American comedian Bo Burnham recently released a video compilation of outtakes from his Netflix special released earlier this year – Inside. Inside chronicled everyone's longingness to step outside during the peak of the pandemic. It captured the very essence of humankind, that which makes us human: our need to socialise and interact with others of our kind, emphasizing and reminding us of just how difficult the pandemic really was and how much of a toll it took on our mental health.
Inside was not only unique because it was conceptualised, written, performed, shot and edited by Burnham himself, but also because it was made up of different original songs composed by Burnham, compiled together with bits and pieces of dialogue that gave the audience a look inside Burnham's mind (and perhaps their own as well). The songs had deep, thought-provoking lyrics such as "apathy is a tragedy and boredom is a crime" (Welcome to the Internet), with many songs becoming viral hits online, such as Bezos. Most of us would be guilty of humming "Come on Jeffrey you can do it, pave the way put your back into it," after watching countless reels of this short, catchy song.
The underlying tone of hopelessness and the foreboding sense of destruction and depression encapsulates the special. More than making one laugh, it leaves one feeling wistful, longing for the impossible normalcy of 2019. The Outtakes too, released on Burnham's YouTube channel, do not stray from this theme and force one to contemplate the future of human society, social media-driven content creation, and the shallowness that emerges with consuming and living in a world with such content.
The Outtakes include previously unheard songs such as Content, Five Years, Joe Biden and Chicken along with behind-the-scenes shots of other songs included in the final special. The Outtakes also include witty short sketches. For example, there is a segment mid-way through the Outtakes where Burnham interviews eight different versions of himself who worked on this special and questions the homogeneity of the bunch, only to get a very generic half-witted answer from Burnham the director on how some institutions in the industry need to be dismantled. Burnham has also very cleverly incorporated "YouTube ads": parodies of ads of random organisations, campaigns or corporations. The very fact that he thought to include ad countdowns before these came on and that he also included small ad rectangles at the centre of the screen like YouTube does, amazes me.
Interspersed with these are random clips of Burnham completely losing it, screaming at the walls, talking to himself and expressing his frustration over how he thinks he screwed himself over by trying to create a special all by himself. These tiny videos give the audience a sense of what goes on inside a creator's mind and also the mental blocks they face while working on something that is specific to them. Somewhere in the Outtakes, Burnham expresses his frustration with how quickly he gained popularity as a young teenage artist on YouTube, how the world watched him perform professional comedy as a 17-year-old and how he burnt out by the age of 25, after which he stopped performing live. He has previously stated that he took a professional break for mental health reasons and his last live performance was back in 2016, when he was shooting for his special "Make Happy". The Outtakes convey just a fraction of the agony Burnham suffers on a daily basis and how much the pressure got to him.
Inside and its outtakes are a very genuine attempt at warning the world of where it's headed while also being extremely relatable in terms of the mental struggles portrayed. Burnham has created a very deep and profound niche for himself and has perhaps set the bar so high that it might be impossible for him to outdo himself in the future. The Outtakes may be chaotic, panicky and haphazard at certain moments, but it is in these moments that we get to see Burnham at his rawest, and hats off to him for sharing such a vulnerable side of himself with his audience. This is the only reason I believe that the Outtakes are just a smidge superior to the special. The artist never fails to surprise, and as the Indian comedian Sahil Shah commented on YouTube: 'Bo Burnham is so talented that even his outtakes are better than anything people have made!'