Has Bo Burnham made the funniest movie of the year, or the most unsettling? Yes.
Quality of subject's comedy: 5
Extent of subject's mental health crisis: 5
Discomfort at one's own laughter: 5
If you asked Greg who he trusts more: me, his ever-adoring wife or review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, he wouldn't hesitate for a moment. So, I'm not sure why I was mildly offended when I suggested we watch Bo Burnham Inside and he texted back some time later "Bo Burnham has 100 per cent on rt but more importantly 98 per cent on the much tougher metacritic" - he cross-checked my recommendation twice before agreeing to watch it.
I wasn't familiar with Bo Burnham, one of the first wave of YouTubers who started performing his comedy songs at 16 years of age, but had heard some buzz about this special that he filmed during his year in lockdown. It's possibly the most 2020 content you'll ever see. It's written, directed, filmed, edited and performed by Burnham himself - it simply wouldn't have happened outside of the events of last year.
What Burnham manages to achieve not just with the often hilarious and always thought-provoking songs but visually with lighting and composition, is remarkable. You'd imagine 87 minutes filmed entirely inside a pokey room would be aesthetically dull but Burnham uses clever visual tricks like wearing a headlamp that he strategically shines at a disco ball or projecting a video of himself talking on to his own white T-shirt while he sits, looking pensive.
The special isn't just parody songs and cool lighting tricks though, it's quite a serious study of a man struggling severely with depression during a year-long period of isolation. He's self-reflexive and you could probably develop a pretty effective drinking game based on the number of times he mentions being white, male and privileged. It has come under scrutiny by some for being too self-involved but that seems to me to be the point. The man had a year to quite literally gaze at his own navel and it drove him to the brink of suicide.
Since watching the special, the songs have been released on Spotify and they hold up as genuinely good songs. Burnham may have been in mental and emotional turmoil but he was also incredibly creatively inspired. He's a legitimately talented pianist and songwriter, and the songs are brilliant laugh-out-loud observations about life as a millennial. I can't look at Instagram now without hearing the lyrics to White Woman's Instagram in my head and will never feel subpar again without singing "Ladies, (yeah) do you feel like s***? Tell me do you feel like s***? (oh yeah)." Burnham has created an hilarious soundtrack for our darkest moments which, if nothing else, has to make us feel less alone. Don't trust my opinion though, Greg certainly doesn't.
On Friday morning, Zanna sent me a text reading: "We should watch Bo Burnham Inside for Friday night date night."
I had never heard of Bo Burnham or whatever Bo Burnham Inside was. It sounded to me like a stand-up comedy special, which is unsuitable for a date night, or ideally any night. But if I know one thing about Zanna, it's that she's very attractive, so instead of writing, "No way, idiot" I wrote, "I'm going to need more info."
She replied: "Comedian/director who's made a special of his year in quarantine - much of it in song."
That summary sounded very bad indeed, but if I know one thing about Zanna, she doesn't have a lot of spare time to be dealing with requests for more info, so I opened Rotten Tomatoes and discovered Bo Burnham: Inside had a 100 per cent fresh rating, and 98 on the much harsher Metacritic. These are unprecedented numbers for a comedy special and if I know one thing about myself, it's that I'm highly susceptible to unprecedented numbers on review aggregation sites. I was in.
With respect to Zanna, describing Bo Burnham: Inside as "a special of his year in quarantine - much of it in song" fails to capture even a single bit of its extraordinary power. I like a comedic song as much as the next person, but not since Flight of the Conchords has a musical comedic act delivered such a pure stream of laughter, and never has such a pure stream of laughter crashed so painfully and directly into a mental health crisis. It will make you entirely reconsider the act of laughter.
The next morning, I texted a friend: "Please watch Bo Burnham: Inside. Laugh, yes, but also think, and finally think about laughing about thinking. A template for living but more than that and ultimately less than that, but in a good way."
That text was less than meaningful, and only partially accurate, but it's not easy to convey the sheer psychological thickness of this film. I think I intended the text to be funny, but the concept of funny had just shifted and I wasn't entirely sure where it had gone.
As someone who has had his own mental health crisis, I understand how difficult it can be, when in its midst, to even make meaningful sounds. Bo Burnham, in the midst of a mental health crisis, has made a truly great work of art.
Bo Burnham: Inside is now streaming on Netflix.