Known for telling jokes about her dysfunctional family and making fun of her battles with depression and anxiety, comedian Maria Bamford is the thinking woman's comic. She even successfully turned her life story into Lady Dynamite
, a terrific Netflix original series that ran for two years.
In a recent phone interview from her Los Angeles home, the squeaky-voiced Bamford spoke about her career. She performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2 at Hilarities
Bamford estimates she hasn’t performed in Cleveland in ten years and looks forward to coming back to town.
“I might pop in a local downtown noon AA meeting while I’m there,” she says with a laugh. “I hope to make it to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and there’s a comic book store that I’ve been to that was fun.”
You grew up in Duluth. What was that like?
Oh, I think it was wonderful in retrospect. I like smaller towns. I had problems with depression. It seemed rough even though it was not rough. It was actually a beautiful place to grow up. It had great public schools. I didn’t realize winter wasn’t something that everyone experienced and then I moved to California, and I thought, “Oh, wow. I’ve been missing out.” But I loved living there, and I think about moving back there because it’s so wonderful.
Were you funny as a kid?
I don’t know. You’d have to ask other people. I was pretty quiet. I did like to perform. I liked any opportunity to get in front of people. I played the violin. I started that when I was 3 and got on stage a bunch for that. That was exciting and fun. I don’t know if anyone ever told me I was funny.
I think you started doing standup when you were 19 at a place called Stevie Ray's Comedy Cabaret.
I think in college, I did different talent show type things and then did improv. I didn’t start standup in earnest until I moved to Minneapolis. I think at that point, I was 20. Yes, Stevie Ray’s Comedy Cabaret. I know Stevie Ray is still working, but I don’t know if he still has his theater. It was his awesome little comedy theater. They had shows seven nights a week, and you could go and perform. It was a great place.
Were you always capable of doing an array of different voices?
I could do a few imitations of people from TV when I was younger. I heard from other people that other people that they didn’t like my voice. I got some negative feedback for my own voice, so I decided to do other voices. It came out of that. I could always do my mom and added a few here and there. I only do about eight different voices. It pays the bill. It’s fun. The ones I do I really enjoy. I don’t really know how to do celebrity impressions or anything like that. I’m better at types of people.
What inspired the decision to create the web series Ask My Mom?
My mom was taking advice questions from my website for a while. She’s a therapist and then she got overwhelmed by it and got enough bizarre emails. It was exhausting. People in Los Angeles are looking for content. The pitch came out of that. I could play my mom asking advice questions. She has interesting things to say, and gives good advice. I love my mom and I can’t wait to become her. It’s a slow bleed but I think I’m gradually becoming her, full-time.
How did the concept for Lady Dynamite come about?
Mitch Hurwitz had a deal with Netflix. I didn’t know him very well beyond whatever his work was before. He asked me to do a part on Arrested Development
and that was incredible. I was so excited to do that, and that worked out. I think he was looking for show ideas, so I met him for lunch and told him the one show idea I had. It was just something that happened in my life. It wasn’t extremely creative or anything. It was about a mental health experience I had. He knew Pam Brady and she became the head writer. It was a slow process of eating lunch and talking about things. He and Pam pitched it and I was there to provide voices and entertainment during the pitch. It took around two or three years to finally become a pitch idea and once that was accepted, they decided to do it and it took eight months, and they hired writers. I didn’t write the show. I just came in and consulted, which was essentially me spouting off different stories or ideas and then eating lunch. I didn’t want to be a part of the writing process because it’s hard. You’re there for 12 hours a day in a writers’ room, and it’s not my jam. It lasted for two seasons, and it was wonderful and now on to new stuff.
The show seems like it must be great fun to film.
It was great. It was a really positive experience. Everyone was really wonderful. It was hard work for me. I couldn’t believe how long the hours were. I knew what the hours were, but I didn’t totally take it in until it was happening. It is shocking how much effort is involved. People are professional and pleasant for hours and hours at a time.
How would you say your comedy has evolved over the course of your career?
Well, the one thing that’s consistent is that I just keep making things. I think I talk a lot more in my own voice now. I don’t know if it’s for good or for bad. I think I deliver more words per second. I’m more chatty in my performance. I was a bit more stilted, and I was more succinct before. I don’t know if it’s just that I feel more comfortable, but I’m more chatty.
What will the show here be like?
I’m working on my new hour, so it will hopefully be stuff that wasn’t on my special I Choose
album. It will be mostly new. I’m feeling good, so I don’t know what the new material will be like. That’s awesome but also hilarious. If [jokes about depression] are what people come for, I might not have that as much. I have more stuff about marriage because I’ve never been married before now, and that’s a unique concept to me, so I have material about that too.