I woke up today and decided, “Damnit Steve, it’s time to finally write that article about burritos and existential crises.”
If that first sentence is making you go, “Steve has stepped off the deep end,” then just keep reading.
I promise you, it’s only gonna get weirder from here on out.
I’m hoping you’ve had the privilege of watching comedian Bo Burnham’s 2021 Netflix special, INSIDE. If you haven’t, drop what you’re doing and go spend the next 75 minutes doing so.
Burnham’s INSIDE is receiving universal praise from critics and the general public. It’s one of the most enjoyable, empowering, depressing, creative, thought-provoking, and somehow encouraging pieces of experimental art I’ve seen in a long time.
Of course, I’d expect nothing less from the man.
Bo has been putting out thought provoking comedy for a over a decade (wild considering his age), and I’ll admit that I largely avoided him until about 2016.
I had made the false assumption that Bo was a one-trick pony who wrote gross but clever lyrics.
Luckily, a few years back I stumbled across a clip from his previous 2016 special, Make Happy.
Today, because this is my sandbox and I’ll do what I want…
I wanted to spend a ridiculous amount of time breaking down the final song from this special, the “Kanye Rant.”
It’s a satirical takedown of Kanye West’s lengthy, auto-tuned Yezus tour diatribes.
If you watched and loved INSIDE, but thought to yourself, “Damn dude that was DARK…”
Then it’s time to rewatch this Kanye rant. Bo’s depth has been here all along, and even hiding in plain site.
Burnham’s document internal struggles started long before INSIDE, and him sharing this openly started 5+ years back.
To the Kanye rant!
The Best 7 Minutes of Your Day
Please set aside 7 minutes right now, and watch this Kanye rant.
Then allow me to break it down, line by line, because this is apparently how I’m choosing to spend my morning.
Irony Can be so Painful
After singing about a first world problem that Pringle cans are too narrow to fit one’s hand in the can, he drops a line that nearly everybody can relate to:
“I don’t go to the gym, because I’m self conscious about my body.
But I’m self-conscious about my body because I don’t go to the gym. Irony can be so painful.
That’s a catch-22!”
This doesn’t require much analysis, other than it’s immediately relatable. It applies to the gym, but it also applies to most of the things we want:
- People are afraid to exercise because of how they look, and they’re unhappy with how they look because they don’t exercise.
- I don’t write much because I don’t have much to say. But I don’t have much to say because I don’t write.
- I don’t play music because I’m not very good at it. But I’m not very good at music because I don’t play.
Damn you, irony. You beautiful bastard.
Of course, this quick aside was just the appetizer for the true main course of Burnham’s brilliant ballad:
The Burrito is a Metaphor
Bo recaps ordering a burrito, where everything behind the glass looks AMAZING! He gets every ingredient and ends up with a fully loaded burrito.
And as for anybody who’s ever eaten at Chipotle, we know what happens next.
At the end of the line, the dude wrapping the burrito can’t fit it all inside the confines of the tortilla. It’s a burrito disaster!
Dude you should have warned me.
You’re the burrito expert, you should have told me halfway through, ‘Hey man, you might be reaching maximum burrito capacity here.’
Do you think I want a messy burrito? No one wants a messy burrito!
Do you see what’s going on here?
This burrito is an overstuffed metaphor for fame.
And it’s brilliant.
“I wouldn’t have got HALF this shit if I knew it wouldn’t fit.
I wouldn’t have got the lettuce if I knew it wouldn’t fit. I wouldn’t have got the cheese if I knew it wouldn’t fit.”
Burnham is sharing his cautionary tale – he hit fame at a VERY early age (before he could legally drink), and found himself standing shoulder to shoulder, and getting respect and accolades, from some of the most well respected comedians in the business.
Guys who grinded out dingy comedy clubs for decades before finding their footing. Guys who probably WANTED to hate Bo for his almost overnight success, until they discovered the thoughtfulness and self-deprecation with which Bo handles himself.
In other words – his success was earned, not given.
So imagine you’re Bo. You’re making YouTube videos in your bedroom and just a few years later find yourself sitting next to Gary Shandling, Ray Romano, Judd Apatow, and Mark Maron, and earning their respect:
And that’s how this introverted, shy, deeply introspective nerd finds himself on stage in front of thousands, has already earned the respect of his heroes, and gets to perform his own art for a captive audience on a nightly basis.
And it crushed him.
The story of the burrito here is a warning for those that can heed the message:
“Sure all of this fame LOOKS good, but once you have it you’ll realize you don’t ACTUALLY want it.
I’m telling you now, from experience. I was lucky enough to reach the peak and it’s not as great as you’d think. If I could, I would give back most of it!”
In other words, filling up one’s life with all sorts of stuff that doesn’t actually fit makes for a bad burrito experience.
Once we finish with our burrito metaphor, Bo goes “full send” on his struggles with creativity, fame, and happiness.
Part of Me Loves You. Part of Me Hates You.
I could sit up here and pretend like my biggest problems are Pringle cans, and burritos, but my biggest problem is you.
I want to please you, but I want to stay true to myself. I want to give you the night out that you deserve, but I wanna say what I think, and not care what you think about it.
Part of me loves you. Part of me hates you.
Part of me needs you. Part of me fears you.
And I don’t think that I can handle this right now.”
Bo’s trying to share his love-hate relationship with fame and an audience and the anxiety that comes with putting art out into the world or performing it on stage.
He wants to create, and make stuff, and share.
But goddamnit, he hates that he desires the approval of fans when he makes this stuff. And yet, he needs his art to be true to himself, without depending on what the audience thinks.
Of course, without fans – who could he make these things for? Author Mark Manson shared a quote from Will Smith that fits perfectly here:
I’m world-class at only a couple of things. And every hour I’m not doing those things, I am doing a disservice to myself and the world.
That’s the rub.
You can choose to NOT create, or share. Of course, you might be doing the world a disservice by not putting your art out into the world.
And author Seth Godin said it even more succinctly : “Be criticized, or be ignored.”
Making art is hard. Sharing art and baring your soul is hard. It can feel easier to NOT share, but then you are depriving the planet of art!
I imagine Bo went to some VERY dark places during the filming and editing of INSIDE, and probably oscillated between “this is hot garbage, I will never set this see the light of day” and “this is hot garbage, but fuck it, I’m just gonna ship it.”
And the world is a better place as a result of him creating this art. Millions of people have watched INSIDE, like myself, and saying “Wow, I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I feel heard.”
Then Shit gets DARK
“Look at them they’re just staring at me. Like, come and watch the skinny kid with the steadily declining mental health, and laugh as he attempts to give you what he cannot give himself.”
That’s some darkness right there, wrapped up in an auto-tuned satirical rant.
Burnham struggles immensely with his own self image, desperately wants to make others happy, and yet gets stuck inside his own head and struggles with happiness, anxiety, and depression himself.
He has discussed his struggles with anxiety on numerous podcasts:
We all know the tragedies that often befall the people who entertain us the most.
From Prince to Robin Williams, Elvis to Heath Ledger…being a human is fucking brutal sometimes. We’re emotional bags of meat on a floating rock and often trying to find meaning where none might exist.
I recently spoke with a friend who wrote a very successful book – so successful that essentially he never really has to work ever again if he doesn’t want to.
In other words, he achieved the goal that most authors hope for: to be paid well enough for one’s writing that they can then only write for the fun of it.
Which introduced a WHOLE new set of problems.
“Do you know how much of a mindfuck it is to reach ALL of your life’s goals within a week?”
n fact, as we come to learn in INSIDE, his mental health declined so furiously that after multiple on-stage panic attacks during performances, he took 5 YEARS off of performing to get better.
Taking “Kanye Rant” and INSIDE as a single package, the audience gets to learn an amazing lesson – if we’re smart enough to listen:
We get the cautionary tale without the tragedy of an overdose or suicide.
We get the knowledge without the shock of another dead celebrity.
This is a gift.
Let’s move onto the conclusion.
Back from the Brink.
“I put on a silly show, I should probably just shut up and do my job so here I go.”
This is Bo pulling himself back from the brink. “Sorry for getting so introspective there. You’re here for entertainment, not depressing self-loathing, so let me dance like a monkey for you.”
“You can tell them anything if you just make it funny, make it rhyme. And if they still don’t understand you, then just run it one more time.”
In other words – “Who knows if people even understand the message I’m trying to make here. But who cares. I’ll just make it funny and catchy and hope you eventually catch on.”
Thank you. Goodnight. I hope you’re happy.
In the end, that’s all we really want right? To be able to say “Here I made this. I did my craft well, and I hope you enjoyed it.”
Feels weird to dedicate a post to a 30 year old dude wrapping about Burritos, but damn when you create art this clever, it’s worth the analysis. Or maybe it wasn’t.
Part of me doesn’t care what you think about this analysis. Maybe Bo was really just talking about burritos.
Of course, the other part of me DEEPLY cares what you think about this analysis.
But that doesn’t matter. I wanted to write this. I lost track of time while doing so, and I feel like I did my brain justice in putting this out into the world.
So, thanks for reading.
I hope you’re happy.