The COVID Diaries: Ready to Shoot Sparks of Sadness & Fear

Dear Darling Ones,

Last night I watched the Netflix comedy special “Bo Burnham: Inside.” I almost want to put the word comedy in quotation marks, not so much out of sarcasm but more as a content warning. It was a tough thing to watch, akin to Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette.”

However, when I was done watching “Nanette” I was awed and amazed and my brain was fizzing with thoughts. When I was done watching “Inside,” I felt vaguely bamboozled and disappointed.

The conceit of “Inside” is that Burnham wrote, filmed, and performed the show while inside during the COVID quarantine. As the show progresses his hair grows longer, his hair scragglier, and his mental health more precarious. Watching, at times, was a little harrowing. It touched a nerve in me that is still very much alive and ready to shoot sparks of sadness and fear all over the place.

Throughout the special, I kept thinking to myself, this is so fucking brave. I thought it was brave to delve so deep into that kind of darkness while being alone and having the strength to create something. That is a scary place to be, made even scarier when there is nobody there to make sure you stay tethered to Earth and don’t just slip away. I spent most the fall 2020 and winter 2021 in that exact spot.

Only thing is, Bo Burnham was not creating that art while wholly alone in a room. I mean, he was in a room alone, but his long-term, live-in partner was probably in the other rooms of the house. Once he turned off the camera he had the love and support and companionship of another person and it was coming from inside the house. What a rip off.

I wish I could go back in time to before I googled Bo Burnham and enjoy the special as what I thought it was: a man alone trying to reflect on his life and make something in such a terrible time. Instead, what I got was a man playing a character who was alone and trying to reflect on his life and make something in such a terrible time. The difference is subtle and kind of annoying.

While I have no doubt a lot of Burnham’s material for the special came from a genuine place of emotional honesty, there’s a layer of artifice that leaves a bad aftertaste. I wonder why he thinks he needed it to begin with. I’m pretty sure it was just as difficult being stuck inside with your partner, just in a different way. Would I, personally, been as moved by that? Probably not, but everything doesn’t have to be related to my direct experience.

The whole thing reminded me of some writing advice my pal Vodo gave back when I took his writing classes at The Loft. He said, “if the problem in a story can be fixed by the main character taking their meds, you don’t really have a story.” I’d like to give Bo the same advice, if your problems with loneliness and isolation and horniness can be solved by going into a different room and hugging your girlfriend (he dedicates the entire special to her), you really don’t have problems of loneliness and isolation and horniness.

Ultimately, what I learned is that simply thinking of those dark, COVID days makes me so sad that I had to watch early-90s era Matthew Sweet videos until I wasn’t so sad anymore and could go to bed. It did the trick.

Sick of myself,

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