Kris Rothstein's Blog

JFL NorthWest 2018: Maria Bamford

Kris Rothstein

Unrelenting, aggressive positivity in the face of almost-consistently bad news about the world and crushing personal challenges, including depression and suicidal thoughts.

This is the central contradiction of L.A. comedian Maria Bamford, who desperately wants to believe in something despite her atheistic bent. So her energy is diverted into activities like creating vision boards or using positive thinking to manifest ones desires into realities. She is also intensely lethargic though, (possibly due to medication) and this makes her a joy to be around rather than an annoying go-getter. Bamford makes a plea for lowered expectations. Why do we have to be so impressed with people doing a great job? What’s wrong with mediocrity?

I suppose comics exist to say the things we are afraid to say, but Bamford manages to do this in relation to her parents, her job, her husband and just about everything else in a way which is both sweet and deeply cheeky. She is quite simply, one of the best comedians entertaining us today. I often remember a minor anecdote from a past routine, almost a throwaway line or joke, and obsess over it for weeks. I also think at length about the sophistication of her comedy structures and marvel at how she makes them sound so simple.

Bamford has enjoyed a lot of success in the last several years, catapulting from an underground favourite into a genuine Netflix star (of her show Lady Dynamite). She has also received a lot of attention for fantastic standup comedy specials, most recently Old Baby. She has several free comedy specials, one in which she does comedy in her house for her parents and another where she does comedy while sitting on the couch with her dogs. Can you spot the theme?

It was a huge pleasure to see her perform at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver after a dark, breathless but highly smart and funny opening routine by Jackie Kashian. Bamford continues to raise her comedy game and to deliver the best combo of jokes and stories which transform personal insights and observations into profound truths most of us can relate to.

Much of her best recent material comes from her later-in-life first marriage (at age 45). After working through so much personal stuff at a younger age, she is now in a realistic position when it comes to relationship expectations. Stories of life and love with hubby Scott include normalizing conflict in therapy and socially progressive sexual fantasy/role-play.

I saw Bamford workshopping some of this new material in LA over the summer, and it has been refined and honed for perfect timing and maximum effect. It is instructive to see a comedian reordering bits, adding or removing explanations, introducing pauses, facial expressions and figuring out the best way to secure the laugh. Much of this show will doubtless be a future comedy special. The rest of the performance included some favourite bits from the past, including a song about marriage counseling and the annoying friend who makes you sign up for activities like swing dancing ("Are people still doing that?"), horseback riding and fitness bootcamp.

There is something almost Vaudevillian about Bamford. Her work is always smart, relevant and professional, but also feels spontaneous. She can be silly and slapsticky—she is funny when she’s just doing awkward dance moves. Sometimes her reactions to her own statements are the funniest parts of the show - her faces and voices are unparalleled. Combine this with serious, engaged content and you have a winner.



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