bo burnham’s INSIDE is next level

Fresh off a viewing and I cracked genuine smiles throughout the special, something I haven’t done in a long time.

I’ve been a fan of Bo’s work since stumbling across his Youtube backlog of cheeky bedroom ballads during my high school years. Songs like “New Math” and “i’m bo yo” were mathematical earworms that kept me company on repeat as I dozed off to sleep during those lonesome teenage nights. I had the tracklist off his album “Words Words Words” nearly memorized. His lyrics were savvy, suggestive yet with an innocence about them. That of a sweet, sensitive dork too knowing for his own good. I felt simpatico but nowhere nearly as sharp. Of course, teenage Bo’s talent was so promising that he always seemed a precursor to a future, most actualized version of his persona; the one that could comprise a body of work condensed into a Mark Twain prize video package.

Despite critical and fan praise during further ventures into live stand-up from what. through to Make Happy, his act became redundant. What began as the musings of a clever and sometimes soulful teenager came off smarmy as Bo aged deeper into his twenties. Too old, I thought, to linger in this cycle of righteous-cynical-self-deflating without coming across sophomoric. Songs like “From God’s Perspective” and “Kill Yourself” had straightforward premises with fairly marginal subversions to them. And a moment like his now iconic Kanye rant at the end of Make Happy was only almost convincing for me. I couldn’t reconcile the provocative and playful with his earnestness. His schtick came off discordant.

I maintained faith in the guy through his thoughtful interviews over the years. In his second appearance on Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast, a then 22 year-old Bo articulated what sounded like an intuited conception of determinism (without seeming to be aware of the theory by name). His third appearance three years later offered a refreshing take on late night talk shows that seemed unutterable in 2016: “We’re at a state now where the press tours are more memorable than the movies.”

Then came 2018's Eighth Grade, whose arrival was out of left field enough to make me reconsider his entire body of work. Bo’s debut film was so deeply empathetic, those high-minded parts of his act appeared valid in retrospect. All that taking the piss out of himself he would do on stage culminated in a movie that was essentially about the anxiety of operating on those layers of self-awareness all the time. It drew a compassionate and angst-ridden 90 minute film deconstruction out from “I’ve got lots of shit to say” at the end of Make Happy. Eighth Grade demonstrated an admirable interpretation of masculinity in how Bo harnessed his tendency for self-reigning, a vital practice in enlightened manhood, to let a thirteen year-old girl do the talking. And it’s worth noting that Bo’s back-pocket quotes for the press tour were delightful: “‘Do you like tacos?’ ‘Hard shell or soft?’ and I went, ‘You got the part!’”

Bo’s style is awfully precise. He scripted every “um” and “like” Eighth Grade’s Kayla uttered, as tightly as he composed the stage maneuvers and voiceovers in his specials. Kayla’s stilted out-loud thoughts are brimming with truth and vulnerability in their contrivance, not unlike that of a Bo Burnham set. In Bo’s latest special, his stream-of-consciousness progression is served up through neat and tidy comedy set pieces. Nowhere is order to chaos more beautifully finessed than in Inside.

Here we have Black Mirror mindfuckery. Armchair philosophizing in the vein of Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy. And Mr. Robot-style angry young man reckoning. Of course, he’ll be the first to call himself out: “And there’s only one thing that I can do about it / While being paid / And being the center of attention.” Bo is here to remind the over-informed and under-socialized that they are not crazy for all that they feel in reaction to the world’s ills.

It’s crazy how much Inside just works.

Every quip he puts out can’t help but account for all it implies. It’s like he’s pulled the audience through every gradation of self-referential in order to earn sincerity on the other side. His bullshit detector is calibrated ever so effectively here. His development into a genuinely piercing 30 year old surveyor of the cultural zeitgeist in Inside is truly heartening to witness.

Bo is the real deal. He’s cemented himself as a generational talent. A genuine humorist. Someone who sees the Matrix and dances in its provocation to free us all. I can’t wait to further track his development as an artist during an uncertain age under what can most awkwardly be considered Biden’s America. He’s only ever impressed me with the astute, well-intentioned insights in his interviews.

Bo’s seriously won me over with his depth, his perspective, his good taste and pulse on the culture. He’s earned whatever course of action he wants to take his career, recluse or not.

from May 31, 2021

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