Maria Bamford follows in a self-deprecating vein similar to many of her comedic contemporaries. Even sitting in on an open mic at a local coffee shop (or burger joint, or abandoned church- turned-community social building), it’s easy to see that comics lean and lean hard on the masochistic quality of stand-up that encourages audiences to laugh both with and at their entertainers.
Maria Bamford is no different. As the lanky woman entered the stage of Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco on Oct. 18 — lying on the ground and making gurgling noises into the microphone — it was clear she was not trying to paint herself as an attractive figure. The difference, and what perhaps makes Bamford’s routine escape repetition and tedium (because really, how often can comedy clubbers listen to some guy talk about his own acne and masturbation habits?), is that yes, Bamford is self- deprecating, but she is also weird as hell.
After eventually getting up off of the floor and standing there contortedly, Bamford started her routine off with a series of voice impersonations. Although the comedian herself has a unique and piercingly squeaky voice, her pliable and numerous voices are one of her most notorious talents. She went into a routine addressing the love-hate-exhaustion relationship between her and her family, simultaneously lamenting and lauding the fact that her mother, a Christian woman, habitually tries to give her advice on how to be funny. Most of her missionary mother’s suggestions come from jokes told to her by tragedy-stricken refugees.
And although the audience at Cobb’s, digging into their baskets of garlic fries and guzzling down their two-drink- minimum beers, found the comedian hilarious, it seems people in Bamford’s own life might just not get it. Bamford recollected a story in which she was hired to do a morning radio show alongside a collection of middle-aged, republican male DJs. “Well, I guess this woman was supposed to be funny,” Bamford said, impersonating in the grizzly, Midwestern voice of one of the DJs as he excused her behavior and apologized to his listeners, “But I think she’s just schizophrenic.”
Maybe. Mental illness — particularly anxiety — is a common theme in Bamford’s routine, through which she mocks herself even at her most vulnerable moments. On one hand, ”schizophrenic” might not exactly be the reaction a young, up-and-coming Bamford was hoping to get from media outlets … but the oh-so- conventional DJ did end up giving her one great punch line.
A host of impressions, strange faces, thoroughly bizarre anecdotes and one-liners followed. The comic even took suggestions from the crowd in an attempt to prove that she could do improv acting, to a result which she might have regretted but the audience certainly ate up: Bamford was ultimately forced to act out a scene in which a woman bought a toaster for her first time, reminiscent of a young girl losing her virginity.
Bamford did her final routine and said her goodbyes to a thundering applause, moving quickly to the lobby to mingle with fans. Funnily enough, off the stage, Bamford is a petite, attractive woman with a great smile and genuinely comfortable, warm attitude — a far cry from the gangly, tight-lipped and crazy-eyed demeanor she dons on stage. It’s evident that Bamford is not completely insane … or at least not all the time.
It might be easy to end such an article with some ambiguous, jumbled commentary of the state of women in comedy. “Do they have to make themselves unattractive in order to be funny?” one might ask, or even on a broader level, “Is self-deprecating humor really the staple of modern stand-up?” Maria Bamford, however, rises above pseudo-intellectual chatter, resting comfortably — or, in her case, rather uncomfortably — inside a league of her own: a cocoon of total weirdness.