“When you’re a kid and your stuck in your room / you’ll do any old shit to get out of it / try making faces / try telling jokes / making little sounds”
- Bo Burnham, ‘Look Who’s Inside Again’
I hated my smile when I was young. I hated smiling. If I had to take a picture, I would always do a weird, only lips pursed tight and arched upwards in a very firm, awkward smile. I hated the way my teeth looked, so I would always make sure my mouth was closed if I smiled. In 8th grade I got braces. At this point, I was extremely fed up with my whole mouth situation. I never liked the dentist: I always got cavities: every time I flossed my gums would bleed (so why would I floss, ever?): and now, my teeth are covered in barbed wire that cuts up my lips every time I play trombone! (I had to get special plastic bumpers to put over my braces so it wouldn’t slice up my mouth)
When you’re an 8th grader with a blog where you write sad heartbreak lyrics, a lot of forehead acne, and long, swoopy bangs in hopes it covers it up, something’s gotta give. I had to own up to something, and the thing I took back was my smile. I figured, “well at this point you’ve got braces, you can’t hide that. Might as well smile in a way that’s actually comfortable.” Out came this too wide, goofy, metal mouth smile that a lot of people complimented me on! (They liked my smile. I was really grinning.)
Bo Burnham recorded his special, Inside, over the course of one year alone, in his studio. To create an interior space, within an interior space, within a year of isolation and quarantine, is a monumental task. Within this silence, what does one meditate on? Bo turns further inward as he uses himself as a content generator; both in emotion and in art. Inside shows us how an artist can be intentionally vulnerable by showing us the volatile process, while still maintaining control over the project and the meaning of the work. There are times when we venture out into the world to discover what we’ve been missing inside, and then there are times when we are forced to retreat inside and it is here that we are reminded of the depths of our hearts.
Something that Bo and I share is that we started performing at a young age. For me, it was about being seen. I’m the youngest of my family and I’ve always liked being at the center of attention. I shaped a lot of my value around how much spotlight I could get. Naturally I became a performer. I was always the one who volunteered to read aloud in class; I played the aforementioned trombone in middle school; I was a theater kid and a debater in high school. I loved the applause; I needed the spotlight. Someone would compliment and I’d flash my too wide smile and thank them and I felt like I had worth.
So when I see Bo perform alone while he’s stuck in his room, I can’t help but marvel at that courage. Bo tells us jokes while I hate the sound of my voice. Bo is dancing in his tighty-whities and I don’t have the bravery to look myself in the face for that long. Throughout Inside, Bo gives us reflections and projections of himself, both literally and metaphorically.
Have you ever jumped on the bed and pretended to perform for a stadium of adoring fans? Would you be able to show the world what you’re like when you’re alone in your room? Would you still want to perform for an empty theater with nobody watching?
The Observer Effect in quantum physics roughly states that depending on what is under observation, the outcome will change. Consider: is there ever a time when I am not performing for somebody? Who am I when no one’s watching? The only things I like about myself are the things the world tells me they like. If the world doesn’t see me, how can I?
Inside seems to answer that for Bo Burnham. As one of the first online content creators, Bo has had a lot of experience of performing for an audience that’s not really there. Inside is a return to form: he’s stuck inside again. What solidifies this for the viewer is a scene of Bo watching his old videos with a cringe. It’s at this moment we can see Bo thinking, “I thought this was funny?”
When the special ends, we watch Bo leave his room, only to realize the spotlight and the audience are right outside his door. He turns around, wanting to go back inside, but the door is locked. The audience laughs and laughs as Bo tries in futility to get it open. He crumples against the door and the audience keeps laughing as the spotlight continues to illuminate him.
And it’s Bo. Alone. Again. And he’s watching himself but this time he’s smiling. However, this time he’s laughing at himself.
I ask Bo, “What’s so funny?”
He chuckles and says, “Oh, just an inside joke I made with myself.”
To see yourself and be happy with what you make, to be content with what’s inside, that’s the key that will get me out.
It’s a beautiful day to go outside.