A Chat With Comedienne Maria Bamford

Photo courtesy of NATALIE BRASINGTON

Photo courtesy of NATALIE BRASINGTON

By CHRIS HUMPHREYS
Contributing Writer

Maria Bamford is one of those brilliant comics that you know you like, but you don’t know where you know her from. The Californian stand-up and actress has done comedy everywhere from “Conan,” “The Tonight Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to various shows on Comedy Central and “The Special Special Special” now on Netflix. She’s done voices for Nickelodeon’s “CatDog” and “Legend of Korra” and has starred in guest rolls on the Emmy-winning series “Louie” and “Arrested Development.”

Known for her comedy about her dysfunctional family and self-deprecating humor that sometimes includes her own battles with depression and anxiety, Bamford was an absolute joy to speak with over the phone from her home in Los Angeles.

CHRIS HUMPHREYS: You’re co-headlining our first comedy festival!

MARIA BAMFORD: Yes! It’s going to be great. It’s gonna be really fun. I’ve never been to Louisville. I’m very excited.

HUMPHREYS: Your special on Netflix, “The Special Special Special,” has you performing at your own house with the only audience being your mom and dad. Did you ever perform in front of your parents growing up?

BAMFORD: I practiced speeches and stuff for high school – in front of my dad, anyway. I don’t remember ever doing it in front of my mom. I played the violin as a kid, so I would do concerts for them. So it’s a familiar feeling to be in front of my parents performing, but I don’t think I’ve ever done an intimate showing for them. But they’re super supportive and have seen me a bajillion times. I was much more nervous about what the crew thought of my jokes.

HUMPHREYS: One of the things you’re known for is your voice acting for various TV shows and even in your stand-up. Which came first: the voices or the joke telling?

BAMFORD: I would pretend to do commercials with my mom when I was a kid, so I definitely did voices. I don’t know if I did stand-up as a kid, but I did speeches and stuff. I don’t think I did a lot of that. I was very quiet. If I said something, it was very quietly and I’m not sure anybody noticed. (laughs)

HUMPHREYS: So what do you have coming up next?

BAMFORD: I did just pitch something to Netflix, so I have high hopes that something will happen. But if that doesn’t happen, there are other options. I’ll find out within a few days whether anything’s going to happen with that. I think I have all my emotions set on that.

I go out a couple times a month, so I’ll be out in Toronto and New York and Kansas next. So besides writing new jokes I am … what’s it called when you’re a bear and you’re asleep?

HUMPHREYS: You’re in hibernation!

BAMFORD: Hibernation! Exactly.

HUMPHREYS: When you go on tour, are you constantly working on new material or do you stick to your planned set?

BAMFORD: Well, it all depends on how afraid I am to try new material and then how long it takes me to keep trying it. I think a third of my jokes are not on the last album and two-thirds are from the last album. I would like to be more prolific, or braver because I have new material, but it’s the courage to try it in front of a large amount of people. It’s all fear, basically. I would love to do more material. I would love if I did more stuff all the time. It’s just a matter of whether I have the courage to do it.

HUMPHREYS: You talk about a lot of real stuff – depression, anxiety and  even your own disorders. Is it important to you to include real issues into your comedy?

BAMFORD: I think that’s part of my personality. I love to talk about stuff that are extremely important to me, whether or not they make people uncomfortable or have fun. (laughs)

HUMPHREYS: I think all great comics make people uncomfortable.

BAMFORD: Yeah, it’s an ongoing internet argument anyways (laughs). I open my show now with, not an apology, but saying “Hey, if a friend brought you, just know that I understand how that is and I’ve been brought to something by a friend. They say, ‘Oh, it’s great, you’ll love it. You love me and I love you and it’s going to be great.’ My parents brought me to see (the movie) ‘Warhorse’ saying ‘It’s going to be great,’ but it’s 14 hours about this tiny beautiful lovable horse trying to escape from barbed wire,”and the joke is “this might be your ‘Warhorse.’” But I do like to talk about things that are important to me. I don’t want people to feel ashamed of things.

HUMPHREYS: What would you say to someone that’s never been to a comedy show to get them to come out to the festival?

BAMFORD: There’s a couple of answers I could say. ‘Comedy – everybody likes it.’ Or, ‘Comedy – it’s funny!’ But this is the longwinded answer: it’s a matter of survival, Louisville. In order to strengthen your neural pathways, you need to have new experiences that challenge your brain and open up your mind, that are confusing and that are interesting, that would take you out of the inertia of what you always do. So if you have never been to see a comedy festival, this is your opportunity to prevent Alzheimer’s.

Photo courtesy of NATALIE BRASINGTON

Photo courtesy of NATALIE BRASINGTON

HUMPHREYS: A couple questions from our Facebook page: John Magness wants to know “How did your campaign for neighborhood association go?”

BAMFORD: Well, here’s what happened. I stated my intent to run for office in my neighborhood which I know was upsetting. It was just a comedic premise. I did think about it. What happened instead was I put a park bench in my front yard. Someone gave me a sign that stated it was a public park. So now, that is my contribution to my city – and a nonstop supply of sidewalk chalk.

HUMPHREYS: So when people walk by, do they know it’s the Maria Bamford park?

BAMFORD: Oh, no. It’s the city’s. It’s theirs! It’s not mine anymore. I try to clean up the apple pies that are left and the methamphetamines … but that’s the dark side! There’s also a happy side! There’s kids that come sit there with their grandma or an older guy who rolls up and sits there and looks at the garden, so there are some nice things that happen to. And I sit there! I try to say hi to people that walk past. And talk about courage – sometimes I get scared. People are very close on the bench, so it would be pretty ridiculous to pretend they aren’t there.

HUMPHREYS: And last one, our Arts & Entertainment writer Peter Berkowitz wants me to ask you about “Petterson’s.”

BAMFORD: Petterson’s! That was one of the first open mics I went to in Los Angeles, and it ran for a million years. I think it was the longest running open mic, called “The Open Mic of Love,” and I want to say it ran for 25 years. It was great. And I’m sure there’s other shows happening like that right now. Perhaps in Louisville! That’s another reason to go to the comedy festival. You might be encouraged to do stand-up yourself and learn how easy it is. You could also learn how to heckle. You can practice your heckling!

For tickets to see Maria Bamford live or more information on the show, visit www.derbycityfestival.com or call the Iroquois Amphitheater box office at 502.368.5865.

Click here to read more about the Derby City Comedy Festival with Steve Hofstetter, co-owner of The Laughing Derby and host of “Laughs.”

  • mm

    I love Maria Bamford! Wish I could make it to Louisville for the festival. As far as I know I’ve heard all her albums, Netflix special, and every episode of the Maria Bamford Show on Youtube.