MGU 238 | Performance Art

 

TRIGGER WARNING: This episode includes a discussion on suicide based on Bo Burnham’s statements in his special “Inside.” If you need help with suicidal thoughts, visit https://www.wannatalkaboutit.com.

The pandemic has pushed the limits of society, which is evident in how content creators approached creativity. Something that recently piqued the interest of many is Bo Burnham’s Netflix comedy special Inside, particularly with how it blurs the line between reality and performance art. Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen dissect the show full of relatable humor that cleverly hides messages around validation struggles, social issues, YouTuber clichés, and success addiction. The two then look at the comedy special through the lens of mental health, discussing the hidden messages underneath Bo’s songs and jokes about existential crisis and the bleakness of life.

Listen to the podcast here:


Bo Burnham & The Blurred Line Between Reality & Performance Art

If you are a regular reader of our show, it’s no surprise that we like to talk about documentaries, TV shows and movies that relate to mental health because mental health and well-being are the main focus of the show. Being a human being in all of its forms, messy or not, with an emphasis on our mental health and emotional well-being, is the core of the show, This Might Get Uncomfortable. In early June 2021, this new “comedy special” came out on Netflix called Inside by Bo Burnham. It was all over my TikTok. I was seeing a ton of people posting about it. In fact, people started to wonder why a lot of people were talking about the special. Was it because it was resonating with them? Was there some stealth promotional marketing tactic that was going on by Netflix? It would have been smart but I didn’t see a #Ad or #Sponsored or anything.

I believe people were very much drawn to this special and it was resonating with them so I watched it. After I watched it because I was engaging with that type of content on TikTok, I keep seeing more people posting about it. That’s how TikTok works. Once you start liking something with a certain hashtag or subject matter, you will see a lot of it. I’m stuck on Bo Burnham’s side of TikTok which is fine with me. First of all, if you’re not familiar with him, he is a performer. It’s a better way to describe him because he’s also been in movies like Promising Young Woman, which I loved and I highly recommend that film. I remember looking him up because he looked familiar to me but I didn’t know why. I must have seen him and vaguely known about him.

Inside, his special on Netflix is what got me to fully know who this man is. I feel a bit obsessed, as often happens when you’re introduced to something and you get deep down that rabbit hole. I’ve been watching some of his other works. I want to have a better understanding of him because he is wise. His commentary on the world is remarkable from the lens of someone who’s relatively young. It feels like somebody in their 60s or something. I was telling Jason how he reminds me of where Jim Carrey has been where he grew out his hair and beard. He was like, “I don’t give a fuck anymore. I’m going to speak the truth. I’m not just about making jokes all the time. I want to get existential.”

I’ve watched this special Inside three times. I wanted to rewatch it for the discussion for this episode. Jason watched it a couple of hours after I watched it the second time. I was like, “What the hell? I’ll watch it the third time.” It reminds me of when I watched Hamilton. First of all, what they have in common is their music. Inside, even though it’s positioned as a bit of a comedy special, it’s mostly music. I found out about Bo Burnham’s style because I watched his special from 2016 which has a high percentage of music. He plays the piano and the guitar and he has all these flashing lights. It’s neat to contrast those two specials because the 2016 performance was done on stage like a typical comedy special. This 2021 special Inside is done inside. It’s a lot about the experience we collectively had in 2020 when many of us were staying inside and quarantining.

His perspective is coming from somebody who had some mental health challenges. He speaks about how he had to take five years off from performing for his mental health. He was having panic attacks. It was interesting to go back to the 2016 special. It’s also on Netflix. He was alluding to mental health that was woven in. He was saying some similar things back then being only 25 and also, feeling so wise. Seeing his production value, how he uses his lights and how he was doing that with the crew in 2016 and 2021, which makes Inside special is he wrote it all, directed it and did most of the producing. If you stay and watch the credits at the end of that special, you’ll see other people were involved. For the most part, it was a one-man show.

That also is interesting for me and Jason and anyone else who has been a content creator who has done a lot of things on their own. It’s impressive. I kept watching and thinking, “His ability to write his acts to perform them with the music, lighting, camera angles and editing.” It’s phenomenal watching and going back to the Hamilton side of it. I watched Hamilton for the first time because it got hyped up online. I’d heard about Hamilton for years and I was like, “I’ll watch it when it comes out on Disney+.” I remember feeling a little bit of dread. I forget how long Hamilton is. It’s over two hours and I was like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be into this. I’m not into musicals.” I felt a little of that the first time I watched Inside where I was like, “Everyone is talking about this. I want to get through it.”

There were moments that I enjoyed it. The longer I watched the special much like Hamilton, the more I got into it. The two equated to each other where I feel I can watch both over and over again. The music gets stuck in my head, both Hamilton and Inside. I keep wanting to re-listen and rewatch them to pick up on different things because there’s so much going on. The first time you watch either, even though they’re different in a lot of ways, what they have in common is there’s much going on in each word. If you put the subtitles on both Hamilton and Inside, you dissect each phrase. There’s so much packed into the songs, much meaning and much to reflect upon.

I will likely watch Inside the fourth time or maybe more. I’ve listened to the Hamilton soundtrack countless times but I’ve watched Hamilton 2 or 3 times. That was my experience of it. There’s so much to discuss beyond the production value, performance, the writing and all that. There’s a lot of depth to it and a lot pertaining to mental health. Before I share some of my findings, as I’ve taken notes through multiple watching, Jason watched it on June 4th, 2021. I’m curious, Jason, how are you feeling as you’ve reflected on it for this episode and personally taking it in and sleeping on it in the sense that you watched it before bed and you slept then woke up? I imagine you’ve been processing in that sense.

Entertainment is all in the eyes of the beholder. Click To Tweet

I did sleep in a puddle of my drool. I have been having some congestion issues and mouth breathing at night. It’s probably not the best for me but it happens.

What happened to those breath strips that we got? Thanks to our friend and former podcast guest, Sid. What are they called? Simply Breathe?

Yeah. I haven’t tried it yet.

Perfect opportunity. Sid recommended these strips for your mouth that help you breathe through your nose. Jason, maybe this is your chance to finally try them.

There are a lot of products in the queue that I have not yet tried but it’s there. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Inside. It’s interesting because the way that you positioned it was that you said something in our text thread alluding to the fact that I might need time to emotionally process it. Anytime I hear that I’m like, “What am I signing up for now?” I’m an extremely sensitive person. I struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. We’ve talked about ad nauseam on the podcast. Whenever I hear that, you’re going to need time to emotionally process what you’re watching. I gird myself for what I’m about to experience.

My initial impression was that I thought it was genius-level creativity and I don’t use that word wantonly. Not just the music he wrote and sang but the production value, lighting, editing and camera angles. It was mind-blowing to me the level of detail and complexity. Also, the intelligence of how he wrote the songs. It was one of those things where I was like, “This is a virtuosic level of creativity. It was spectacular in terms of its creativity.” I didn’t laugh as much as I did sit there and reflecting on the messaging, what I was witnessing and trying to digest it as an artist and analyze what he was doing. I did laugh at certain points. There were certain songs where it was radically self-effacing either regarding his life or his perspective on social media or racism. The perspectives were mind-blowing. The level of intelligence in detail. I’ll get way deep into some specifics here. Generally, I left feeling existential. My girlfriend, Laura, teases me sometimes because I get out there and I get so existential. I think about why we are here? What are we doing? What is the point of all this?

I feel his exploration in this special. I didn’t walk away feeling hopeful. I left feeling confused and here is why. The way that he frames the context of this special, in my opinion, was that he was living in this small dimly lit studio with few windows studio working on the special. He sleeps there. He has a tiny kitchenette. He’s only got four windows. All his musical equipment, cords, camera and lighting are strewn like a mess or a bomb hit it. It’s real in that way if you see his creative space. Everything is everywhere. I don’t know if this was his intention but I left with the impression of knowing nothing about Bo Burnham. He’s living in the studio. I don’t know where. He’s confined himself to try and finish this special in a year and shows his struggle with that creative journey.

MGU 238 | Performance Art

Performance Art: Many creators want to finish something and don’t want to hear people’s feedback. They won’t even pay attention or read the reviews.

 

Afterward, I left and I was like, “I want to research more about Bo Burnham. Let me see who this guy is.” I go to his wiki page and I start looking and it’s like, “He lives in LA. His life partner is this well-known screenwriter and they both live in Los Angeles.” I did a little bit of digging and I’m like, “He doesn’t live in that space. That’s his guest house on his property. He has a property where there’s a main house and there’s a guest house.” I want to qualify what I’m about to say with more detail but then I was like, “He’s not this starving artist living in a studio in LA working, living, eating and sleeping in this tiny space. He has a compound.” There’s a main house and a guest house in the back.

That takes away a little bit of the authenticity of it for me. The way that he framed it to me was he’s living, sleeping, eating, breathing, shitting and losing his mind in this confined space. I don’t know this for sure if he was like this to his partner like, “I’m going to go live in the back house for a year and I may see you, I may not.” I don’t know the context of that negotiation of that relationship. Knowing that he had the ability to leave that space, go into the main house and be with his wife gives me the impression he wasn’t as alone as he purported himself to be. That’s the first thing. I’m not shitting on Bo. I’m just saying it was my impression he made it look that way when the reality of his actual life situation, I’m like, “Oh.”

He had it out then. He could visit his wife and he could go to the main house. He’s not some starving artist in the studio being all claustrophobic. That doesn’t take away from his mental health struggles. That doesn’t take away from the realness of certain moments I experienced. The reality is different, in my opinion than what he purported it to be. That’s how I walked away from it. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the potency of the message but it makes me wonder. There were moments that he was having a mental breakdown at certain points. It makes me wonder what was true and what was dialed in or if he was acting.

Was he depressed? Was he having a mental breakdown? Was he acting like he was? That’s what I mean. As a viewer, it questions my level of trust in him versus, “This is the real Bo and this is the performer Bo acting depressed, like he’s having a mental breakdown and he’s suicidal.” There was a point in there where he’s talking about he wanted to kill himself. He’s turning 30 and then he cuts away and he’s like, “You shouldn’t kill yourself.” He’s like, “If you’re thinking about suicide, you shouldn’t do it.” At one point, he said, “I’m not going to kill myself. I’m going to wait until I’m 40 to do it.” I left walking away feeling blown away by the creativity, production and artistic virtuosity but questioning the authenticity of what he was sharing in those moments.

My question is does it need to be authentic? He doesn’t position it as, “This is me and my real life.” One of the most enlightened perspectives I saw on this so far is that it doesn’t matter if it’s about him and real or if it’s a made-up character. The whole point is the experience as a viewer and what that reflects us about our own state of being like any art form. It’s like when you watch a movie, the ending is vague and the director or screenwriter will never tell you the answer. They always say, “That’s up to you to interpret.” It’s frustrating. You’re like, “I want to know the truth. I want to know what you meant it to be.”

That’s not the point of entertainment. Entertainment is all in the eyes of the beholder. What you’re describing, Jason is a natural thing. I wonder, did part of you feels disappointed? You were hoping that it was relatable like, “I’m going through this and so is he. I’m not alone.” Did part of you feel when you discovered what you perceive to be the reality of the situation that you were almost disappointed because you’re like, “It’s not as relatable as I thought it was. Maybe I am alone.”

100% yes. It does blur the line between reality and performance art. If this was a performance art piece, as an artist creating art, you leave things up to the interpretation of the viewer or the consumer. I agree with that. The thing that I left with was what was real here. What was performance art? I probably do need to watch it the second time to glean a deeper emotional sense of what I’m watching. It doesn’t take away from the potency of his scathing and brilliant social commentary talking about race, white privilege, sexting, white girls on Instagram or Jeff Bezos.

There were many moments where I was like, “This is genius.” I keep using that word. Not just the incredible earworms, level of the catchiness of the songs he was writing and the complexity of the songs but his scathing and real commentary on so many strange and bizarre aspects of our lives on this planet. All of that doesn’t diminish any of that. What leaves me feeling funny is the blurring of performance art and reality. My impression right after I finished at 12:30 AM was, “He was lonely. This was hard for him.” There are moments of him pulling out the pullout couch and sleeping on the couch. Showing him waking up and him eating a bowl of cereal in this tiny kitchen.

It’s all up to the viewer’s interpretation because never did he say, “I’m living in this room for a year by myself.” My impression of it based on the context in which he gave, eating cereal, waking up and falling asleep on this pullout couch was like he’s living in this space. When I went into research, it was like, “Oh.” If you have a guesthouse on your property in LA, you’re doing fine. Let me make a sweeping generalization. Economically, you’re fine if you have a guest house in LA. It’s this thing of the line being blurred between performance art and reality. I’m still not quite sure what was real and what was the performance. That’s okay. I’m not hating on Bo. It just leaves me confused about what his intention was here and we may never know.

Some of the wealthiest and most successful people are the most miserable. Click To Tweet

When you say you’re fine, you mean you’re financially fine. He’s not saying he’s not financially fine. You can do quick research to see all of his accomplishments. He had so much success, which we can imagine has some financial success. The show is about his mental state. Some of the wealthiest, most successful people are the most miserable. The fact that he’s turning 30 years old in the special, in one of the vignettes, shows the clock turning to his birthday and turning 30, which was also neat, interesting and relatable.

A lot of people have this fear around turning 30 and turning 40. Once you turned 30, all the other big birthdays feel like something collectively people dread which seems ridiculous to me. That’s a super relatable thing. He is turning 30 and all the weight from our society that comes with turning 30 and any age beyond that. Yet, 30 is so young. He is a successful performer turning 30 years old and seemingly miserable having come out of a five-year break of needing time away from his work. I also wonder how he feels about the reception around this because this special felt like,” I don’t give a fuck what you think.”

It’s interesting. Did he make this because he was under contract? Did he make it because he wanted to? That was another question that I had. There were times where he shows the behind the scenes. Whether it’s real or acting, I hope that there are at least glimmers of truth within those little moments. Part of what makes it an incredible piece of art is in between the songs and the vignettes, he shows the “behind the scenes” of him struggling to set things up, write songs, getting frustrated and burnt out. Sleeping on the couch and waking up like you see those experiences, which for many of us who are artists, content creators and performers can all relate to.

I kept wondering, “Is he enjoying this process?” There was a moment where he said, “I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish this.” It almost was like he was hoping he would never finish it. Part of me is like, “Maybe he is enjoying it,” or, “He’s like most artists where they never feel like it’s good enough so they’re going to continue working with something and procrastinate the release.” I’m at that point, Jason. I have this one video that I’ve been working on for almost two years. I hate working on it but I also enjoy working on it and I’m getting closer to releasing it. Nobody says I have to release it on a certain day. I can release it whenever I want.

MGU 238 | Performance Art

Performance Art: Creativity and artistic expression can become a distraction and an addiction to escape the deeper and more painful things in life.

 

The only pressure I feel is, “Will this content still be relevant when it comes out two years after I originally made the footage?” It’s like, “What the hell is taking me so long? I’m doing all these little tweaks on it, wanting to make it “perfect.” I’m sure the version of it from last year is just as good as the version that I keep working on,” so that was relatable. My question kept going like, “Why is he doing this project? Is he getting paid a lot of money? Is he is under contract with Netflix? Is he driven to express this part? How does he feel about the release now that it’s done?” Many creators want to finish something and don’t even want to hear people’s feedback. They won’t even pay attention. They won’t read the reviews. Some people do. They’re obsessed with that and they want it.

Part of me was like, “I wonder how he feels about people learning about him for the first time because of this. People like us that didn’t even know who he was.” I’m like, “I’m such a fan of his work. How does he feel about all these different interpretations? Is he paying any attention to it?” I’m so curious because it is intimate. You almost feel like you’re in the room with him watching that special. It must feel weird to release that and then get all this commentary flooding in from people all of a sudden.

If you’re an artist and you’re doing creative work in the world, it’s interesting where you are on the spectrum of wanting feedback, inviting feedback, reviews, criticism, etc. Some artists don’t even watch their own work anymore. I remember years ago reading an interview with Johnny Depp and he said he never watches his movies. He’ll shoot a movie, they’ll wrap and he’ll never watch it. I prefer, to be honest, not watching my stuff after it’s done. I feel like what happens is if I do something and it’s done, edited and put out on the world. I can’t change it. It is what it is. Generally, no amount of feedback, reviews, comments or social media is going to make me a better performer. I’m more on the spectrum of putting it out in the world and then just letting it go. I don’t want to rewatch it. I don’t want the comments.

Even years ago on my YouTube channel, I remember someone said something to the effect of, “Don’t bother asking Jason a question. He never responds to the comments here anyway.” I’m like, “No, I don’t.” As a human being with an innumerable number of inboxes and ways to be DM’d and emails, I don’t owe anybody a response. I went to my Facebook DMs and there’s more than I can count in there. I had this moment of like, “God.” I was like, “Is this your mom? Are these your close friends? No. You don’t know these people.” I don’t owe anybody the time to go through 300 DMs on my Facebook and I don’t give a shit. There is a part of me mentally managing my mental health that I have to unplug from the desire to feel like I have to respond to people. That’s my perspective.

Some people may feel differently. Some people are like, “That’s how you build your fan base. People feel seen and feel loved.” I’m like, “It’s not important to me to spend the time responding to 300 people I don’t know in my Facebook DM inbox.” That’s a tangent but it’s related. The other side of this too, Whitney, is Bo alluded to at the beginning of the special and I’m paraphrasing what he said. Something about wanting to keep doing the special and not wanting to finish it because then, he’d have to face his depression, loneliness and anxiety. He phrased it differently but he did say at one point that this is a distraction from facing those things.

Art and creativity, you talked about a flow state. When we are super hyper-focused on editing, music, writing, painting and performing, there is a level of we’re not thinking about how sad we are. We’re not thinking of how much we want to kill ourselves and how crappy we perceive our lives to be or the problems in our relationship. It’s almost like creativity can become an addiction. The more I write, perform, play my music, sketch or whatever the medium is, it becomes an escape and almost a way to channel that pain but simultaneously an escape from the pain.

One of the things I gleaned from it was that was one of the reasons he didn’t want to end it. He’d have to finally face the anxiety and the depression. He joked about suicide but sometimes when we joke about things, it means that it’s painful. When I joke about killing myself, it’s because it’s painful. Joking about it is a way for me not to make it feel so heavy even though it is really heavy. That’s when I walked away from it. When he was talking about suicide and not killing himself, I’m like, “You’re saying this because you do want to kill yourself.” I could be wrong but that was my impression. Creativity and artistic expression become a distraction and an addiction so that maybe we don’t have to face the deeper, more painful things that are going on in our lives. That was a big part of what I walked away from watching. Did you get a similar impression at all?

There were several things that he said. First of all, we don’t take suicide lightly at all. One thing I was a little surprised by is at the end, the last screen of it. If you stuck through the credits, there was one for a suicide helpline. Netflix has a website called WannaTalkAboutIt.com which I have never visited before. It’s a whole resource based on all their programs. If you watch something and you need a resource, you can go there. They have a well-laid out place to learn and get help. I wish that I had been on this screen sooner. People even mentioned on TikTok that that screen was up but I was expecting it to be the first screen you saw, which would have made a lot more sense. It certainly brought up a lot of emotions watching that.

If you don’t make it through the special then it’s not resonating with you. If you watch that entire thing, you’re going to be left feeling a lot of intense emotions. I don’t think people have the tolerance or patience to watch something like that if they’re not deeply in it and if it’s not relatable. He said a couple of interesting things and there are a couple of interesting vignettes around suicide. Trigger warning for anyone who has made it this far that is sensitive to this. One, there was that vignette where he was almost reenacting the end of a YouTube video. That classic whimsical, “Thank you so much for watching.”

What’s interesting about his performances in this is that they all feel commentary on the cliché behavior of people in certain categories. There’s that one song about white women’s Instagram, which is funny. If you’re going to laugh out loud, you’re laughing because it’s relatable and I can laugh as a white woman. I felt a sigh of relief that I hadn’t done most of those cliché things that he pointed out. For those who haven’t watched it yet, he shows himself doing the things that white women typically do on their Instagram.

I told Jason about this offline, how there are a few women on TikTok who made videos saying, “Guilty as charged.” They show a montage of themselves in the same outfits doing the same things. Clearly, Bo Burnham went on Instagram and looked up all the cliché things that white women post. I watched that feeling a little uncomfortable. A number of segments in this special made me uncomfortable and I want to talk about that with you, Jason. To go back to the suicide to wrap that part off, he had that whimsical like, “Thank you for watching.” He slowly reveals that he’s holding a knife. It said so much.

The truth veiled thinly with comedy doesn't mean it's any less scathing. Click To Tweet

To be transparent, something that you’ve admitted yourself, you have a certain persona that you put on to be transparent beyond your real self. You have your YouTube personality. You have a little bit of a podcast personality sometimes, not all the time. You have that mask that you put on. I’ve known you well enough to know there’s a different Jason behind the scenes. Metaphorically, there are plenty of times that you’ve recorded things where you might as well have been holding a knife because you might feel like you’re doing this whimsical performance but deep down, you’re unhappy. That vignette was poignant and one that a lot of people will talk about.

I don’t know if you understood what this meant, Jason. There’s also a segment where he’s watching his first YouTube video projected on the wall. He started as a YouTuber. Seeing him watching himself, where he began and who he was back then, he doesn’t even say anything. It’s up to you as the viewer to determine what that means. The other suicidal point that stuck with me big time and I’m curious about how you feel in these words, Jason. Something around like, “I don’t want to be dead. I don’t want to kill myself but if I could kill myself for a year or 18 months, I would do it.” He’s like, “Killing yourself is permanent but if I could temporarily kill myself and then come back afterward, I would.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone put it that way. That’s a relatable thing. Even if you haven’t had suicidal thoughts, many of us yearn to put our lives on hold, press the pause button, do nothing and disappear.

That is a relatable thought process. Parents often feel that way. They don’t necessarily regret having children but they wish that they could be away from their kids for a while. Take a break from their job, their family or whatever it is that they’re doing. It’s because we enjoy life and we don’t want it to end entirely and we don’t necessarily need it to change for good. Maybe like, “Can we hold everything in place?” Also, people in relationships will feel this way. I love my partner but I wish that I could press pause, go do something else for a bit and then come back and resume. How did you feel when you saw that part, Jason?

MGU 238 | Performance Art

Performance Art: Even if you haven’t had suicidal thoughts, many people yearn to put their lives on hold, press the pause button, do nothing, and disappear.

 

I want to comment first on the scene where you talked about him watching his first YouTube video. He started on YouTube in 2006 so he was sixteen years old. You’re seeing a 30-year-old man watching his first YouTube video at sixteen years old. What I came away from that scene and overall, the whole thing but that scene, in particular, was the futility of the whole thing in the sense that as sixteen years old, you have these big hopes and big dreams. If you look at the arc of his career, he was the youngest person ever to get a Comedy Central special. He was eighteen. You have this human being who has been met with extraordinary success at a young age as a comedian. That’s extraordinary to have that level of success.

He has apparently over 300 million views on YouTube and here he is as this 30-year-old man looking back at the past fourteen years of his life. My impression of it was like, “What does it all matter? What’s all this for? Why are we even doing all this shit?” My lens on it was him reviewing the last decade and a half of his life. I don’t know that he felt hopeless but there’s a morbid painful feeling as an artist and a content creator. When you put out so much energy and effort, you hit these huge goals and these big life dreams then you’re on the other side of it. It’s almost this question of like, “Now what?”

I don’t know if hopelessness is the right word but that scene got me because it made me review what I’ve done the past decade and a half and here I am. All the success, the fame or the notoriety doesn’t take us out of ourselves. At the end of the day, when we rest our heads down, we still have to deal with who we are and what we think we are. I left feeling fame, money, attention, success and notoriety doesn’t flip some magical switch saying we’re never going to feel suicidal, depressed, manic, anxious or sad. I left with a strange feeling in that scene. My version of that is I want to disappear. I have fantasies, Whitney. I’ve never told anybody this. I fantasize a lot about taking my phone and destroying it, grabbing all the animals, packing up in my car, leaving and not telling anyone.

Not even Laura, your girlfriend?

No. I may as well be dead to everyone.

What about your mom?

I have fantasies of not killing myself temporarily for a year. When he said that, I was like, “My version is I want to literally detonate my life and start over somewhere else where no one knows me. No one knows my past accomplishments. No one has any expectations of me or what they think I should be. I completely wiped the slate clean of my life.” Not kill me by wiping the slate clean but you can’t text me or call me. I deleted all my social accounts so you can’t DM me. Disappearing from life and no one is going to find me. I have that fantasy so often.

For what reason, honestly? First of all, not to minimize that but it reminds me of another TikTok. I can’t remember if I said this to you or not. A lot of people have this desire to move and start over. They do it but they still feel the same way when they get there. They realize that the location has nothing to do with feeling better. Starting over with friends or relationships of any type isn’t easy and it doesn’t improve things. I remember seeing that and thinking of you so I don’t know if I said that. There was at least one video about this.

You talk often about moving. When I saw that video, I thought of you because I wondered sometimes, is moving a gentler way to achieve what you described? How would you feel if you packed up and moved and everyone knew about it? You brought your girlfriend and your animals or whatever. You did it in a more “socially acceptable” way than what you described. How would you feel if you got somewhere else and still felt the same way that you do living in Los Angeles?

Existential dread may either provide a horrifying or a liberating feeling. Click To Tweet

I’ve lived enough life to this point. I have moved out of my hometown of Detroit. I lived in Chicago, New York City, Bay Area and LA. It’s not that I haven’t moved. I moved a lot in my life and I have moved a lot in those cities. I’ve had a ton of different places I’ve lived in fourteen years in LA.

I know that about you and maybe our readers don’t. You bring up moving. Oftentimes, when you talk about wanting to move, it seems to be related to your mental state as if you’re hoping that by moving, you will feel better. There are financial incentives. I feel like the financial incentive is also tied to your mental state. That is another way of examining this to your point with Bo having the success. He’s 30 years old and he’s feeling this way. That’s a concerning thing. It’s like, “You’re 30 years old and you’ve had all the success. You’re making numerous pieces of content, not just the special, about your mental state.” I imagine that would be a tough place to be in.

As much as people like to joke about being old after 30, which is so ridiculous, it is something that’s embedded in a lot of our mindsets of like, “I’m old.” The truth is unless he decides to end his life or something out of his control happens and ends it, he has a lot more life to live. The same question for you because you’re relatively young too, Jason. You’ve got a lot more years to go. What are you trying to achieve by moving or changing your financial situation? What if you get both things and you still feel the same way that you do now then what?

I have to examine certain factors that I feel are contributing to my unhappiness. I’m clear on what those factors are. With the exorbitant cost of living here in Los Angeles, I have no desire to keep doing it. The unbelievable level of noise and pollution. I don’t want to live in a big city anymore. I feel like my nervous system has been fried. I feel like urban city living is not healthy for me mentally.

You’ve expressed this a lot on the show. I know this for sure and many of the readers do. I’m asking the question specifically. We understand your reasons. What if you move and you still don’t feel any better?

I have more work to do on myself. That’s the answer. I don’t expect moving to make me happy. I don’t expect a new car, house, relationship, money and accolades. I’ve experienced enough change in terms of, “I’ll move to this place and I feel good. I’ll get this new car and I’ll get this new relationship.” None of those are going to make me happy. I know that. In my situation, I don’t feel good about it. If I’m in a place with more nature, trees, better air, better water and I still feel this ambient level of anxiety or malaise, at least my environment will be better. I know that it’s not going to magically change things but I also know the feeling of when I’m done with something and if I stay too long in a situation that I’m done with, it’s congealing. It’s like life drying up.

My relationship with LA is like a relationship I’ve been in too long past its expiration date and I’m ready to leave. I don’t know what the next chapter is. That’s why I haven’t done it. My point is I don’t expect moving to Washington, Oregon, Costa Rica or whatever to magically change my mental state like, “I’ll never be depressed again. I’ll never be anxious.” I’ll be depressed and anxious. To me, it’s about honoring the end of a chapter that I know I’m done with and going to the next thing. The reality is when I get to wherever I’m going, I don’t know how I’m going to feel but I know I don’t feel great here.

It reminds me of that other TikTok video I sent you. It’s a cliché that Millennials and, in your case, Gen X have this deep connection with Washington and Oregon. As funny as that is, I wonder if it’s because we have this fantasy that living in those places will make us feel better. Clearly, you’re not saying that but I wonder if there is some level of like, “The nature and the beauty, let me go someplace where I’ll feel better.” We saw so many of you moving to Austin, Texas and it became cliché.

Like what we felt about coming to Los Angeles in the first place. There was this idea in each of our childhoods, mine and Jason’s and maybe you, the reader. It’s like, “Moving to LA will give you this.” You’ve also done your astrocartography. We have one episode where we went deep into that but Jason’s brought it up in a few episodes of the show. Places have an energy to them. I’m sitting here looking out over a good chunk of this neighborhood. I have palm trees, which if I see a palm tree, I feel happy. There are elements of your environment that make you feel good. I enjoy the weather. There’s so much about LA. The financial side of it is expensive. I’m like you, Jason.

I’ve talked about this with my car. My rent and my car payments are my two big expenses. I could have a different car and pay less. I could have no car and pay nothing. I could live somewhere else and pay at least half of what I’m paying in rent and save so much money but both are worth it for me in my life. That’s for each person to decide. What is worth the struggle? That’s only up for each of us to decide about this. It’s an interesting reflection.

MGU 238 | Performance Art

Performance Art: White people need to take an honest look at themselves and their privilege.

 

Something else that I took away from watching that, Jason, is you could see this successful white young man in the special complaining. He did well whether he intended this or not. You’re not watching it thinking, “Ugh.” At least for me, maybe because I’m white too. I wasn’t saying that rolling my eyes like, “This guy is annoying. He’s complaining. What does he have to complain about?” I didn’t feel that way. I felt simultaneously sympathetic towards him if that was real but also saw seen how this is relatable. Some people put it as a relatable crisis, bleak humor.

It is pointing out a lot of the problems that are affecting many of us. He even acknowledges his white privilege in the special, which he did in an interesting way. That’s important because white people do need to take an honest look at themselves and their privilege. Seeing that articulated from another white person who’s self-aware was helpful for me as a white person that’s trying. When he was in that sock puppet vignette, that had a little bit of a subtle feeling of slavery or dominance. That segment makes me uncomfortable. There were a couple of those that I wanted to skip over when I watched it the 2nd and 3rd time. I thought, “The fact that I want to skip this as I watch this and sit with my feelings. Why is this making me uncomfortable?”

I anthropomorphized that sock puppet. I felt so bad for it. It was under control, being dominated and tortured in some ways. The sock puppet is talking about how he would rather be on both hands than in the pile in the corner in that place between alive and dead. He said many fascinating things. Bo was playing this guy that’s controlling this puppet. You could think of the dominance of white men in this country. There are those moments if you read into what he’s saying and implying that are like, “This is uncomfortable.” I wrote down some of the statements where he’s talking about how media companies exploit the neurochemical drama of our children for profits. How some people have flattened the human experience into a lifeless exchange of value that benefits nobody except for a handful of people in Silicon Valley and you’re like, “Whoa.”

There were some of those moments where you’re like, “Dang.” The truth veiled thinly with comedy doesn’t mean it’s any less scathing. Those truth bombs he dropped were like, “I don’t disagree with you.”

Lots of commentary on entertainment. That song with the chorus, “A little bit of everything all of the time. Apathy is a tragedy. Boredom is a crime.” They’re so catchy. You’re sitting there singing along. Like Hamilton, if you read the words and understand what he’s saying, the music is catchy but the lyrics are saying something that we need to pay attention to about commercialization and exploitation. It’s confronting. That’s why it’s important. Maybe his aim in this is he’s touching upon what life is like in 2020 and 2021 when it was released. The state of what it is to be a young white successful man, a woman on Instagram, somebody who’s being dominated or taken advantage of or somebody with mental health issues.

He has a desperate need to be seen as intelligent. He’s so worried about criticism that he levies it against himself before anyone else can. The touching upon the human experience. This is why people on TikTok, which are mainly Gen Z, are resonating because they’re young but self-aware for the most part. Going back to the age thing, part of me is glad that I didn’t grow up in the way that Gen Z did. Part of me thinks, “What an advantage they have to be self-aware and have this type of content.” If I had seen that when I was a teenager or in my early twenties, for life to be pointed out and explained in that way, I didn’t have access to it if it was out. Most kids can turn on Netflix and watch a special like this and then go through their TikTok feeds and hear people commenting and going, “I can either sit and feel sad and depressed or this will inspire me to go and make a shift.”

The self-awareness of our mortality limits our freedom. Click To Tweet

There are a couple of things I want to say. I was discussing this with my mentor, Michael, because we have a bi-monthly group that gets together where we talk about a lot of these topics in the group. What I’m about to say could either inspire a feeling of liberation and who give this shit, let’s do what we want to do or it could feel morose. We were talking about creativity. We were talking about birthing things into the world. The pressure, anxiety, comparison and how ravaging it is mentally and emotionally to be an artist in the world oftentimes. What I’m about to say have exceptions to this, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart or whatever. About 300 years from now, we’ll be dead. Everyone we know and love will be dead. No one is going to remember anything we did.

I’m not saying that as a bleak thing. It wasn’t phrased as a bleak thing. It’s up to interpretation. One could take it like, “If I’m going to be dead and everyone I love is going to be dead, all the music, content, videos, books and everything we’ve done will be gone.” I don’t want people to nitpick that. “What about the Library of Congress?” We can probably estimate it’ll be gone. The trace of us will be gone. We won’t be remembered. We won’t be revered. There’ll be no statues of us. We’ll just be gone.

You could say that and go, “That is bleak and morose,” or you could say, “Who cares? Let’s just do whatever we want.” If no one’s going to remember what we said, thought, did and created and it’s all evaporated in the ethers unless you’re a luminary for all time like Michelangelo. That level of existential dread of our demise can either feel like, “What’s the point? Why should I do anything? It doesn’t matter,” or, “I should do anything. It doesn’t matter.” A blank canvas statement. It’s important to consider that. I don’t know if that inspires a sense of meaning or a sense of meaninglessness. It depends on your state and who’s interpreting that comment.

In a way, one could feel liberated by that. You put things out into the world and you know that on some level, they will be forgotten someday. Everyone who ever watched it will have forgotten about it and none of it will matter. Everything in my house, all my animals and all my loved ones will be gone 300 years or so from now. It’s neither good nor bad but that’s the reality of the situation we’re in. Existential as human beings, the self-awareness of our mortality limits our freedom because animals, as far as we know, don’t have an awareness of their mortality as an example. You see how free they are. You see how free children are.

Once we have the awareness of mortality and everything we loved, have, be, done, did and created will be gone. It’s an interesting frame of life, isn’t it? When you consider trees, animals, plants and children, they don’t have that frame of life. Adult humans do. The other thing about watching this Bo Burnham’s special was this article I read that was a commentary on it. I don’t want to read the whole article. I want to read the end of the article because at the end of the article, a couple of paragraphs was the one that cut in a different way. I want to read that briefly because we’re talking about this existential thing.

“The sound of one hand clapping. If Inside sounds like navel-gazing then that’s precisely Burnham’s point. Whereas he wants to carefully use self-deprecation, setting up his own mythologies only to abruptly knock them down. Now hurting himself is the focus of the entire project. Within ten minutes of Inside, Burnham has questioned the importance of art in a time of transition, unpacking his white privilege and umming and ahhing over whether or not to stay silent and hand the floor to someone else. When he does decide to keep going, it’s not out of a shared idea of the good. It’s because, without something to do, he’s bored, suicidal and depressed.”

“This is the Burnham modus operandi laid bare, say something audacious and then reveal the deeply craven and self-interested reasons for that audacity. It’s a constant wheeling back and forth between stating a premise and then stating the counter premise. The flow forever being interrupted until a lopsided rhythm of destruction is established. Perhaps in the hands of another artist, such cycles would grow boring and easy to predict but Bo Burnham is smart enough to know when he’s required to shake things up just as the audience needs the most. Hot streaks of sincerity come piercing out of the moulage of self-hatred and malaise. A song about Facetiming with your mom. A vulnerable monologue delivered into a mirror. A spoof educational duty for children that left turns into a Marxist anthem about exploitation and bloodshed.”

“When all is said and done, Inside is not an assemblage of ideas. It’s an assemblage of images. The most striking of which sees Bo Burnham seated in front of one of his earliest YouTube videos back to the camera. The vision of an artist assessing himself, his purpose and his reasons for continuing and coming up with his hands painfully empty. If Inside has an overall point, it’s that the search for the ultimate most truthful version of yourself is impossible. Authenticity isn’t so much the enemy of Inside, as much as it is its unreachable destination. The skits and songs about fake woke marketing executives and Instagram feeds of white women probe at the essential non essence of people. How often we lie to ourselves and how difficult it is to work out thoughts, which ones are our own and which thoughts have we cribbed from the oversaturated, overstimulated world around us? When you strip away the contingent parts of yourself, the noise, the desire for attention and the deafening cry of your social media, what are you left with? According to Bo Burnham, the answer is simple, not much of anything at all.”

“The horror that comes with searching for something real and stable within ourselves will be familiar to anyone who’s tried to reinvent themselves during the pandemic. That makes Inside a pandemic work of art but only tangentially. The isolation of lockdown is the prism of Inside, not its focus. The means through which our failure to connect with any internal stability makes itself terrifyingly clear. What do we do when we’re confronted with the vacuum at the center of our being? Bo Burnham doesn’t know. The final image of Inside isn’t some triumphant thesis or denouement. It’s a portrait of an artist slipping further into the fake. Watching an audience, watching the screen, watching himself. The sound of artificial endorsement ringing out over a suddenly black screen. After all, what can you do but laugh?”

How does that make you feel hearing that, Whitney? On some level, it’s like, “Do we ever know who we are?” “Can we ever get to the truest version of ourselves? Is it all a cry for attention, success and notoriety?” It brings up a lot of layers, doesn’t it? I think about this often not just as an artist, musician, podcast host or content creator, “Who am I really?” Is what I’m creating, to your point, as the years that I’ve had on the TV show and YouTube, “It’s Jason Wrobel and we’re going to make this quick.” Who is that? Who’s the person judging that person? What’s underneath that? Who am I? What does authenticity even mean anymore?

My biggest thing coming away from this is I don’t know that I feel better about myself or the state of life after watching this. In some ways, I feel worse. Maybe the whole thing is hopeless. Maybe if it is hopeless, we should just do what we want. I’m still unpacking my emotional response to watching this because it’s so layered, nuanced and there’s much going on about the mirror in which we view ourselves and view our life. That part about authenticity and can we ever get to the core of who we are as people, I don’t know if that’s achievable. I don’t know that there is an endpoint to that journey.

With that being said, we want to encourage you, dear reader, if you feel compelled by the perspectives we shared to watch Inside and comment for this episode at Wellevatr.com or that’s shooting us a direct message and sharing your thoughts and feelings. I am personally definitely going to watch it a second time. I want to watch it with my girlfriend, Laura, because I definitely want to see the lens through which she interprets this also as an artist and creative person. I will have more thoughts and more impressions. We do want to tell you about something fun that we launched. It’s a private podcast called This Hits The Spot. If you have been with us any length of time, you know that we do product reviews and we’re changing it up in a different way and doing our product reviews differently.

Part of that is because we recognize that this show can get heavy as this episode has. I just want to soften the transition and not to be like, “Let’s get into something else now.” We are not mental health professionals in a certified sense so we provide resources that are. We are here as friends. We are here to be in this with you and all this messiness. We created a new show because we wanted to give you something light. Oftentimes, we talk about products. It’s not meant to be commercial. I love talking about things I tried and things that make me feel better. It’s like comfort food.

MGU 238 | Performance Art

Performance Art: Thanks to the internet, Gen Z and Millennials are able to become easily self-aware of their human experiences.

 

If you’ve read some of our episodes, we were trying to figure out the right spot and initially, I wanted to call the podcast Comfort Food but we decided against it because we’re not just talking about food and that title wasn’t quite the right one. We went with This Hits The Spot because we all know that feeling. When something hits the spot, it makes you feel good. It’s like, “This is what I really needed.” We’re hoping to steer you away from self-destructive things and give you alternatives that are good for your well-being in the long-term. Whether you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix and you want some comfort food whether you need to take the weight off of your shoulders through a supplement or a service.

To add on, it’s not just about products. It’s about anything basically that you could buy or sign up for free. Some things we’ll mention. We’ll get commissions on and full transparency, we’ll always tell you about that but we’re not motivated by the finances. Those are a little cherry on top. We do offer up this new show to two types of people. One, people who sign up for our newsletter list which is completely free. All you do is go to our website and type in your email address. You’re giving us some of your data that gives us an opportunity to connect with you.

If you do not want to give us that data, that’s completely fine. We just ask you to contribute something on Patreon for as little as $2 a month and that money goes towards funding this show, funding our new show, funding any of our endeavors to support people with their mental health and emotional well-being. We are grateful for that so we wanted to give you something extra as a little token of our appreciation but also something else that’s fun. I loved recording that episode with you, Jason. I’m so happy about our first episode and it went a little longer.

My initial thought with This Hits The Spot is it’ll be closer to five minutes but the first episode is a little over twenty. I’m hoping if we can bring it back down to ten minutes, great but we’ll see what happens. We don’t have a time limit per se. It did bring me joy. Did it bring you joy, Jason? That’s one thing I’m thinking about after I watched Inside. You see what goes into creating those fun little catchy jingles that Bo Burnham writes. It’s not always fun and games. They might be fun to watch but the creation process is a journey. I was thinking, “I wonder if Jason’s going to want to sing the jingles that we did in the first version of This Hits The Spot?” I think we should just flow with it.

I will say that your little jingle on episode one of This Hits The Spot got stuck in my head. As I started thinking about it, it’s going to get stuck in my head again. I encourage the readers to check that out. Whether you do that through signing up for our newsletter or Patreon, your choice but you can get that episode. Our aim is to do one episode a week. Short and sweet, quick on their feet. We will throwback to another part of that episode, inside joke if you have not listened to it yet.

I’m glad that I could provide earworms that continue to haunt you in your sleep. That’s a good sign. That’s good kudos for a songwriter. If you’re going to come for the recommendations, definitely come for the improvised songs because I’m going to be doing a lot more music on that on This Hits The Spot. You can find all the things on our website Wellevatr.com. Our email is [email protected]. You can shoot us DMs on Instagram, on our social media feeds. That’s it for now. I’m going to go put some deodorant on, a clean shirt and try and make myself presentable to the outside world. Wish me luck. Until next time!

Important Links:

*We use affiliate links in our show notes. This means we receive a small sales commission if you purchase an item based on our recommendation.

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the This Might Get Uncomfortable community today: