Maria Bamford is known for her dark humour and frenetic wit — and her mining of the challenges of her personal life for comedy gold.
She's been a busy Bamford lately, especially since her new Netflix series Lady Dynamite! premiered in May. It's the tale of a woman who loses and finds herself and uses surreal storytelling to tell the very real story of her life with mental illness.
The American comedian performs at the Pemberton Music Festival on Thursday, July 14.
She spoke to Pique arts editor Cathryn Atkinson via an online interview.
Pique: Expressing your personal story through comedy flows from the tradition of looking at life's difficulties with laughter. Is Lady Dynamite! cathartic for you?
Maria Bamford: It's very helpful! It's so fun to share a dark experience and get positive feedback, support.
Pique: How does Lady Dynamite! go beyond the personal? What do you want people to take away from the show?
MB: I guess — to not be ashamed of who you are, that we all need help.
Pique: Is it the sort of show you've wanted to make? How does it compare with your earlier work in TV and film?
MB: It was collaborative and that was my greatest wish. It was fully challenging to me on every level and that was very exciting.
Pique: What is your favourite experience from making the series? You're working with some amazing people.
MB: That my husband and friends and family and I did it together — I relied completely on their support to do the job and that I was able to work with wonderful professionals.
Pique: Did your breakdown in 2011 give you insights in how you wanted your life to be?
MB: Yes. It gave me the courage to dive all-in to loving and being loved — even though I'm a mess. Before, I'd tell myself I can have love (of all kinds — community, friendship, romance) later, once I've become somehow more ready. There's no need to wait.
Pique: Bringing in a hallucinogenic/absurdist style into Lady Dynamite! and breaking the fourth wall has a lot of people talking about the show's originality. Absurdism allows you to explore concepts that are otherwise difficult to grasp — did that appeal to you?
MB: I love words and comedy — I love feeling surprised by the brains of others. I think we have to create to be happy. I like getting to an idea quickly — standup is (also) all about direct speaking, so maybe that's it.
Pique: Are you doing a lot of standup these days? What kind of set will you bring to the Pemberton Festival?
MB: It will be my new CD (or the jokes I've been doing for the last three years). It comes out on Comedy Central records soon.
Pique: You're such a visual speaker and animated person (Bamford is a veteran voice actor in cartoons and animation films). How did that style of delivery develop for you? Why did it appeal? Is it just the way you are?
MB: I don't know. Voices were fun to do and seemed to get people's attention!
Pique: You've been a very well respected as a standup without being a household name. Do you still feel like an underdog?
MB: I feel like I made it 15 years ago — seriously!
Pique: You're recently married and it seems from a distance that life is going really well. Do you meditate on how life has changed? Can you share any insights?
MB: It's awesome. We are both all-in (as far as I can tell), and willing to get help — have a therapist and lots of books and other couples for support on how to do it. I'm so grateful.