Comedian and musician Bo Burnham released a stunning new comedy special, Inside, on Netflix on May 30. He wrote, directed, filmed, edited, and did basically everything else by himself in his guest house over the course of the pandemic. It’s an encapsulation of his downward spiral in the year of COVID-19, documenting his mental decline as the songs get darker and his appearance gets more ragged — he doesn’t get a haircut or groom his beard for the duration of the project — in one of the most magnificent pieces of art I’ve ever seen.
I was never a Burnham fan because I was a sensitive baby feminist in the early oughts. Now I’m a grown-up feminist and I still hate his early work. I didn’t even know — or care — about Inside until many of my favorite people with very good tastes recommended it. It’s a beautiful work of art with clever humor and devastating reality. He confronts his past and offensive jokes in the song “Problematic,” begging God and the audience for forgiveness. He captures the weirdness of things like Instagram and sexting and YouTube and Twitch streaming, as well as the horrific impacts of white supremacy and climate change and Jeff Bezos.
One important note, in case you haven’t watched it yet: he discusses his experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. So take care with your viewing, especially for the last half hour or so.
I need to stop listening to the soundtrack on repeat for a minute, so here are some book recommendations to pair with my favorite songs from the special.
Books to Pair With Bo Burnham’s Inside
Wow, No Thank You.: Essays by Samantha Irby
Pairs with: “Comedy”
Start off with a side-busting bit of laughter! It’s the way to heal the world! Seriously, Sam Irby saved my early pandemic days with this book. She’s like a counterpoint to Burnham’s early identity, and her essays about poop and mental health are *chef’s kiss*.
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Pairs with: “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight)”
Listen, in this world of digital madness, you gotta make time for the important things, like FaceTiming with your mom even when she keeps her thumb over the camera. Make Time will help you get there.
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
Pairs with: “How the World Works”
Because in case you didn’t know, the world (or at least America) runs on the chaotic decisions of white men. Read up and let yourself fill with rage about the history our history books neglected to teach us.
Self Care by Leigh Stein
Pairs with: “White Woman’s Instagram”
Obviously the bangingest song in the special, “White Woman’s Instagram” deserves a book that captures all the chaos of boss girl influencer culture in one snappy piece of satire. Leigh Stein’s Self Care is the only book that does the job.
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
Pairs with: “Unpaid Intern”
The title really says it all, but, you know. We were unpaid interns and now we’re overworked millennials experiencing burnout! “Barely people, somehow legal,” lol! Anne Helen Petersen covers the reality of millennial burnout from every corner: the culture that raised us, the economy that devastated us, and the desperate need to change it all.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Pairs with: “Sexting”
No ferris wheels here, but it’s still worth the price of admission. Talia Hibbert is one of the best romance writers right now and I can’t get enough of her sexy books.
How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal Marie Fleming
Pairs with: “Problematic”
The time to do better is now and always. Use Crystal Marie Fleming’s book to educate yourself and see all the ways you and the people around you have been problematic in your life! And then correct it.
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
Pairs with: “Shit”
If this is the song you relate to the most (like me! hello!), you need to read a Matt Haig book. Either this one or Reasons to Stay Alive. “Are you feelin’ what I’m feelin’? I haven’t had a shower in the last nine days” and also you are a worthy human who deserves a chance to get better. Don’t give up yet.
The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe
Pairs with: “All Time Low”
It’s pretty common for funny people to have depression, and John Moe’s podcast-turned-book interviews loads of comedians and celebrities about their mental health and coping mechanisms. It’s heavy, but an important read.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
Pairs with: “Welcome to the Internet”
Language nerds, this one’s for you. Just like the carnival-esque synth music, Gretchen McCulloch’s book is a twirling ride through the evolution of language thanks to the internet’s dizzying speed of change. LOLcats! Keyboard smashes! This book covers all of the “a little bit of everything, all of the time” about the internet.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Pairs with: “That Funny Feeling”
The geological era of the human, the Anthropocene, is a wild one. John Green’s latest book rates the things in the world that are distinctly human, and this acoustic song is like a shorter version of it, sans reviews. “A gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall,” indeed.
We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer
Pairs with: “All Eyes on Me”
I could listen to this song on repeat for hours. And I have! The pinnacle, the part that demands to be sang along to at full volume, gets me every time: “You say the ocean’s rising, like I give a shit. You say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did.” But maybe there’s still time to reverse the damage. Read this book about how each of us can help.
Intimations by Zadie Smith
Pairs with: “Any Day Now”
Zadie Smith’s collection of essays about the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic are my go-to reference for what that time was like. “It’ll stop any day now…” repeating forever and ever.