Published Jul 19, 2018If Maria Bamford could go back in time to meet herself as a teenager, she says her younger self would be shocked that she hadn't died.
"I'd be amazed that I was alive, and having an occasional good time," she tells Exclaim! "I just didn't know what was going to happen. I felt pretty worried about my future personhood. I would've been delighted that I was here in a hotel room at a Holiday Express, living it up."
Becoming an adult is never easy, but it's even harder when you're dealing with OCD, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Amid the chaos, Bamford was able to find who she was in the one space where she had control: on stage. Tailoring each word of every joke and weaving whimsical absurdism with the dark vulnerability of her personal experiences, Bamford's standup is fearlessly unmistakable.
"I started performing right away. I started playing violin when I was three with the Suzuki method of teaching," Bamford recalls. "I'd get up on stage for recitals. I also took tap dancing and ballet and stuff like that and always enjoyed it... I like attention from afar."
When Maria Bamford began doing standup in the '90s, she brought her violin with her, like a trusty security blanket. Whenever she was nervous about doing new material, she took comfort in the fact that she could distract the audience with music, but that trick didn't last for long.
"I'm so glad I moved to Los Angeles. There were already two other violin comics," Bamford laughs. "I was able to drop it. What a relief."
Now with two Netflix specials and a semi-autobiographical TV show under her belt, the Lady Dynamite star is nowhere near as self-conscious as she used to be. Her latest hour, Old Baby, shows her performing to every size of audience, starting with herself in front of a mirror and ending with her in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people.
"I thought it was funny, the idea of perspective. One person sees you do your job and they go 'Hm, ok.' And then maybe they see you in a different venue where there are more people and they go 'Oh! No, you got something there!'" Bamford explains. "It's the same material!
"I like that it's all within the context," she continues. "You have to be grateful for whatever context you're in, because that's half the reason you're doing well, if not 100 percent of why you're doing well."
With that objectivity, Maria Bamford is pretty much invincible. She now recreationally enjoys doing what most comedians would consider hell: inviting a stranger from Twitter to get coffee with her, then doing her entire hour for them one-on-one.
"It just seems like it's a great idea, because I love performing and it's harder to practice by myself. Some comics don't need to rehearse at all, but I'm very theatrical and I genuinely need to go through the material a billion times to remember it. So it all seems to work out swimmingly… today I met a young grade school teacher from the Boston area," she chuckles. "I'm sure it's stressful to listen to standup at close range for an hour, so that's why it's free. If they'll accept it, I buy them a scone or whatever they wish, but the lady today bought her own coffee."
Settled down with her husband and two dogs in Los Angeles, the 47-year-old comedian known for playing DeBrie Bardeaux on Arrested Development has found an impressive amount of balance in her life. Aside from her indulgence in cold brew coffee, which can apparently "really rocket you into the ninth dimension," her habits sound disciplined and healthy.
"I do love 12-step groups. I've gone to them for about 25 years, but I can't say which ones. These are secret societies," she says. "They don't want someone to say 'I'm not going to join that group because Maria Bamford's in that and I saw her carrying a bunch of wet phonebooks in ten backpacks, so I know it doesn't work.'"
As our conversation draws to a close, Bamford offers some advice that's, of course, both sage and silly.
"Try making eye contact! That's rare," she recommends. "Try to connect with a friend, and also have a real life outside of your chosen profession, whatever you're doing. Always go visit those people. My husband says 'We could live in a tent. I don't care. It's ok.'"
Maria Bamford performs at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal from July 25 to 27, Ottawa on September 26 and the JFL42 festival in Toronto on September 28.