Maria Bamford’s arsenal of giddy voices and brutally personal, brilliantly funny jokes have been endearing her to comedy lovers since she first turned heads on late-night talk shows in the 1990s.
But it wasn’t until her Comedy Central specials and groundbreaking Comedians of Comedy Tour (with Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn) became cult favorites that Bamford built a loyal and widespread audience, which has allowed her to play her own choice of stand-up venues and experiment with bizarre, Web-only specials.
Lately Bamford has been seen in everything from Target commercials to FX’s “Louie” and, starting May 26, on Netflix’s new season of “Arrested Development.”
We caught up with the 42-year-old, Minnesota-raised comic via e-mail in advance of her Friday, May 10 show at the Oriental Theater.
Your online-only “Special Special Special,” which was recorded in front of your parents at home, got raves from The New York Times and others. Given the success of that, have you considered similar experiments?
I think that was a one-off, but it’s so exciting what is happening with all of the new ways of distributing and producing comedy. The site 5secondfilms.com is awesome, and I’m sure there are a jillion shows I’m missing, but there’s awkwardblackgirl.com and a new series by Melinda Hill that’s coming out called Romantic Encounters (on funnyordie.com). Anyone from anywhere is really empowered to create exactly what they want without a lot of oversight. It’s just so much more diverse and hopeful for artists.
You’ve done a lot of voice-over work, so I have to ask: What do you think every good voice-over artist has in common?
The only thing that is meaningful to me is, “Do I enjoy doing this character? Is it funny to me?” Voice-over isn’t my top skill (I’m not sure what is, come to think of it! Standing still?), but the voices I can do are ones that I love (and) are meaningful to me. I’m less a craftsman/architect, I wish I was, than someone who has a repertoire of classic styles and the ability (or willingness) to create celebrity impersonations. My favorite right now is ‘Adventuretime.’ It’s really fun and odd, and they have big cookies in the waiting area.
When is the last time you laughed so hard you cried, and why?
I think it was something to do with my family. Just watching my dad eat is pretty funny.
Outside of clubs, comedians spend lots of their stage time at festivals. What are your favorites and why?
I love festivals because they seem like more of an artsy, supportive attitude — which benefits a more theatrical performer sometimes with having theater and other non-club venues, as well as the audience being filled with other artists. It’s nice to be with other comics, as usually at other road gigs, I’m solo for the most part.
Have you ever considered a Comedians of Comedy reunion tour or show with Brian, Patton and Zach?
Well, I think they are extremely busy! I think it’s time to give attention to this generation of younger comedians — Baron Vaughn, Jesse Klein, the Beards of Comedy, Melissa Villasenor, Brent Weinbach. I’ve definitely had my day in the sun!
This is a pretty self-serving question, but here goes: you’ve had a diehard fan base for at least a decade now, but increasingly you’ve also been praised by the burgeoning comedy-criticism (or comedy journalism?) community. Do you think that writing “seriously” about comedy takes the fun out of it? Or do you think it has some merit, the way music journalism does in turning people onto new things and showing why they’re artistically significant and relevant?
Comedy never used to get reviewed and was listed along side karaoke. I think critique is an art form in itself and therefore, completely subjective, and at the same time it does really help to have descriptions of what something might be like if you’re going to spend $25 to go out and see it. I seem to love criticism when I come out looking good — that’s probably not the point. I totally appreciate accurate, constructive criticism that can be helpful but I guess that’s probably going to be different for everyone too.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever felt bad laughing about?
A sad movie that my friend next to me was legitimately touched by.
What’s your favorite joke of the moment? (yours or someone else’s)
I love a joke by Jackie Kashian that says, “After you’ve taken away their pensions, the last thing you want to give teachers is a gun.”
In September you’re going on the MaxFunCon cruise. What’s the deal with cruise ships and comedians? Is everything funnier on water? Lewis Black also has a comedy cruise, and comedians have been performing on cruise ships for decades, like caged animals made to perform for scraps of meat and free drinks. Although not always that bad.
It’s a short cruise and I’ve never been on one. I think it is supposed to be ironic. But the real joke is on us.
What do you have coming up that our readers should know about? Skydiving cooking shows? A space tourist trip? A corporate job in human resources at PepsiCo? More Tim and Eric cameos?
“Arrested Development in May on Netflix!!!!!! And the “Special Special Specials” is still avails! Thanks!