What Bo Burnham’s INSIDE Says About Productivity During Quarantine

8 Min Read

O P I N I O N 

Koushin Unber

Look, I made you some content. Daddy made you your favourite, open wide.

I had never clicked on the play button on Netflix faster, and as I sat through 90 minutes of what felt like one of those soul-bond sessions from Rick and Morty (but this time with Bo himself and not a dragon), I realised that this special was going to stay with me forever.

The internet’s favourite sad-boy-turned-comedian Bo Burnham has recently rose from the ashes with a virtuosic solo venture that was INSIDE, after having taken a 5 year-long break from live performances due to his dwindling mental health and having panic attacks on-stage. Stripped of its nuances, INSIDE is a compilation of songs, monologues and bits satirising different aspects of our zeitgeist, most of which centre around online personas such as Jeff Bezos, twitch streamers, brand consultants, unpaid interns, and White women on Instagram. The entirety of it takes place inside of one single room, and its shot, directed, edited, and coordinated — all by himself as a one-man crew.

The cinematic ranges from being sweepingly vibrant during songs such as Problematic and Welcome to the Internet (as per his use of RGB light strips, disco balls, and projections of colourful graphics) to being claustrophobically intimate during other songs, such as All Eyes on Me – a cacophony of melancholy and exuberance.

What makes the special harrowing to watch is the bits he films before and after every comical serenade, oftentimes of himself speaking into the camera, or just him sitting in the centre of the room, utterly anguished. We get to see him set up his sofa bed after a day’s work of filming and editing, having cereal in the morning, and testing out different lights and projections — an immersive experience for the audience where we don’t just swallow the content churned out for us but witness first-hand what the job of a quality content creator looks like.

Calling this a ‘comedy special’, however, would undermine the sheer amount of anguish we see Burnham go through while trying to finish the project. He had set out on this creative venture with a deadline of 6 months in mind but it took him over a year to finish the entire thing. We get a disclaimer at the beginning where Bo films himself speaking to the mirror and hear him say, “I hope this special can do for you what it did for me, which is to distract me from wanting to put a bullet into my head with a gun.

The reason why that single line can change the way you perceive the remaining length of the show is because it reminds us that every time we watch him sing or dance, we watch his eternal struggle to escape the realities of his environment, which is, for most of us, being locked inside of our homes and not having a busy routine to stop us from being alone and having to hear all of what our brain feeds us.

Numerous movies and series have attempted to capture the trials and tribulations of the year 2020 (such as Death to 2020), but INSIDE is still a match yet to be met by any of them. It’s the first movie that offers a first-person perspective. We see ourselves in Bo. We see our beards getting longer, our hair getting more unmanageable, and struggling to keep up with the facile tasks of everyday life that we would have breezed through otherwise. Burnham defies the oncoming wave of lethargy that the coronavirus pandemic brought upon our lives and uses the entirety of his year to produce content, even though we spot him doubting himself and what he’s doing for the world to be insignificant during his song Comedy where he sings about being afraid that his comedy won’t have any lasting effect on the world.

The Indescribable Need Produce, Not Just Consume

The reason why you’re getting to read this article right now is not only because of my perpetual fascination for Bo’s work, but because of my addiction to continually producing works of art for without them I am, according to myself, a massive incompetent waste of space, which is a shared feeling but a queer one. The pressure to produce and pump out work and create self-imposed deadlines is very common. 

Exacerbated by lockdowns, the need to create and be productive has risen amongst a lot of individuals who have fallen head-first into ‘hustle culture’ and feel worthless without putting in hours of work into their ideas and projects. Taking time off from your day to relax or indulge in a new show gets you riddled with guilt and anxiety. “We do not need to prove to anyone that we have outworked the virus. It is okay to pause for a bit and reflect on things. We are in a pandemic,” says an article from TDA to productivity fanatics.

Burnham, through this 90-minute cinematic special, reaches the zenith of lockdown productivity, but is that sort of talent and hardwork really something to covet? The theme of suicide remains ubiquitous throughout the cinematic, and his mental health spirals downward as we progress through the minutes, so much so that he has to deems it necessary to insert an explicit disclaimer to tell the viewers that if we’re contemplating suicide “just don’t”. Levels of fecundity such as Bo’s are admirable for sure, but attempting to make something out of everything that your brain can think of will take a toll on your mental health. 

Because the special is filmed by one person in a single room with a very achievable budget, it seems like a very doable task to most viewers, when in actuality it was a daunting task that requires 12 months of devotion to finish. So if you’re anything like me and you think that you absolutely HAVE to create your magnum opus during the neverending hours of lockdown, just don’t.


Koushin is a certified bruh girl with the emotional capacity of a brick. Rattle on about schools of philosophy or film theory to her at [email protected] 

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