Thirty-year-old Bo Burnham sits in his backyard guest house, watching old YouTube videos of his sixteen-year-old self singing. In the quiet space of the shed, the older Burnham monologues into a microphone: “I performed these songs from my childhood bedroom, which was my bedroom at the time because I was a child […] In hindsight it just seems absolutely insane and invasive and strange, but it didn’t feel like that at the time.”
Burnham’s career seems to have almost turned in on itself at this point. He mourns the digital invasiveness thrust upon his younger self in the midst of a new special recorded entirely in his home. Burnham discusses the intense virality of his early time on YouTube with discomfort, yet posts The Inside Outtakes onto the same site. Decisions from his adolescence have ripple effects a decade and a half later.
The Inside Outtakes is yet another example of Bo Burnham’s ability to use the entertainment platforms he struggles with ethically and in his work to his artistic advantage. A follow-up to his immensely successful mid-pandemic special, Inside, The Inside Outtakes are a collection of behind-the-scenes and bonus features posted on YouTube — a space built for one to fall down rabbit holes of endless content, a space where brandability is key, where ad space is part of the media experience. It’s a space that’s pausable, replayable, and interruptible. A space where one can play media at double speed, or where a click of a button launches you back or forth ten seconds, preventing one from missing out or getting bored.
Burnham makes his hour-long special adless, mainly so that he can place in his own satirical ads and pop-ups. Songs are interrupted by an “ad” for the concept of jeans (“I wear jeans because jeans don’t watch the news. Jeans don’t read Twitter,” it reads. Burnham sells the clothes nonsensically, with an ad jingle playing behind him). His emotional musings about his career while he watches videos of his younger self performing are interrupted by a distracting faux “Up Next” icon in the lower corner — a fake video titled “OMG! DID I JUST FUCK A MINECRAFT PINEAPPLE??” replete with a colorful, edited, uncanny thumbnail.
The special includes some new material — some new songs in the same self-aware, existentially disjointed vein of Burnham’s usual work, though it is of note that some of these songs have a much closer relationship to Burnham’s earlier, dare I say sillier, work — particularly his Drake-esque satire “Five Years.” There’s a collection of self-reflexive faux-media segments. In one, he hosts a podcast with himself where he takes jabs at the “anti-cancel culture” bro comics working at the moment and a fake culture website, The Dump, mockingly sponsored by Teen Mastercard and the U.S. Department of Defense. He has an interview with the whole cast and crew of Inside, which is all Burnham in different screens, talking over himself to the point of nonsensicality.
Otherwise, The Inside Outtakes is a selection of footage from the mountain of behind-the-scenes footage from the original Inside. Alternate shot designs, alternate lyrics, and occasionally a collection of recorded takes from a song from the original Inside played simultaneously — an uncanny listening and watching experience as Burnham sings into the quiet space, with no track, all the takes almost the same, but not quite.
The Inside Outtakes feel lonelier than the original Inside in a lot of ways. Inclusion of even more of the making-of process than the original makes you increasingly aware that Burnham is talking to no one, singing to no one, often sitting in silence. It’s almost sad at moments listening to the hollow clunk of his keyboard as notes playing through his headphones, unheard to us. We watch him desperately search for footage of a plane, faux laugh to himself in an attempt to get a genuine smile for photos in “White Woman’s Instagram,” occasionally yawn, mutter, or shout to himself.
When watching Inside, I find myself presuming that even the emotional moments are partially performed, even if they are recreations of actual experiences he recently had. In The Inside Outtakes, it sometimes feels like you’re really seeing him “as is.” After he successfully finishes shooting a portion of “Welcome to the Internet,” he pulls his phone out and begins scrolling for a moment. It’s only when he takes off his reflective sunglasses that I realize I’ve been squinting, trying to see what he was smiling at on his screen — it makes me feel gross, voyeuristic. He looks up, startles at the camera being on, and shuts it off. I feel even more uncomfortable realizing I wasn’t supposed to be watching any of that at all. I’m a longtime fan of Burnham, have been there since pretty close to his childhood bedroom performing days. It’s undoubtedly all a little invasive. But he’s just really good at what he does, it makes it hard to look away.