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4 Mental Health Takeaways From Bo Burnham's New Comedy Special

If you haven’t watched it yet, Bo Burnham’s new special “Inside” is less of a comedy special and more of a musical exploration of white supremacy, pandemic trauma and depression. Actually, the special is so accurate in recreating what it’s like to be depressed that, after watching it, I actually fell into a depressive episode myself. But now that I’m feeling better, I want to talk about all of the incredible insights I took away from “Inside.”

1. Everything is performative when you’re depressed

The special as a whole spends a lot of time exploring the nature of performance, both on the internet and as a professional performer, and I think one conclusion it comes to is that everything is a performance when you’re depressed. At one point in the special, Burnham is so depressed, he can’t get through a simple transition line without starting over and over and eventually screaming at his equipment. Depression makes even the simplest things feel unnatural and difficult. Existence itself is a performance when you’re depressed because depression makes you not want to exist.

2. A big part of depression is grieving the loss of pleasure found in the little things

You know that aching feeling when you can just…tell that your depression is coming back? The way little things make you hurt instead of smile? Bo Burnham knows that feeling, or should I say “that funny feeling.” That’s the name of one of the songs in the special that focuses on seemingly little things that might normally make you smile or feel warm inside, but when “that funny feeling” comes back, you just feel the aching. Burnham uses this song to demonstrate how depression is defined by loss: loss of energy, loss of function but also loss of all things good in the world. Everything turns into pain when you’re depressed.

3. People who are depressed are often desperate for others’ concern because it means their pain is real

Another song in the special, “Hands Up (All Eyes On Me)” conveys a message about depression that particularly resonates with me: people who are depressed both crave and fear the concern of others. On the one hand, as the name of the song implies, we want to demand concern and attention from others because, dammit, we are drowning here and people should notice. But on the other hand, we feel like if we have to ask for the attention and concern, then maybe our pain isn’t really that bad. If it isn’t already evident to others, then maybe we’re exaggerating everything. This song might be my favorite from the whole special. It captures both the desperation I feel to be seen and the panic I feel whenever I am seen.

4. The past year, both the pandemic and the increasingly apparent social inequality, has been truly traumatic and we have to take time to process that

Finally, my biggest takeaway from “Inside” is that 2020 was traumatic, and if we choose to ignore that trauma instead of dealing with it, it will eat us up inside. I’ve kept very busy throughout the whole pandemic, I’ve been constantly distracting myself, but when I slowed down enough to watch “Inside,” I was reminded of how truly awful the last year has been and I realized I haven’t been letting myself feel that pain. 

Feeling it was…uncomfortable. I didn’t know to think about any of it, all I could do was feel all these overwhelming feelings of loss. But then I did start thinking about it, and I realized that if we don’t take the time to really let ourselves feel this pain, to really process this trauma, we will internalize it, like I have internalized other traumas in the past, and it will ruin our lives. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m listening to the songs from “Inside,” letting them wash over me and letting the pain run through me, and reminding myself that it’s OK not to be OK. Maybe it’s even important not to be OK sometimes.


Lead image courtesy of Bo Burnham’s YouTube channel

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