Content warning: This articles discusses suicide ideation and other mental health issues.
How ballsy would you have to be to outrightly tell your audience that you hope your musical comedy special “can do for you what it’s done for me these last couple of months, which is distract me from wanting to put a bullet into my head with a gun”? “Bo Burnham: Inside” is replete with similarly unsugarcoated statements that had me reflecting on whether content creators should keep some things to themselves for their own self-preservation.
I watched it a day or two before my birthday—a time when I didn’t want to be alive (more than usual, I should say). After ending the song “30” with the lines “It’s 2020, and I’m 30, I’ll do another 10 / 2030, I’ll be 40 and kill myself then,” Burnham does a bit where he tells viewers not to off themselves. It isn’t touching or enlightening—that doesn’t seem to be what he was going for, but I still cried hard. To make matters worse, Burnham added an intermission where he used a glass wiper to virtually dry my tears. It felt like a cross between an attempt to comfort and a gotcha moment.
In the more sociopolitical songs like “Welcome to the Internet” and “How the World Works,” I saw my own cynicism and hopelessness reflected back. In the bit where he was reacting to “Unpaid Intern,” I was reminded of how exhausting practicing self-awareness is. What’s the point of inviting an audience to see such diaristic work? Other than the chance to show off technical prowess, is being considered #relatable enough of a pay-off?
The New Yorker called “Inside” a cinematic selfie. Vanity Fair described it as the “father of chronically online video comedy” burned out. The people who left negative reviews on Letterboxd regard it as self-gratifying pick-me bullsh*t. To me, it came across as self-inflicted violence in the name of art (and a sizable paycheck).
After the short credits rolled, I typed in Burnham’s name on my browser’s search bar. Google’s first suggestion was “Is Bo Burnham still alive?” A valid question. I can’t fathom constantly picking apart internal turmoil and agents of societal collapse (imperialism etc.) for an entire year—much less create a fun song out of it. I can’t fathom taking multiple reshoots and editing videos of myself in the middle of a mental breakdown, fictional or not. I can’t fathom amplifying deeply personal anguish and treating it like it’s just whatever to play a persona.
But I may be part of a growing minority in this regard. More and more Gen Z and adapting millenials are treating content creation as an exercise that should be as easy and constant as breathing. Not to sound ancient, but I still think we should all be a little more cautious and conscious of how our craft can affect us. Art doesn’t have to be torture.