INSIDE: A Lesson in Creativity

This is a script for my video essay on Inside. Watch it here.

Bo Burnham’s Inside is labeled a comedy special, but really, it’s a piece of auteur cinema. Over the past year, we were subject to some of the cringy and empty content by many entertainers, but while the constraints of isolation were the bane of many entertainers. Burnham was able to make it his strength. Creativity was not only something missing during the recent events, it’s also something that has eluded audiences more and more in recent years. So when something truly original comes along, it’s important to recognize it. Especially if it had to overcome harsh circumstances. 

This film is just that its constraints made it special, it allowed brilliant material to be made, and it showed us an introspective side of Bo Burnham we’ve never seen. I was in middle school in 2012 when I first encountered Bo Burnham, and I was surprised that I still remembered some of those gut-bustingly funny lines that struck me as an adolescent (insert song lyrics). Burnham already showed some diversity with Eighth Grade, But INSIDE clearly stands out, it shows us that a good artist doesn’t have to be defined by one thing, a good artist like Bo Burnham can push the boundaries to break new ground. The situation this past year allowed him to do just that. It made INSIDE his Magnum Opus.

The high production value and writing quality from him alone is an impressive feat, but his solitude in own room for the entire film allowed him to explore subjects like depression, anxiety, and loneliness all with his clever comedic signature. He touches on so many issues in this film, like The Internet, advertising, consumerism, modern comedy, gaming, dating, economics and even Jeffery Bezos. However, I wanted to discuss just one theme that I found compelling: Creativity.

As mentioned before, creativity is on the decline. Not only from mainstream entertainment, but in the Golden Age of the Internet, where many are used to endless scrolling online and the repetitive toxicity of the media climate. Bo Burnham certainly recognized this. He’s explored this in the past in songs like ART IS DEAD, and REPEAT STUFF. With his new special, he revisits this, using the restrictions of a world crisis to unpack this theme in a novel way. 

Constraints and Creation

NSIDE calls out the modern lack of creativity, and goes further by showing the viewer how originality is always around the corner. The concept of the film alone says a lot about this. Burnham shows that we can be creative despite many obstacles, as the obstacles themselves force the individual to uncover new solutions they would not have found before. It’s not just Bo. Scientific studies show this idea to be valid. 

In 2016, Dr Catrinal Haught Tromp from Rider university noticed Dr Suess’ creativity in a short and limited book like GREEN EGGS AND HAM. She researched this by having students write rhyming couplets for greeting cards. One group was asked to use a specific word, while the other group had no requirements. As a result, the constrained group was determined to be more varied and creative by judges. https://online.rider.edu/blog/how-constraints-facilitate-creativity/

This idea is evidenced in art as well, such as with pianist Kieth Jarret. In 1975, he was slated to perform at the Cologne Opera house, but there was a big problem, well more like a little problem. The piano at the venue was a baby grand piano with deficient pedals and weak bass register, a farcry from the larger and more advanced piano Jarret needed. Still Jarrett persevered, by using ostinatos and a rolling left hand rhythm and playing more on the center of the piano where it worked the best. And what happened? The concert became one of keith Jarret’s most famous, and the recorded version became the best selling solo jazz album in history. https://uxdesign.cc/creative-constraints-how-limitations-can-fuel-creativity-de3ef1e441b8 

And with INSIDE, Burnham adds credence to this hypothesis. The constraint of self isolation allowed him to master and implement technical skills he wouldn’t have done otherwise. Burnham constrained himself to one room, forcing him to use various lighting and framing to create the illusion of a diverse environment, more diverse than one stage would be for a normal comedy special. He’s in the same room for the entire time, but it hardly ever feels like it. Burnham’s technical prowess is buoyed by the themes these constraints made relevant – mainly isolation and depression.

Between sketches and songs, we see Burnham struggling to edit and stay sane, we see him turn 30 sitting alone in self-reflection, we see a video game version of himself excessively crying when he’s not playing piano. The simple facial expressions inside and outside of the performances feel authentic because they are authentic. Burnham was clearly going through a rough patch last year, and rather than hiding it or using it as an excuse to not work, he made this depression a theme of his work. It again speaks to his artistic innovation in the face of the obstacles of staying inside by himself. It’s hard to find real depression displayed so accurately in art. He’s not acting, it’s real emotion. Again, it’s creative

Flex Your Creativity

To go a step further, it feels like Burnham flexed a little with his creativity, and he is justified in doing so. This is clearly apparent in his lampoon of reaction videos, where he has the twist of continually reacting to himself reacting. Maybe he’s saying that this type of content gets dull and repetitive very fast. One could also read into the fact he reacts to his own song and reacts to himself again and again, while just about every reaction video online is someone simply watching the creation of someone else – the exact opposite of creativity. He touches on this again in his own parody of Let’s Play Streamers. Burnham is pretending to play something he created. Streamers are just playing something that they purchased. 

Overall, the special just feels so original that I can’t help but appreciate it. Is it a masterpiece, I’m not sure. I’ll have to watch it more to decide on that, but still, it is a great piece of art and I am glad Burnham is getting praise for it. The ideas he brings to light are so numerous that I could probably write 10 essays on them. But Bo Burnham’s brilliant creativity shined brightest to me. He again showed us that restraint is not the

I wanted to hopefully add a new perspective to the enormous online discussion the film has generated. His ingenuity was something I hadn’t seen mentioned as much, and it’s what inspired my ‘homage’ to Bo Burnham in the intro to this video. With the way entertainment is today, we are inundated with sequels, reboots, and adaptations, and it’s great when we finally find something oozing with originality like Bo Burnham’s INSIDE. 

Thanks for watching, let me know what you thought, also let me know what you thought of INSIDE. Be sure to like and subscribe. I’d really appreciate it, and I’ll see you in the next video, so for now, I’m signing off.

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