Bo Burnham's The Inside Outtakes Is a Timely Reminder of the Pandemic's Ongoing Effects

Comedy Features Bo Burnham
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Bo Burnham's <i>The Inside Outtakes</i> Is a Timely Reminder of the Pandemic's Ongoing Effects

Yesterday, Bo Burnham released the The Inside Outtakes on his YouTube channel to mark one year since his acclaimed special Inside hit Netflix. The Outtakes does what it says on the tin, arraying and layering multiple takes of songs like the Vaudevillian “Welcome to the Internet.” There’s plenty of cuts that end abruptly, and he takes advantage of the YouTube format with fake ads for jeans or Lonely Christian guys in your area. It’s scattershot because it can be, and entertaining nonetheless. In short, fans of Inside will like Outtakes, and critics of Burnham’s ouroboros-like introspection will not have their minds changed.

But besides the simple liking or not liking of the Outtakes, the hour of footage (taken from March 2020 to May 2021 and edited between April and May of this year) reminds us of the toll the last two years have taken on us and the pandemic’s continuation. “I’ll bother getting better when I bother getting dressed,” Burnham sings, a throwback to when you could get away with wearing the same pants for days on end. And whether or not you have to get dressed every day, coronavirus isn’t gone.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated last month that current case rates are possibly up to 14 times higher than reported numbers thanks partly to at-home testing and asymptomatic cases, as per CNN. Workers across a number of fields (including medical staff, teachers, and working parents) are experiencing high levels of burnout, caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Staffing shortages at airports are leaving both travelers and airport workers frustrated. Now that restrictions have been lifted in many countries and personal responsibility is the name of the game, immunocompromised people are being left behind. We’re not the same people we were before coronavirus, whether we’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, long COVID, or the mental toll of having stayed inside or worked on the frontlines throughout lockdowns. While that can feel like a lot all at once, Burnham’s goofy editing jokes, like an ad for “Mental Health Awareness Decade at Kohl’s,” help us laugh at corporations’ hollow exploitation of very real, lasting issues.

The pandemic both exposed the shortcomings of capitalism and the urgency with which the government can act—when it really wants to. The concept of being one paycheck away from poverty became a reality for millions of people. The appeal of unemployment benefits offered by the US government at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak showed how dire pay was (and continues to be). The World Bank notes that due to coronavirus, “poorer countries are contending with a deeper, longer-lasting crisis that has increased global poverty and is reversing recent trends of shrinking inequality.” US billionaires, by comparison, increased their fortunes by $1.2 trillion in the first year or so of the pandemic, as per Forbes (cue Burnham crooning a 1950s-style pop song about Jeff Bezos).

While all this can seem very doom and gloom on the outset, being more aware of the systems we’re in and how they can be manipulated when the powers-that-be deem it necessary also gives us the chance to craft new solutions. We can see the bars of the cage, so maybe now we can try to bend them. With the mass narrative about attempting to go back to normal—travel, hugs, water cooler chat—we can lose sight of the fact that normal includes the everyday suffering of so many people.

Burnham ends Outtakes with a joke taking aim at Marvel, Star Wars, and the Disney machine as a whole (as well as the fact that pandemic is far from over). Forget The Inside Outtakes—there’ll be an Inside 2, Inside Genesis, Inside 1968 (in an appropriately groovy font), and so on. Mainstream media’s constant churning out of movies or series related to existing intellectual property makes sense in a society that only wants us to look to existing institutions (namely capitalism) for solutions. The pop culture’s creative stagnation in turn stunts our own horizons, keeps us from daring to dream outside a system that uses us until we’re six feet under. However, when a wakeup call comes—even in the unlikely form of comedy special outtakes—we’d do well to pay attention.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.