"Inside is very much about how the internet, and the world in general, has encouraged everyone to be a reply guy, especially white guys who are needy and bored (check and check)," says Drew Magary of Burnham's pandemic-themed special. "For that purpose, Inside is brilliantly written, convincingly performed, and extremely f*cking funny in its first half." All the raves for Inside are justified, Magary adds, "but they’re also traps. Because Inside is about how Burnham, or at least the character of himself that he’s playing, has been preconditioned by the internet to believe that the outside world is a waste of a time and that living with yourself online — posting sh*tty Instagrams and reloading them to see if they’ve been properly appreciated by others — is the only way to live. This is a harmful act of self-delusion and Burnham goes to great lengths to get that across to you, the viewer, passively watching at home. So if your response to that primal scream is not to go out and enjoy a burger with your friends, but to instead go BACK online to eat more of your own tail, well then you’ve already proven Burnham correct while simultaneously doing the exact thing he doesn’t want you to do. You’re still f*cking around in a hall of mirrors, wasting daylight...If I wanted to issue a contrarian take about Inside — and I’m trained like a seal for such thought exercises — I’d guess that Burnham doesn't actually live alone, and is just cynically exploiting the internet's love affair with itself. Burnham openly wonders if anyone, anywhere, can ever shut the f*ck up anymore. That’s a test no one is willing to pass, and that includes Burnham himself. But if Burnham is operating out of cynicism here, he sure is doing a fantastic job of it. If the man is being disingenuous, he’s sure doing a good job of hiding it, and of peppering some of his opening numbers with brilliant, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway gags...HOWEVER, I will tell you that Inside ended up exhausting me in the end....his fatigue in Inside ultimately ends up being contagious. You don’t leave this special walking on air. You SPRINT the f*ck away from it at full speed. And if you don’t, then you’re part of the social disease. With Inside, Burnham’s exhaustion is the point...This was a comedy special designed as a warning to you, the online person watching and processing from inside your home. Burnham’s central mission was to make you so aware of your life online that you’re ruined for it after the fact. That was the message. Burnham is a spiritual reply guy like me, and he f*cking hates it.
Bo Burnham: Inside is really about narcissism, ego and the apocalypse: "The entire excellent special hinges on this idea of attention-seeking, of which Burnham is himself guilty, and where our creative impulses become corrupted by a social media-tinged desire for the dopamine rush that floods the brain with each 'like,'" says Shane Ryan. "This is nominally a special about the pandemic—the 'inside' of the title refers to where we’ve been for the past year, and the cluttered, claustrophobic setting for the entire 87 minutes—but it’s really about narcissism, and ego, and the apocalypse. He explores the theme over and over, usually with himself as an object—'all eyes on me!' he sings, and then yells, in a later song." He adds that Burnham "wants you to wonder at the bottomless of his, and our, ego. If this is his treatise on the stifling narcissism of our time and our generation, he wants you to know that he’s complicit, that he can’t escape it either. This is, after all, someone who made his name with YouTube videos. If he can see the prison a little more clearly, and if he can manipulate the atmosphere inside more deftly, it doesn’t mean he’s any better at escaping it. The special is so rich with this kind of commentary that it’s impossible to recap it all, and each time you scroll to a random spot on the timeline, you’re liable to be met with lyrics like this (from a song called 'Welcome to the Internet')."
Burnham uses his special to call out his own missteps: "Nestled in between all of the jokes about white women’s Instagram accounts, sexting, and FaceTiming his mom, is a potent reflection on the comedian’s 15-year-long career, and a call-out for his own missteps as a teenager," says Gabrielle Sanchez, adding: "Inside takes us 15 years after the comedian uploaded his first video. Burnham glares at the younger version of himself projected on the wall singing 'My Whole Family…' Watching Inside and his early work side by side, so much of Burnham’s performing self is the same. He sits in front of a keyboard at home, writing piano ditties that he hopes make people feel something, if not laugh. He holds the same hunched posture and spills the justifications behind every song before playing them. But in Inside, his mannerisms sit on an exhausted, adult face, as he arduously reflects on his career and pieces together the special on his own."
Inside comes off as part salvation, part albatross: "On the one hand, Burnham can barely admit he’s been working on 'whatever this is' for a year; on the other, he realizes, 'If I finish this special, that means that I have to not work on it anymore. That means that I have to live my life,'" says Alison Herman. "The most interesting, and polarizing, parts of Inside are the ones that purport to offer a glimpse behind the scenes—of the special’s making, but also of Burnham’s brain. The director, editor, and star of Inside weaves in footage of himself setting up shots, flubbing takes, staring into a laptop, breaking things in frustration, even bursting into tears. On their own, these clips suggest honesty or vulnerability. Together, carefully doled out between candid confessionals, they suggest trying to suggest honesty or vulnerability. How much of this angst is genuine, and how much of it is a performance? The answer, as it tends to be, is likely a little of both. But it also doesn’t matter."