Maria Bamford is bringing her unique blend of absurdity, dark subject matter, and creative joke-telling to Centrepointe Theatre on Wednesday night, September 26. Her Netflix show, Lady Dynamite, is two seasons of irreverent situational comedy based on Bamford’s life.
The show is groundbreaking, if only in its positive and optimistic view of mental illness. Bamford herself is diagnosed bipolar, and talks openly about it in her comedy. It’s the source of many of her best jokes, but it’s also part of the style itself. Bamford’s comedy is challenging, surprising, and always creative.
She stands in stark contrast to any stereotype, be it “female comedian” or otherwise. So much of her humour is an inversion of expectations, and her personality is a part of that. One of her characters—or voices—speaks in the warm tones of a Stepford wife, smiling while talking about picking the kids up from soccer practice. The transformation as she moves back to her own personality (or the Maria character?), eyes wide and grimacing against the stage lights, is so stark as to be shocking.
It’s that unblinking look at fear, trauma, and hardship that makes Bamford’s comedy stand out. So often, comedians change themselves to fit with their materials, embodying a role. Bamford fits her material to her personality, and makes everything work in her favour.
She performed a comedy special for her parents in their living room. That’s got to take guts.
I asked Maria Bamford how she does it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: You have an acute ability to create humour out of darkness. How do you see the role of comedy in conveying tragedy?
Maria Bamford: Well, there’s no obligation for comedy to always be about heavier topics, but it’s my favourite use of it because it feels helpful. There are tons of funny things about socks and food and dogs as well and that’s important too, but I might not learn or be surprised or challenged by a perspective about those topics.
While on the topic of Lady Dynamite, how much of that is really you? How loosely did you base it on your life? How did it feel to talk about yourself that openly?
I am ridiculously open—maybe pathologically so—so that’s not a problem for me. The show was very much a huge mash of collaborative voices inspired by the one story I provided. I didn’t write the show, but that made it a new experience for me and that’s what I wanted—to provide a creative workplace where everyone could put a stamp on it. Full disclosure—I also didn’t want to work in writer’s room or write scripts—not my thing!
“I am ridiculously open—maybe pathologically so…”
Mental health, and specifically positive depictions of it, feature so heavily in your work. Do you feel that your work has a message to people who are suffering?
If it’s only a message to me, that’s one person to whom I’m demonstrating it’s OK to be a person with mental illness who is also able to be a full part of society, the workplace and human relationships. Unfortunately, I think I’m not the best example as I have Every Possible Advantage (great health care, full support of family/friends, high-paying work, the list goes on).
I need to know why your pug Bert sounds so perfect, so pug-like, in Lady Dynamite. Where did that character come from?
You’re known as a comedian, but you’re arguably more prolific as a voice actor. What role do you think voicing has in funniness?
I only do about five voices. I enjoy it when I can lose myself and improvise as the character. Using voices is the element of surprise—which is a huge part of comedy—so it’s definitely a “trick.” I would like to try to use other things and grow as a comic.
Do you plan to do any new material on Wednesday? What can we look forward to?
A new hour! I’m excited to show you!