Get the hell out of my head, Bo Burnham. I’ve been singing your songs from “Inside” since our summer vacation, 11 hours in the car and most of that time listening on repeat to the entire special over and over — thank you, Spotify — a hilarious, draining, outrageous, unsettling, depressing, visionary, apathetically supercharged, and, crazily enough, charming special.
If you haven’t watched “Inside,” then head on over to Netflix where Bo Burnham will stand you on your head. Dozens of astute societal observations about everything, all revealing an apocalyptic, dystopian, unambiguous anxiety so spot on that you can’t help but laugh out loud as you gaze in the mirror and recognize the similarities.
Perhaps it’s because Burnham has tapped into my existential angst with these catchy pop tunes that are so damn sticky. He admits to hating catchy pop tunes and hypocritically employing them in his work, doing what most of us do all the time without realizing it — making and breaking alliances to suit our needs in any given moment.
Burnham is a comedian, writer, musician, actor and filmmaker who rose to fame on Youtube in 2006 at the age of 16 with a video about his whole family believing he was gay.
Imagine having a bazillion followers on your Youtube channel, people lining up to hear what you have to say because they know you’re going to make them laugh and think and maybe even help them work through some things. Imagine all this while you are still in high school and still have acne. Eventually the pressure gets to even the most seasoned hands, but a kid?
Pressure? What pressure?
Burnham didn’t stop there, and in 2018, he recorded a half-hour special with Comedy Central, the youngest person to have that opportunity. Being a teen is a challenging time — all those raging hormones while you employ a new way of seeing the world results in emotional overload — but being a teen during the internet age while the world is your stage could be cataclysmic for even the most mentally prepared adults.
Paradoxically, in 2016 while touring for his comedy special, Make Happy, Burnham began suffering from “crippling anxiety” and took one giant step backward to work on improving his mental health. It took five years, but he felt he’d corralled the monster. As he took his first tentative steps to reenter the world of comedy, the world slapped back with the coronavirus. He laughs about it in All Eyes on Me which is not so much a victory lap around anxiety — a tribute to moving beyond mental incapacitation — but evidence of one way one guy managed it.
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.
You say the ocean’s rising — like I give a shit.
They 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.
Bo Burnham, All Eyes on Me
Lest you think Burnham wasted this time, during the period of self-imposed standup lockdown, you’d be wrong: he wrote and directed, Eighth Grade (2018), which won critical and commercial acclaim, and also starred in a Promising Young Woman (2020).
Back inside, Burnham siloed like the rest of the world, used the time to turn his rants against “systematic oppression, income inequality, the other stuff” into a 1h 27m thesis on the effed-up state of mankind — apparently he’s only able to produce work if it’s significant to him — and produced a sparkling diatribe, cloaked in comedy, of societal ills that are much more digestible coming from him than when reading the New York Times.
“If you wake up in a house that’s full of smoke, don’t panic, call me and I’ll tell you a joke. If you see white men dressed in white cloaks, don’t panic, call me and I’ll tell you a joke. Oh shit, should I be joking at at time like this?” Bo Burnham, Comedy
Burnham wrote, directed, filmed, edited, and starred in this project, all recorded at his guest house in Los Angeles. The special shows his arc from disillusionment to something less edgy and, if not happy, at least more hopeful, the world opening up again, the cloud of mental anxiety lifting, at least for now. There are profound bits of wisdom, frank moments on suicide and mental health, and hilarious ones on corporate exploitation and elitism, on racism, classism, on being unhinged, and how the internet has allowed everyone to have the ability to say “everything and anything, all of the time,” all to catchy pop tunes.
Have a watch. You’ll be tapping your toes all the way to redemption.
pam lazos 10.3.21