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Why Bo Burnham’s Inside still resonates so much with young adults

From mental health to being extremely online, Bo Burnham’s Inside spoke to millennials like very few works of art.

A year ago, the greatest comedy special of all time dropped. It’s no exaggeration to say Bo Burnham’s Inside one of the most memorable and impactful pieces of art to come out of the pandemic, somehow managing perfectly to capture the isolation and claustrophobia so many of us felt, while not mentioning the dreaded ‘C’ word at all. 

The connection people made to it immediately upon its release was undeniable, and the wave of fan content that has flooded our feeds since has been nothing short of amazing. Bo’s silence over the year since the special has left many unanswered questions, but the hundreds of podcasts, reaction videos and essays about what different aspects of the special meant have dissected it piece by piece.

There are several reasons why so many of us connected to it so strongly. The fear and uncertainty and insanity and boredom of quarantine was an experience shared by people the world over and nothing like we had been through before. Being physically isolated meant we needed to find other, find more creative ways of making that human-to-human connection, and a lot of that was via technology. It’a theme that comes up regularly through the special. 

Secondly, I think a lot of people felt under pressure to use the ‘free time’ that was awarded to some of us to start new creative projects or learn new skills, while many of us simply didn’t have the mental capacity to do anything other than try to get through each day. Although Bo did create a modern masterpiece in that time, there were many moments in which he makes it clear that it took a significant toll on his mental health, and that he didn’t always feel able to live up to his expectations (and perhaps the expectations of others). It’s a feeling that many experienced but few expressed. As somebody struggling a lot with my own mental health around the time Inside was released, I felt huge amounts of guilt for ‘wasting’ my time in lockdown by doing nothing other than trying to survive it, with no emotional bandwidth to try to better myself through making art or learning a language.

Describing Inside as a comedy special almost feels like doing it an injustice, because that doesn’t encapsulate what it truly is. While it’s true that — comedically — the first half is nothing short of genius, it takes a turn after the interlude where we start to see Bo’s vulnerability show and catch glimpses of how much isolation (and to some degree his fame in general) have impacted his mental health. He has spoken frequently in the past about how planned and meticulously put together his specials are: “to the word, to the gesture”. It’s impossible for the audience to know if the vulnerable, behind the scenes moments Bo shows us as Inside progresses are truly candid or if Inside is, too, perfectly crafted and intentional from beginning to end.

The new and unexpected video on his YouTube titled The Inside Outtakes is being dubbed by some fans as ‘Inside 1.5’. Much of it feels chaotic and haphazard as we are shown snippets here and there, but it’s undeniable that much of the content truly is behind the scenes. We catch moments where he is talking to himself, workshopping different versions of the final songs under his breath and playing with the lighting. But in addition to the more candid moments, we have been blessed with new songs and skits that didn’t make the final cut.

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There have been so many questions around the creation of Inside that fans have tried to answer over the last year, and getting to see some of the creative process that went on behind the scenes is bound to leave people feeling connected to Bo and the special in ways they haven’t before. He has always made it clear that he is a perfectionist and only releases material when he is 100 per cent happy with it, so getting a window into the making of the final piece is something we haven’t seen from Bo before.

Although Inside’s appeal spans a spectrum, it is millennials, those who grew up with and alongside Bo from when he burst onto YouTube in 2006, who have felt a strong connection to it. We entered our teens as social media started taking over the world and many of us have grown up with an audience of some description. We are also the first generation to really start talking openly about our mental health, which is the strongest subtext of Inside. 

Bo is increasingly open about his anxiety and how his fame and social media have impacted him. And while fame is a niche experience, performing for our own personal audience is something many can relate to. The references to the impact technology has had on our development means Inside resonates with the young adult demographic more than any other. And over the pandemic this impact, this reliance on technology just to get by and feels part of a distant and disparate society, regardless of whether we had a positive relationship with it or not, was magnified and amplified and took over our lives more than ever.

There’s a simple sketch from The Inside Outtakes called ‘The Content Roundtables’, where Bo is interviewing everybody who took part in creating Inside. He sits down and talks to eight different versions of himself as director, writer, editor, composer, producer, et cetera. The underlying joke is about how the entertainment industry still overwhelmingly favours straight white men and how conversations challenging this are not happening frequently enough. 

But for me it highlighted something else. It’s easy to forget, based on the volume and quality of content in Inside, that it was just the work of one man. As a piece of art that speaks so directly to the experience of a generation, the bar has been set high.

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