ve got mountains of content
Some better, some worse
If none of it’s of interest to you, you’d be the first”

Once Burnham has fully sucked the viewer in, the tempo and zoom become increasingly quicker. Various strange sound effects begin to play, and the lyrics become much more dark and traumatizing by juxtaposing the most innocent parts of the internet with its most disturbing parts.

See a man beheaded
Get offended, see a shrink
Show us pictures of your children
Tell us every thought you think
Start a rumor, buy a broom
Or send a death threat to a boomer
Or DM a girl and groom her
Do a Zoom or find a tumor in your”

Once the song has reached its full speed, Burnham attacks the viewer’s senses by rapidly switching the angle in which the camera lies all whilst zooming uncomfortably close into his face. 

This perfectly simulates the overstimulation that is experienced while on the internet, constantly being barraged by an incomparable number of ideas that become too much to comprehend. As Burnham sings in the chorus, the internet is “Anything and everything, all of the time” with no time to slow down or stop to think.

“All Eyes on Me”
Winning Burnham The Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media, All Eyes on Me contextualizes the true reason for why he has chosen to stay inside and work on his special for so long.

The song introduces Burnham sitting in front of a mirror, attempting to give a monologue. He breaks down saying “I’m not well” and bursts into tears, after having finally collapsed under the weight of his depression and isolation from the outside world. 

As the song starts Burnham recreates the feeling of performing onstage, a feeling that he has familiarized himself with throughout his career. He begins with a monologue stating that he “couldn’t have done this without you guys” and that “I need you to do one more thing for me. Can you do that?” The chorus begins as Burnham sings:

Get your ****ing hands up

Get on out of your seats
All eyes on me, all eyes on me
Get your ****ing hands up

Get on out of your seats
All eyes on me, all eyes on me”

“Are you feeling nervous? Are you having fun?
It’s almost over, it’s just begun
Don’t overthink this, look in my eye
Don’t be scared, don’t be shy
Come on in, the water’s fine”

Having been working on his special for over a year now, Burnham questions whether his audience will find it entertaining or even satisfy himself. With nowhere else to turn, Burnham asks the audience to get their hands up, to ensure that his efforts and has led to something meaningful and impacted his viewers.

Burnham further explains through a monologue in the middle of his song his relationship with live comedy and the anxiety that it brought him. He explains how after finishing his special MAKE HAPPY, he had to quit performing after having multiple panic attacks while on stage. After taking five years off from comedy, Burnham felt that he was finally ready to return in January of 2020. However, as he sings, “the funniest thing happened”.

During COVID, Burnham was forced to endure the question of not only whether or not he will be able to even finish the special, but with the anxiety of releasing Inside for the world to see. This anxiety leads Burnham into a cycle of constant self-evaluation and self-deprecation, spiraling him into a state of depression and loneliness.

Eventually, Burnham’s anxiety becomes too much to bear, and soon he no longer cares about what his audience thinks and simply wants to finish it. After his monologue and a repetition of the chorus, Burnham sings:

You say the ocean’s rising like I give a s***
You say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did
You’re not gonna slow it, heaven knows you tried
Got it? Good, now get inside”

The name of the song; All Eyes on Me, is a commentary on not only publicly performing but also the obligation Burnham has to finish the special. The relationship between Burnham and his audience is often a love-hate relationship, with him needing them to fuel his career while simultaneously being his greatest fear and root of his anxiety. 

All Eyes on Me perfectly ties together, not only the special itself but Burnham’s entire career and relationship with performing. The song makes sense of all the anxiety that Bo faces throughout his many months indoors, and allows Burnham to finally embrace his fate and finish the special. 

“Inside’s Relevance Today”

Although Bo Burnham’s: Inside takes place during both 2020 and 2021, the themes through his special still hold their relevance today. 

Burnham teaches the importance of realizing the internet for what it truly is, and that it can never act as a substitute for genuine human interaction. He shows that the internet moves at too fast of a pace to express the true character of the user, and rather conveys all information into a formless blur of content serving no purpose.

Most notably, Burnham centralizes the feeling of anxiety and how it can plunge us into a further state of isolation and loneliness. As Burnham continued to live with the anxiety of finishing the special, he prolonged the end and isolated himself from the outside world. Though once Bo has reached his lowest point, he comes to the realization that finishing the special is the one thing he must do to improve his mental condition.

Inside completely redefines what a movie can look like, and produces a narrative that has never been done before. Burnham made a movie that takes place in a single room seem cinematic and significant in its many underlying themes. Through his expert use of lighting, cinematography, and satirical songs, Burnham is able to perfectly convey the feeling of being stuck inside with nothing but our brains and our phones, a feeling all of us are far too familiar with.