What is the meaning of life? How can we make sense of existence, if at all? These are the questions Fyodor Dostoyevsky attempted to answer in his 1864 novella Notes From Underground. Centuries later in 2021, comedian and filmmaker Bo Burnham attempts to answer the same questions in his COVID-era comedy special Inside. Though neither of these works are about existential philosophy explicitly, Notes From Underground is revered as such. In this comparative essay I argue that Inside is also a deeply existential work, similar to Notes From Underground in both the themes it contains and the mechanisms used to convey them. Both are self-referential expressions of pain and bewilderment over the existential condition, and both conclude by giving in to nihilism. Comparing these similar works from vastly different time periods can shed light on how humanity grapples with the same existential questions under different circumstances, providing evidence for the continued relevance of existential philosophy in the Internet Age.
Beck, Jasper K.
"Joking With a Heavy Heart: Bo Burnham as the Modern Underground Man,"
PURE Insights: Vol. 11, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wou.edu/pure/vol11/iss1/3
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License