Bo Burnham is back with some more “Content.” Open wide.

In May 2021, after a five–year hiatus, comedian Bo Burnham released Inside, a comedy special recorded by his lonesome during the first year of the COVID–19 pandemic. Inside tackled the isolating nature of the pandemic—through Burnham’s own longtime struggle with mental health (which caused his comedic hiatus)—as well as labor rights, colonial history, and the negative impacts of technology. This blend of relevant subjects, emotional transparency, and the shared experience of pandemic inside–ness at the time of its release made Inside an immediate success. The show won Burnham three Emmys, topped Billboard charts, and was purchased by Netflix (before its release) for almost $4 million.   

Inside uniquely captures the cabin fever that characterized 2020. Its release in 2021 was well–timed to connect with this feeling for its audience, as nationwide stay–at–home orders hiccuped in and out of effect through January of 2021. On the one–year anniversary of the special, Burnham announced the release of an hour of extra content from the show. One hour later, The Inside Outtakes dropped on YouTube. As of this piece’s publication, they have over 5 million views.

The Inside Outtakes opens with white text on a black background: “All of the following content was recorded between March of 2020 and May of 2021.” The special includes alternate recordings and videos of the major songs from Inside, as well as new songs and bits of its own—with even more songs on the accompanying audio album. None of its contents are deeply surprising or out of place with what became the final cut of Inside

However, there is one major difference: We are all no longer quite as inside. 

While many are still living with a daily reality affected by the pandemic, stay–at–home orders and pandemic curfews are mostly a thing of the past. Much of Burnham’s audience is now free to leave their homes and return to in–person work, school, and social settings. The claustrophobia Burnham suffered through during the filming of Inside is no longer universal.

The Inside Outtakes itself dispels some of the solitude of Inside, too. In Inside, Burnham is shown as truly alone with his thoughts inside his house. He digitally communicates with others in “FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)” and “Sexting.” The conversations are superficial but are ultimately his lifeline, just as daily FaceTime calls or online dating got people through the peak of the pandemic. At one point, in his lonely desperation, Burnham puts a sock (appropriately named “Socko”) on his hand to duet with him in the anticapitalist song “How the World Works.” Within the song, Socko acts as a symbol for minority communities in America while Burnham represents neocolonial systems of power. Socko also shows Burnham’s profound isolation: The goofy voice speaking through the sock puppet still sounds like Burnham’s in its tone. Within the special, he is well and truly alone.

The title screen of The Inside Outtakes, however, immediately cracks this image of solitude, showing Burnham as he is at the end of Inside—outside his house with a spotlight on him, returning to the real world in one overwhelming moment. In Inside, we don’t see this moment until near the end of the show, as Burnham has suffered a year of solitude. When faced with the audience of the outside world in Inside—represented by the spotlight and offscreen applause—Burnham tries to retreat inside and finds the door locked, casting him out of a now semi–voluntary isolation. 

The Burnham of The Inside Outtakes, though, opens the show with this acknowledgment of the outside world. In the song immediately following this acknowledgement titled “The Future,” he sings, “I’m awoken by my daughter as she jumps in my bed. I’m only kidding. I don’t have a kid. I crochet instead.” It’s a subtle reference that in some ways, might also suggest Burnham is lonely (he’s inventing fictional family members, after all), but it introduces other people into Burnham’s isolated physical space. Burnham also stages his sketches in a way that feels as though he’s talking to characters present with him. In an Outtakes bit called “The Podcast,” he splits himself into two podcast co–hosts with a virtual studio wall between them, suggesting two individuals in a physical space. 

Later, in “The Dump,” Burnham conducts a virtual interview with eight versions of himself representing the cast and crew of Inside, all chattering over one another from separate Zoom screens. Compare this to the Twitch sketch in Inside, where a streamer–Burnham plays a game taking place in the confines of his home, with a virtual version of him starring as the main character of the video game he plays. The game–Burnham stands, sits, cries, and does little else while streamer–Burnham unsympathetically comments on this. Here, game–Burnham still seems deeply alone in his little room, now spectated for entertainment by the streamer–Burnham. Streamer–Burnham provides no more companionship to game–Burnham than the camera does, representing his future audience. 

“Five Years,” one of the new songs from the Outtakes, references the five–year anniversary of a couple who lives together. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, Burnham is stepping into a fictional self again, where he lives in a fake reality where he and girlfriend Lorene Scafaria have been together for longer than five years. While Burnham plays both partners in the relationship, he still builds into the show this idea that he might not be alone in his house.

Holes were poked in Burnham’s artistic illusion after Inside’s release. Journalists and social media users quickly pointed out that Inside was filmed in Burnham’s guest house, on the property of the large house where he then lived with his girlfriend and their dog. The isolation of Inside was more self–imposed than it seemed at the outset, and The Inside Outtakes was released after this knowledge had settled.   

Unlike Netflix, which presents Inside in a black box on our individual screens, viewers watching The Inside Outtakes can scroll through the comments of thousands of other users on YouTube, further dispelling the feeling of “alone”–ness. Appropriate for the lifting pandemic restrictions of 2022, The Inside Outtakes reminds us of the importance of companionship after lonely times.