Published on December 17th, 2012 | by msalt

Maria Bamford: Staring Into the Void, Hilariously

As a standup comic myself, there is no comedian I enjoy or respect more than Maria Bamford. Who, you ask? If you’re not a comedy geek, the only place you’re likely to have seen her is on the TV ads Target runs every Christmas; she’s the manic, unhinged blonde suburban mom.

As a standup comic, though, she is utterly original, groundbreaking, fearless, deep – and funny. She does two things almost impossible in comedy. First, she tackles serious subjects, like loneliness and mental illness, without either losing the humor or trivializing the issues. For example: “Sure, I think about suicide. But I don’t do it. I think about buying day old raisin bread, too, cause it seems like a good deal at the time, but I don’t do it.”

Her other achievement is to transform her ideas into the odd syntax of a comedy performance, without adopting the emotional distance most comics sport. No performer is more emotionally naked than a standup; you are standing in a crowd of strangers (who can talk back!), revealing how you see the world. When you go further and talk about your life onstage, every instinct tells you to protect yourself, raising a sheet of emotional Plexiglas for the audience’s comfort as much as yours.

The result is the glib insouciance so many comics adopt. But Bamford holds her own feet (and the audience’s) to the fire, and finds the universal in her personal story. She reveals her own fear of loneliness (as a mid-thirties, single woman) and challenges the audience to confront their own. Other comics (including myself) joke about dating ineptitude. Bamford says “Sure, there’s the possibility of dying alone. But that’s not so bad. I’m fun to be with!

I’ve met Bamford offstage, as a stage manager at the fabulous Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and she is just as present, real, compassionate and funny offstage as she is on. She is openly non-religious – her next CD will be titled “Ask Me About My New God” — but to my eye she lives as spiritual a life as anyone I know, in the best way; performing her craft diligently, honestly, and compassionately by its own demands, not to follow any social expectations. She is a useless tree, as Daoists would say; an obstinately noncommercial, fiercely personal, and deeply human performer of the highest integrity.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, Judd Apatow calls her “the most unique, bizarre, imaginative comedian out there right now. She makes me laugh hard. Out loud.” The New York Times raves about her “decade of accomplished standup comedy, daring in form, that involves blunt jokes about depression and her mental-health struggles and a dark, David Lynch-like interest in what lies beneath.” And Huffington Post Comedy calls her “one of the patron saints of comedy.”

If she is not performing near you soon (with the excellent Jackie Kashian usually opening), you can see a lot of her online. Here are some short comedy bits. 123 To really appreciate her, make your way through her brilliantly peculiar (and somewhat fictional) series “The Maria Bamford Show,” starting here.

Or check out her newest show, at www.chill.com for $4.99: a live standup show with an audience of two (her parents.) Odd? Sure. Also brilliant.

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About the Author

Mark Saltveit is a writer, standup comedian, skimboarder and dad based in Portland, Oregon. He is also the reigning World Palindrome Champion.



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