A year after the release of his Netflix special Inside – by any measure, one of the most iconic comedy works of our time – Bo Burnham has released an hour of outtakes from that twisted lockdown masterpiece. As Bo himself might sing: “Look, I made you some content!” Of course he has: what about Inside made you think he’d be able to let this material alone?
If the Russian dolls scene from the original where Burnham commentates on footage of the preceding scene (then on that scene, then on that scene) wasn’t recursive enough for you, how about an outtakes video on YouTube with its own Inside-themed spoof banner ads? Or the post-show talk by the CEO of Inside Studios (played by you-know-who), launching Burnham’s very own Marvel-like Inside Cinematic Universe?
Aaargh! When will Burnham’s comedy, and this special in particular, stop eating itself? Perhaps never – which, if the quality stays this high, is fine by me. Yes, a portion of these off-cuts are for Inside nerds alone: Burnham rehearsing songs from the show, or trialling and rejecting lighting effects. But some of the material sparkles as brightly as the best of the original. There’s a parody podcast that gloriously mocks a certain brand of alpha, PC-baiting standup (“We are two comedians who are talking shit no filter”). There’s a very funny song about the petty banalities of a long-term relationship (“You owe me a dumpling or a dumpling equivalent”), and another – more in the vein of the ineffably beautiful That Funny Feeling – about a chicken daring to pursue her dreams, at least as far as a busy road.
It’s a measure of the quality of Inside 1.0 that this stuff could end up on the cutting-room floor. And yet, there are moments when one can’t help but doubt the claim that all this material was generated between March 2020 and May 2021. (The original special was not, after all, entirely pure in the claims it made for itself.) One funny skit finds the creative team of Inside (eight different Bo Burnhams) interviewed by, er, Bo Burnham about the success of the special. Could this really have been filmed before Inside made its huge impact? Maybe it was. It’s a satire, after all, on the inanities of celebrity interviewing, with one choice question, about Inside’s lack of diversity, skewering both woke overreach and the mealy-mouthed ways in which the status quo keeps change at bay.
Slickly assembled though they are, there’s no point pretending the Outtakes are as satisfying or coherent as Inside itself: they’re not. But there’s lots that’s thrilling about this release, not least the remarkable trick it pulls off of making you welcome the (usually loathed) countdown icon in the corner of the YouTube video that reads “Ad in 5”. Here, it signals the arrival of another pitch-perfect spoof commercial, as Burnham hymns the delights of jeans, or Being Yourself, or the peanut butter sandwich.
Arriving just as the rest of us are daring to dream that the worst of Covid might be behind us, what’s most striking about The Inside Outtakes may be what it implies about the original. Inside wasn’t (it’s now even clearer) just about lockdown, it was about being trapped in 2021, being trapped in smart-everything, rolling-infotainment post-post-postmodernity, being trapped in Bo Burnham’s self-absorption and Bo Burnham’s head. That’s a place from which Burnham at least can never escape – witness this further noodling, one year on, with that same locked-down, going-mad #content. As per its iconic image of Burnham-as-Christ, that deathless, breathtaking special is a cross Burnham has built for himself, then nailed himself to. From here on in, it’ll be fascinating to see whether and how he – and the rest of us – can ever get down from it.