Maria Bamford: in-house comic

Maria Bamford Maria Bamford is a woman of many voices, many addictions, many neuroses. A self-proclaimed “semi-successful comedian,” you might have seen her stand-up featured on Comedy Central, or you might recognize her from a string of holiday Target commercials in which she plays an odd and tightly wound Christmas-obsessed shopper. Or maybe you’ve never heard of her at all.

Even with her brushes with fame, you easily could have missed her, lost her in the crowd of more fashionable of-the-moment female performers. As of late, Chelsea Handler’s big bad mouth is on the scene, Kathy Griffin is brilliantly milking celebri-culture and reality TV, Tina Fey is America’s sexy librarian sweetheart and Olivia Munn is the funny It-girl hottie. In this climate it sure doesn’t hurt to be glamorous or funny/sexy if you’re a woman (ahem, blatant understatement! Fey wasn’t allowed on-screen until she dropped major weight) and this state of affairs is sad for a host of reasons—one being we lose sight of talents like Maria Bamford’s.

Ugh, and I hate to say that because it sounds like I’m saying she’s plain or ugly when that’s not the case at all, nor should it be relevant. It’s just that Maria is very much, and quite brilliantly, a normal weird person. She’s a smart, feminist, kick-ass girl with a lot of anxiety issues, a couple of therapists and a marginal interest in makeup. Likewise, in her comedic personae she isn’t “blingy,” so to speak. She’s resourceful, quirky, odd. A bit of a playwright. She wears sneakers. She takes depression meds. She internet dates. And she’s freaking amazing.

Bamford’s work is deceptively childish and cartoonish. A master of voices and gesture mimicry she bounces from character to character conversing with herself like a Ritalin-starved elementary schooler. She’s her mother, now she’s her sister, now she’s a. . . monster? Yes, a Jesus-loving monster. Though she’s obviously playing, she gets away with quite a bit of vociferous analysis of the people who populate her life (and ours) because she’s “just” a tiny lady making monster noises—she’s no Chris Rock, or heaven forbid, Ricky Gervais. Meanwhile, with each transformation, each flick of wrist and arch of brow, she’s displaying an incredible eye for detail and she spits an amount of venom equal to her comic counterparts without receiving too much heat for her critiques. She flies under the radar which, for a performer, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Her best work, in my opinion, is her homemade web program, “The Maria Bamford Show.” This show skews darker than her stand up specials and freed from the stage, she gets much more personal. She literally invites us into her domestic space, into her lockdown, into her depression. Here, buffered by throw pillows and the comforting plop of wrinkled fur that is her pug Blossom, Bamford can reflect on her more harrowing fears and failures including those surrounding stand up itself.

Her show opens with a little ditty that quickly fills us in on the sitch of her situation comedy:

It’s the Maria Bamford Show! I was a marginally successful comedian living in Los Angeles for 14 years doing stand up, but I never got my own sitcom then my boyfriend turned out to be bisexual and I forgot to pay my insurance premium so I couldn’t afford my medicine for depression, OCD and anxiety, so I started driving cross country in a blonde wig and a bathing suit looking for “angels” with a drug dealer named “Lips,” and my parents found me on the sidewalk selling clock radios in Detroit and they said why don’t you come live with us in Duluth, Minnesota while you try to get your medications stabilized and they took me back to their house where I’m living in the attic with my 11-year-old pug named Blossom, it’s the Maria Bamford Show, hey!

Now, all this might spark the response, “Girl, whatchoo talkin’ bout?!” but I find her quirky honesty sweet, brave and refreshing. Her episodes are clearly torn from her life though fiction blurs the edges of her tales and she employs abstraction alternately for fun and rhetorical purposes. Her home movies of sorts are one-woman shows depicting the everyday assery of people and exposing the ridiculousness of the structures we allow to guide our lives. Each vignette showcases the bizarre but loving communications of family, the absurd loneliness of mental illness and the intense desire to share her experience with the world and ask, “really? Are you seeing what I’m seeing cuz this shit is funny and weird.”

Granted, Maria Bamford is probably not for every taste. Perhaps for someone such as myself—the anxious depressive mother of a wiener dog family—“The Bammer’s” schtick is preaching to the choir. Naaah. Couldn’t be.

Anyhow, I implore you to peek into her world, give Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler a break, play a little, and practice your best monster voice. Do it for me, Blossom and Maria B.

One Response to “Maria Bamford: in-house comic”
  1. steve sheehan says:

    Her boyfriend didn’t turn out to be bisexual, he was actually a sex addict who was still in the denial stage and looking for an explanation why he had been sexually active with men before they met. The admission which was part of a conversation after they had broke up was the beginning of the end of the denial period, while in psycho-dynamic therapy with a psychiatrist. With further therapy he was able to face his addiction and begin recovery – his attraction to men was actually an opportunistic was of getting a sexual fix. He is sad not to have been healthy enough at the time of his relationship with Maria for it to work.

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