I have so far watched one of Netflix’s newest comedy specials four times. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that Bo Burnham’s Inside has been playing on my mind to the extent that it has. No, this reveal is not simply an admission of my overwhelming boredom since the conclusion of my exams. It’s not even a straightforward manifestation of my appreciation for a man who has been part of my own realm of pop culture for over a decade now and it’s definitely not just because I quite like the songs.
While these are all relevant to my life more broadly, my fascination with this completely unique “comedy special” is distinct from the entertainment value it provides. I think my continuing interest in this piece of content comes from the perspective that has come with each and every repeat viewing.
Burnham – who most resembles a musical comedian in line with his Youtube roots, except now sporting a ragged and shaggy beard courtesy of lockdown – spent his coronavirus-enforced lockdown filming a one man show, performed and produced entirely by himself, while locked inside his home. Lighting, music, set pieces and every other imaginable element that goes into making a single man in a single room an entertaining and engaging experience was done by Bo himself. In and of itself, as a comedy special, Inside is more than worthy of the massively positive reviews it’s received from people much more qualified than I to grant them.
But without making this article entirely focused on Burnham and his special, I can simply say that the music is fantastic, dark, spacey, razor sharp and far more socially pertinent and engaging than it has a right to be – but the more I was drawn to rewatching the special, the more I realised that the real pieces of interest were the elements that lay in between the large musical set pieces.
I think my continuing interest in this piece of content comes from the perspective that has come with each and every repeat viewing
In between the music we’re shown scenes of what that really means. Not an entirely authentic version of what the darkest days of lockdown were like for people, an impossible task to commit to due to the camera being present, the logistical requirements of filming oneself and the final editorial say on what was included falling on Burnham, but the footage shown is still very raw, vulnerable and powerful. These short, quiet moments show the human instances of profound difficulty that arose during one of the most collectively traumatising experiences anyone reading this will ever experience.
Inside has arrived near to the end of this collective trauma: the sun is out as pubs reopen and friends, families and the most vulnerable are getting vaccinated, and it really feels like the nightmare is nearly over. But yet, in the midst of this hope and excitement, I was drawn to the picture of lockdown that was caught on camera by a man being honest about what he was going through.
Burnham’s special provides an opportunity for us to look back on our own moments of anguish during these past 18 month, providing us the lens of his own struggles to frame the traumatic experience that the world has just experienced and showing us a moment in time that we are all trying to forget.
We haven’t processed what happened to the world. We can’t, it’s not even over yet. While watching a man talk about his mental health hitting an “ATL” (All Time Low) and seeing the light in his eyes desert him, memories of those same moments in my lockdown experience came back to me: memories I feel like I’d repressed.
The hopeful opening, the excitement of lockdown being a chance for a new creative project, the deranged moments of grandiosity because “we are living in a nightmare and it’s best to embrace it”, to the simplicity in viewing a man’s mental health crack, break and deteriorate because his life, like all of ours, was stripped of all joy and mechanisms we use to cope. These intermediary moments between the songs demonstrate this process and with each viewing they helped to unlock the dark memories of those same moments I had experienced during my own lockdown.
Coronavirus has traumatised us all. Traumatised in the truest sense of the word, in that it’s given us all trauma and it’s important to acknowledge that fact. As the world opens up, as parties happen, nights out begin and the pubs reopen their doors, it is important for us all to remember that the legacy of this trauma will extend past the point of vaccinations, NPHET and Stephen Donnelly being a celebrity.
These short, quiet moments show the human instances of profound difficulty that arose during one of the most collectively traumatising experiences anyone reading this will ever experience
This is not to say stay in, say no to the parties and to the fun, lock ourselves away again but rather be mindful that an event like this is significant and the importance of looking out for one another, checking on friends and focusing on our mental health does not end when “normalcy” returns. There is no such thing as the normal that existed before: coronavirus has reshaped the world and there’s no more going back. Bo Burnham’s Inside is like a looking glass back to where we all were mere months ago. It is a document of what being alone and stuck in a space for months will do to someone and it’s possible that this is the shared experience of our lifetime.
So while looking forward to the brighter times is important right now, acknowledging the past is just as important too. Even now, the early issues of post lockdown are coming to the fore, anxiety around socialising, crowds causing panic attacks, feeling uncomfortable in the world outside of your bedroom, there’s plenty more dealing with this experience that is needed and the healing won’t come easy. Coronavirus has left us all scars and it’s only in seeing these fresh wounds showing on someone’s face that it becomes clear that there’s still lots to be done.