w ^ell, now we know what Bo Burnham did with his lockdown. Inside is his new Netflix special, created alone in his LA home throughout 2020. And it was not – if its narrative, and the evidence of our own eyes, is to be believed – a project casually tossed off to pass the time. It is, rather, a comedy Gesamtkunstwerk, a journey to the nerve-centre of the quarantined entertainer’s mind, a son et lumière Robinson Crusoe musical for the age of not just social but digital isolation. It could be a breakdown – or it could be the pandemic’s wildest gift to comedy.
But is it comedy? Naysayers may complain that, with silences in laughter’s place, bleak jokes, and sections that eschew humour entirely, Inside has little comical about it. But if the material isn’t chucklesome, you’ll laugh with sheer astonishment at the accomplishment of Burnham’s enterprise. This prodigiously talented act has performed an extraordinary feat of construction and production, its restless audio-visual invention drastically expanding lockdown’s dramatic, comic and emotional range.
Inside traces, non-chronologically, a year in Burnham’s life, spent in a small, loft-like room, creating this comedy special to keep despair at bay. It starts optimistic, with a song sending up his white-saviour complex, promising to “heal the world with comedy”. The messianic imagery recurs as Burnham, straggly of beard, flounces around in his pants. There are Lewis Carroll overtones, 也: our host is too big for the door in and out of this looking-glass word, where he turns 30 for our pleasure, debates geopolitics with a sock puppet, 和, at one point, commentates recursively on footage of the previous scene.
Among these shards from a fracturing psyche, there’s social commentary: droll electro-pop about white women’s Instagram pages, Jeff Bezos and the alienation of internet culture. Burnham reflects on his own trajectory, 也, from housebound teen YouTube star to, er, housebound burned-out comedy megastar. “So this is how it ends,” he sings, “I promise never to go out again.” Can he, ever? What would it mean to do so, after all this? This claustrophobic masterpiece will leave you wondering – and reeling.