Review: Bo Burnham – Inside, Netflix

Review: Bo Burnham – Inside, Netflix

Perhaps you can tell a person by what they did during lockdown. I decanted all of my herbs and spices into matching jars. Bo Burnham made a Netflix special all on his own. Different strokes I guess. You might get more pleasure out of seeing the results of Burnham's labours, alhough I do find my row of cumin, pepper and garlic powder rather satisfying..

The title of Burnham's 90-minute show refers to being inside his apartment but also, perhaps, what it is like to be inside Bo Burnham's mind. From the very start he is wrestling with the world and, in particular, what it means to be a comedian. His first song - the show is predominantly music-based – is about whether he should even be a comedian in these troubled times. What good can comedy do?

With each song the mood varies. Some are silly, some are strange, some are dark, but all are immaculatly constructed. That should not be such a surprise. First he has had plenty of time on his hands, secondly he has always been ferociously talented from his teenage Youtube videos to his breakthrough stage shows over the last decade. 

The music has echoes of Tim Minchin's sophisticated wordplay coupled with Ben Folds' ear for a catchy melody, but it all feels utterly original. The only time it feels less than boxfresh is when it is harking back to previous Burnham work. His (slightly sneery) list-y song about what you might see on a white woman's instagram account has shades of his song about country music tropes on his last Netflix special, Make Happy.

Elsewhere he uses a sock puppet – well, a sock – to great effect to take stock of the advanced capitalism malaise the planet is currently in. The messed up modern world and the tyranny of technology is something of a theme, cropping up in other songs about Facetiming his mother and the insidious nature of branding and advertising. It is playful but with a point. In one riff Burnham comments on his own performance and then comments on his own comments, as if in some kind of multi-mirrored vlogger loop.

In a recent podcast interview James Acaster talked – at first reluctantly - about how there are unconscious similarities between his work and Burnham's work. Once you are aware of the similarities they are hard to avoid. It is not just because they are both tall, thin and messy haired. Both seem to grapple with the pull-push of live performance, wanting the love of an audience but also having mixed feelings about their fans. 

There are stylistic connections too. Inside starts with a scene from the end of a previous set. Acaster's shows have a natural flow from one to the other, picking up where he left off.

Both Acaster and Burnham take on mental health issues in general and their own fragile psyches in particular. I'm not going to come down on any side and say who is best, they are both equally brilliant at confronting the human condition, which is one of the most important things an artist can do. That opening song asks whether one should even be doing comedy at a time like this. I'd suggest comedy is more important than ever right now. Certainly more important than rearranging your spice rack.

Watch Bo Burnham – Inside on Netflx now

Picture: Netflix



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