“I love Maria Bamford. She makes me laugh. I think she’s hysterically funny. She performs all over the place [in LA]. Have you seen her? She’s so funny— she’s one of the few people that really makes you laugh hard, who’s doing something so interesting and insane. She does a lot of voices. She has a very high voice and she does a lot of characters and people in her life — with deep voices — and it’s just a unique, bizarre act. I’ve seen a lot of comics and it takes a lot to make me laugh really hard. And she definitely makes me laugh super hard.”
Judd Apatow to the Los Angeles Times’ Deborah Vankin (11/19/10)
It feels somewhat superfluous to comment on Maria Bamford after Judd Apatow’s words but his endorsement is representative of just how highly esteemed she is by professionally funny people and stand-up fans alike. Maria Bamford is widely and rightly hailed as one of America’s finest, most original, consistently creative, and unfailingly funny comedians. In comedy parlance (okay “vaudeville,” Jesus!), she’s the top banana. Yet, in an interview we did in 2003 (as a point of reference, the first YouTube video was uploaded in April 2005), she expressed concern about disappointing “people who have come to see general c-o-m-e-d-y, spelled with a series of bananas.” That comment spoke to her self-deprecation and her awareness that she can be a little quiet and odd, but she was exceptionally hilarious and inventive then, just as she is today. The only thing that’s changed is the public’s increased sophistication and appetite for the edge of the envelope-pushers (suck it, paper-pushers). Maria Bamford has created such a distinctive niche and name for herself that the term “Bamford-esque” would be part of contemporary lexicon if she weren’t one of a kind.
And the Los Angeles-based, Duluth, Minnesota-reared Bamford operates in a more performance-based manner that draws on surrealism, Dada, and the avant-garde, but this is not to say that her act is overly precious— it is not, it’s just funny. She uses her flair for voices to create living, breathing, startling vignettes— often about her family, depression, and wonderfully left field observations (and perhaps best manifest in her handmade web series The Maria Bamford Show). She has released three instant-classic stand-up CDs and has an abundance of TV credits. Bamford holds the distinction of being the first female comedian to have two Comedy Central Presents specials and was the sole lady on Patton Oswalt’s Comedians of Comedy tours (which were documented as a Michael Blieden-directed feature and as a Comedy Central series). Maria is also in great demand as an animation voiceover artist. For example, she voices the Praying Mantis and Aphrodite on the just-released, first episode of the Noah’s Ark series on Funny or Die (also voiced by Marc Maron and Jonathan Katz. Watch below and sensitive viewer discretion is advised).
The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is doubly thrilled to have Maria Bamford on the lineup since she is such an Austin favorite— to the point that her multitude of local fans consider her an honorary citizen (not just because Texas needs the tax revenue). And certainly the People’s Republic of Austin would harbor The Bammer if things ever went “bad.” It’s a kinship thing. Like, the short-lived, Austin-based Punchy Tee company created a limited edition “Maria Bamford supports me in in my journey” T-shirt for charity. Proceeds went to the Austin Children’s Shelter last summer, which was rad because despite the ACS’s vital services and “home-like environment,” I’m not readily seeing on their web site (it’s after hours) if they too have a “No Kill” policy like the one the Austin City Council adopted two years ago for animal shelters. I’ll presume not. Was it reckless to speculate? Oh yeah, I’m the cheese here. The Hunger Games domestically grossed itself $270 million and rising. Hey, sometimes there’s further ado. Seriously though, Comedy Moontower was fortunate to have Maria Bamford take the time to answer a few questions via e-lec-tron-ic mail.
Steve Birmingham: At the time and still now in hindsight, an abundance of people (myself included), consider the Comedians of Comedy tours as part of the vanguard for this new era of excitement and appreciation for stand-up and uniquely talented comics. I concede that one person’s “watershed” can be another’s “string of venue restrooms, one grungier than the next,” but could you please describe how the shows and touring initially felt and also what your perspective is in retrospect?
Maria Bamford: It was a very short amount of time— the movie was 6 days and the TV show was maybe 10. It was nice to be with other comics on the road and most especially, comics whose work I admire. I also love gas station food— so I just remember it being a real boon. I’m so glad that anyone is inspired to create their own work/creative projects as a result, that’s what was helpful to me about it too.
SB: What is one of the funniest or most memorable moments from all that time with Patton, Brian [Posehn], and Zach [Galifianakis]?
MB: I guess— because of the nudity— I remember looking at dozens of coquettish photos sent to Zach from this guy in South America, if your anus may be described as a coquette.
SB: You created, single-handedly wrote, and performed in (save the late Blossom Bamford the Pug) your web series The Maria Bamford Show, which Damon Jones shot, directed and edited. The caliber of creativity and humor in those twenty episodes utterly shames the content and bloated budgets of many, many TV sitcoms (and by the way, congratulations on the Museum of Arts and Design’s exhibition of the show). How did the project come to fruition? And to what degree was the process of working (offstage) without interference empowering and fun but also potentially imposing when the Internet is forever and you’re impersonating your family and portraying exaggerated personal adversity?
MB: Well that’s nice to say about it, and it came from me wanting to be on a TV show, doing a one-woman show about it— as well as fears of “madness” from my family tree. Dan Pasternack, currently [VP, Development and Production] at IFC (Portlandia), let us do whatever we wanted. It was awesome possum.
SB: This is clearly not lifted from Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: What are your two favorite journeys?
MB: I like going to NYC and any beginning of a trip— leaving LA.
SB: With your flair for characters who do not filter their inner monologues and your wonderfully surrealistic propensity to suddenly shift a point of view or cadence, your work was perfectly at home on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Was there something you took away from collaborating with and/or observing Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim?
MB: From Tim and Eric— they are fast and loose and inexpensive! It’s super inspiring how they are low-key and just make lots and lots of content and don’t seem very pretentious about it. I would like to be them, but I can’t find openings in their skins.
SB: How do you think your material has changed in the last decade and how do you see it evolving in the future?
MB: I don’t know. I’ve got lots of food and suicide material for the next album. I can’t wait to find out the next new jokes via my strong connection to a God.
SB: You’ve always been honest about your Diet Coke, uh, hobby and on your “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome” CD, you joke about growing older and “getting a Diet Coke hump.” What are your thoughts about an Australian cosmetic surgery clinic’s web site naming you for coining this condition under their “bridalplasty” section as reason for “body contouring”? Also, can you comment on the phenomenon of “bridalplasty”? Their site reads: “For some women it’s a mere formality, but for many, their wedding is considered the happiest day of their lives. That’s why, most brides want to look as radiant as they feel, and why for many, cosmetic tweaks are no longer a flight of fancy, they are a must. But just as with planning the reception, choosing the cake, making the guest lists, and selecting the flowers, ensuring you have the right surgeon, and the right information on procedures should be your top priority. After all, with all eyes on the bride, you’re going to want to wow.”
MB: Gosh. I did not come up with Bridalplasty. Let’s hope the right writer is recognized. Surgery and party planning!
SB: You’re an accomplished animation voiceover artist. Is the protocol that you’re generally hired for a job and then collaboratively hash out exactly how a character should sound or is auditioning some times involved? And even when working with the best in the biz, does voiceover work ever teeter towards ludicrousness when having to articulate potentially abstract directions or is that just part of being a pro?
MB: Voiceover is just fun. It’s, as Chris Rock suggested, fairly low-stress. I’m super lucky to get VO work and it is never more difficult than loading trucks of baked goods at night.
SB: Your voice talent is a hallmark of your act but in my view, it is always in the service of supremely crafty writing and engendering highly conceptual routines. A Rich Little, Michael Winslow, or joke-thrower, you ain’t but I’m curious about how you approach creating new material? Is your tendency to have a bit mostly written and rehearsed before trying it on stage?
MB: I try to write and rehearse it before but that could just be control freaking. I’ve been thinking of taking an improv class again to let go a little.
SB: I’ve never been a fan (Leo) Gallagher’s work, but I do hope that he fully recovers from his recent heart attacks and is able to enjoy a long retirement. However, I seriously think it is one of the greatest things ever in “comedy” that he franchised his brother Ron Gallagher to tour and perform his Sledge-O-Matic routine. It eventually got litigious but I think it’s astounding that Ron (aka Gallagher Too) had a successful run for so many years. What is something another comedian has done that you find amazing?
MB: I loved Gallagher as a kid and I haven’t really watched him since then, but I’m sure he’s just as skilled with the smashing and that’s great [if] he’s still working, still creating. Anyone who is still making an effort and failing and trying and failing and succeeding and trying etc., are pretty amazing in my book. I’m trying to get the courage to try new things and so people like Brent Weinbach or my close friend Jackie Kashian— to see anyone’s risking and repeat is a great joy. I just saw Eddie Pepitone last week and he blew my brainbox.
SB: What is your idea of artistic satisfaction?
MB: To keep trying new things, slow and steady production, and sharing with other comics good times and the horror, the horror.
SB: Austin, Texas, gets plenty of de rigueur compliments but since you’ve graced us with performances so often over the years, can offer some constructive criticism for Austin and/or our Austinites?
MB: Austinites are weird and should keep it that way. Hahahoho. The only thing I’d hope is that they don’t change into Dallas.
SB: Please finish this sentence: The one thing I’ve learned about stand-up comedy is ____.
MB: The one thing I’ve learned about stand-up is that I don’t know anything. And music mic stands look like praying mantises.
The Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest is honored to present Maria Bamford
Wed, April 25th at Cap City Comedy Club @ 8:00PM
Thu, April 26th at Cap City Comedy Club @ 8:00PM
Fri, April 27th at the ND (She Bang’s special guest) @ 8:00PM
Fri, April 27th at The Parish (Show House) @10:00PM
Purchase Tickets Here. You can also get tickets and badges at the Paramount Theatre box office or by calling 512-474-1221.
The box office is open Monday – Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays.
Visit Maria Bamford’s web site HERE