There’s not a single thing wrong with Maria Bamford. We just haven’t learned how to live with her yet.
Luckily for future generations of people we call “mentally ill,” Bamford leverages her considerable assets—genius, even—to Illustrate, as lyrically and colorfully as La La Land
, just how much our “normal” standards compound the distress of those at the ends of the bell curve. She builds comedy from her alarmingly chaotic thinking, simply by showing how it operates in “normal” situations, like the check-out lane, dinner with strangers, and especially, conversations with her family.
She’s aware, though, of the boomerang effect. In her set, she sometimes imitates her sister pointing out that Bamford always portrays herself at the victim in conversations with friends, family, fans and business associates. But calling them out in her comedy turns them into victims. Implausibly this conversation is hilarious, not least because of the keenness of the underlying observation, and the byplay of two dogs, pugs, which Bamford imitates with precision.
If Bamford’s hit sitcom for Netflix Original (Never has the term been more apt.) is your water-cooler jam, you will love her stand-up set at the Rialto Theatre (318 E. Congress St.) at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 22; $24 to $35; tickets at rialtotheatre.com.
In performance, Bamford’s affect, her voice and her mannerisms are almost child-like … and fractal. She can be several people and animals at once. As impulsive as it all seems, Bamford has written and rehearsed every word and gesture with all the OCD that her considerable energy, and the indulgence of her friends, allow. She is, after all, a seasoned actress and comedian, and a creative writing major. What we see onstage and in her many comedy series, is Bamford playing a heightened Bamford.
Her cheery personality notwithstanding, Bamford doesn’t make her mental illness look like fun. She’d be the first to say that would be a perversion of reality. Rather, her humor paints her world in candy colors, and fills it with mostly benign characters from her life and work, distorted as if her relationships with them were interpreted through the bottom of a pill bottle. But her comedy does make the world of a certifiable neurotic more accessible, more sympathetic, to the rest of us. It makes us want to stick around, and learn how to live with her.
Following is an email Q&A with Bamford from April 5, 2017, as she ended production for the next season of Lady Dynamite
LR: How on earth did you navigate the world before you discovered comedy?
MB: Well i had also been a secretary for 10 years in the beginning - as well as cleaning houses and waitressing- I still do my own bookkeeping - so I'm a relatively competent person, but comedy has wonderful hours. (1 hour a night)
LR: I keep thinking it must be isolating to be as smart as you are and to have a view of your own environment that is just-that-much off the way most people might see things.
MB: I live in Los Angeles where it's a pretty open minded community. It's been a while since I've felt like I was an oddball.
LR: The people I know who first knew about you and first fell in love with your show seem to feel that they are like you. What thoughts would you like to share with them?
MB: The usual tropes are actually true: do what you love- risk doing exactly what you want to do and at the very least you'll have the priceless joy of doing it your way- whether or not anyone likes it. I am sometimes the only fan of my stuff and that's OK! That and if you have had more than two psychiatric episodes in a lifetime, reconsider before going off your meds or at least let someone know.
LR: Do you find the demands of a TV series to be oppressive in any way?
MB: It is really tiring and I'm not sure if I can keep doing it another year. It's a minimum of 13-hour days and I'm on meds that slow me down a lot. So, even though they've been really accommodating on the show—They gave me an on set cot!—I've got to put health first. My max is ten hours and then I start to feel weird. It's been a real dream come true, though, and tons of fun, and maybe two seasons are enough.
LR: Have you ever been to Tucson before? What was that like for you?
MB: I like Tucson. I'm a libtard and it feels more friendly in that way!
LR: Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to about coming to Tucson?
MB: Working with my best pal Jackie Kashian!!!
Kashian, who shares the Rialto bill with Bamford, co-hosts the podcast, The Dork Hour
, which has been likened to a racy This American Life
. She tours nationally doing stand-up, and has appeared on all the requisite podcasts and TV shows, including Conan O'Brian. Her latest CD, I'm Not The Hero Of This Story
was the number one comedy album on iTunes and Amazon the first week of its release.