Review by Greg Haymes
Maria Bamford as a Mexican child: “My dad says you’re a comedian. Tell me a joke.”
Maria Bamford as herself: “No, it doesn’t work that way.”
No, it doesn’t…
The blond, petite, pretty Maria Bamford has forged her own road-less-traveled in the comedy world, and it’s been a bumpy, anything-but-breezy journey. Her 70-minute show at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre last Friday night was chock-full of dark, existential material. Smart stuff delivered in her meek, trembling voice. Material that was so personal and authentic that at times she pulled back the curtain and gave the audience a peek at the exposed, short-circuiting wires and frayed nerves that lurked behind the laughter. But funny, always funny.
She pushed the envelope of the comedic form, weaving her own real-life struggles with bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety and her stay in a mental hospital into a bold evening that balanced the funny with the philosophical, as she tackled such topics as her dysfunctional family’s game of “Joy Whack-A-Mole,” the stigma of mental illness and even suicide.
“It turns out it is possible on Netflix to run out of genocide documentaries.”
Not your typical topics for comedy, but then again Bamford is certainly no typical comedian. She’s willing to look into the mirror to see what’s on the other side. To go down the rabbit-hole to find out what that Cheshire Cat is grinning about.
The over-used “quirky” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Maria Banford as a morning radio shock jock: “Apparently this woman, she’s supposed to be funny. Whoa, I don’t get it. Uh, frankly, I just think she’s schizophrenic.”
Maria Bamford as herself: “Clearly that’s not my problem. I’m bipolar II. Schizophrenia is hearing voices, not doing voices.”
And Bamford does voices. A seemingly bottomless well of them over the course of her show, as she slides through a huge range of vocal registers. Her mother, her father, her life-coach sister, her neighbors, her therapist, the drug dealers on the corner of her block, the 85-year-old dog trainer from her dog park… Heck, at one point she dished out a dialogue with her own self-esteem.
And each voice was so vivid, so spot-on that it sometimes seemed as though she was channeling the characters, rather than impersonating them. Or perhaps she was simply possessed by them. In fact, for much of her show, it seemed as though Bamford wasn’t so much doing stand-up comedy, as she was doing rapid-fire sketch comedy. And she was playing all the roles.
She’s not a big star – and she may never become one. She’s just too un-sit-com-ifiable, although she’s certainly broadened her fan base with recent roles on Louie C.K.’s “Louie” and the Netflix re-boot of “Arrested Development.” And she filled at least 3/4 of the seats with genuinely enthusiastic fans at the Swyer Theatre on Friday night.
But she knows that her comedic approach isn’t for everyone, acknowledging early in the night that some folks in the crowd might have been dragged there under duress. She said that she had felt that same pain herself, when her family invited her to see a Steven Spielberg movie. “Sure, I loved ‘E.T.,” she replied. But as it turned out the movie was “War Horse,” which was, according to Bamford, “four and a half hours of a horse struggling through barbed wire.”
She paused and then added, “This might be your ‘War Horse.’”