Not familiar with that name? That’s okay. You’re probably more familiar with that voice. You may know her as the voice of Tito the Anxiety Mosquito on Big Mouth and Human Resources. Unfortunately, we can all relate to Tito, and it’s no coincidence that Maria Bamford voices that role. She also voices characters for other animation MVPs, including BoJack Horseman, Adventure Time, Bob’s Burgers, and Teenage Euthanasia.
She has a series on Netflix, Lady Dynamite, which is produced by Pam Brady (Writer/Producer for South Park) and Michael Hurwitz (Writer/Producer/Creator of Arrested Development). It is both hilarious and… dare I say important to all those struggling with mental illness? I dare. It showed me, up close and personal, what someone else’s mania and depression looked like.
Still not convinced she’s funny? Well… She’s performed six hour-long comedy specials!!!!
“They’re all on ITunes, Amazon and dust-gathering hard copies for 23 cents apiece. I’m not saying they’re good — but they all do last about an hour,” Maria said in her audiobook, You Are (A Comedy) Special: A Simple 15-Step Self-Help Guide to Forcibly Force Yourself to Write and Perform a Full Hour of Stand-up Comedy. Here’s a bit from one that makes me laugh:
You can experience all that goodness straight from the tap by coming to see her perform stand up comedy — and if you can’t afford a ticket, email her email@example.com and she’ll get you one.
MB: My pig latin doesn’t use Y’s, but I will get you tickets to the show in Richmond, or any other show. If it’s not sold out.
She sells out in Portland and Brooklyn. Of course she does. Maria Bamford is comedy royalty.
MM: Stephen Colbert said, “She is my favorite comedian on Earth.” Is that a lot of pressure, Maria?
MB: Yeah… well, a few years later, he referred to me as ‘one of his favorites,’ so that’s a precipitous drop.
MM: …Tomato tomahto…
MB: No, I am grateful to people who support me. It’s really wonderful for the people who are “down.” If people like it, they really like it, and when they don’t like it [slurring skillfully into a judgemental voice] then they REALLY don’t like it.
MM: A lot of artists that are trying something new or doing something different experience that. I know I do.
MB: That can be a hopeful thing too. It’s okay to be yourself in the world and still belong. I consider myself a comedian, whether or not my colleagues do. I would like to do comedy that brings hope or energy or inspiration to those otherwise without, and the way I feel best doing that is by showing, “Hey, I’m a mess and I participate.” [laughs] I’m still participating.
MM: To quote you, “Weakness is the brand.”
Weakness is the Brand is the title of her 2020 comedy album.
MB: Yes. Weakness is the brand, etc. etc.
MM: “Harness the power of an enormous letdown” was my mantra during the pandemic. And that’s how I know that comedians are actually modern-day philosophers and you might be a mystical witch or something. Because in my mind, “Harness the power of an enormous letdown” wasn’t just advice or a comedy bit, it was a prediction! Right there on the first track of the album!
MB: That’s hilarious. Oh, I’m so glad that I could… that’s what I’m trying to bring, some relief.
I’m trying to do new affirmations. My sister is a life coach and she gave me this one: ”How is it your fault? They hired you.”
MM: That’s fantastic.
MB: Yeah, put that on your bathroom mirror.
Everyone wants to tell Maria about how her comedy helped them, including me. Why? Because Maria Bamford wants you to! What a gift and a responsibility.
MM: Until today, we’ve had a one-sided relationship — you’ve inspired me as a writer, made me laugh, and made me think. You don’t know me, but I know that you love gas station fudge.
MB: Oh, I do. It’s so good.
MM: Your comedy has helped me and countless others to recognize and better understand the struggles of mental illness. So, it’s like a one-sided friendship.
MB: Well, now it’s not one-sided. Now we are connected, and thank you for saying that. Especially about the writing. I’m not one of those people who creativity is like [in a silky smooth sultry voice], “Oh, it just comes out of me, it’s just constantly, it’s like big magic…”
MM: That’s Diane!
Diane is a character from Lady Dynamite.
MB: That’s Diane! [goes back into character] “I wrote four screenplays this weekend…”
I play along…
MM: Well, you are home today, Maria. Tomorrow is a travel day, today is not.
She laughs, delighted in the exchange. Her laugh is so freaking awesome.
MM: How has your comedy been influenced by the current state of the world? I mean, what does a comedian do when the dumpster fire keeps exploding?
MB: Well, we’re all in that, and there isn’t some great leader coming to save us. There’s some good things happening that are beautiful, so I try to focus on that, and at the same time, fight the things I think aren’t helping in the world.
MM: That’s all we can do, right? Some days it seems impossible.
MB: I think on some level, as human beings, we don’t have the capacity to handle all of the things at once. We have limited brains that are like [going into a voice riddled with anxiety], “How will I stop global climate change when I need to drive?!?“ I know for myself, I either go black or white. Like I’ve gotta go off the grid and somehow stop using menstrual products. Yeah, I don’t know what the answer is…
MM: Me neither. I guess it’s good and sometimes terrifying to talk about it.
MB: The only thing is to keep talking to each other and to keep participating. I really appreciate people who can still have a conversation with people who have completely different views from them. I very much admire that.
MM: Staying positive is good.
MB: I mean, why anything positive? Why did somebody plant flowers there? But thank goodness, it’s so lovely, thank you for planting flowers there. I don’t know if it’s saving anything, but it gives life meaning. And even if it is the end of the world…
She laughs and crosses her fingers with both hands gleefully.
MM: That’s beautiful.
Another affirmation Maria shared with me that came from her sister:
MB: “Tell everyone to have a seat. You’re the stump at the end of The Giving Tree.”
MM: Oh wow! That book…that book makes me feel…bad. Like, maybe the boy is being kind of selfish?
MB: It’s so dark. It’s SO dark.
MM: I understand but I don’t understand. I mean, what does the tree get?
MB: Well, it is about moms. [voicing her mother] “I’ve given you everything.” The stump at the end of The Giving Tree, that’s how I treated my mom on her deathbed. “Hey Mom, have you listened to my Audible book?” It’s so awful. I tried to stop myself from interrupting her passing with a need for attention.
I have listened to her audiobook, You Are (A Comedy) Special: A Simple 15-Step Self-Help Guide to Forcibly Force Yourself to Write and Perform A Full Hour Of Stand-up Comedy, and you should too — it’s short. Find it on Audible.
MM: I am not a fan of The Giving Tree. Any other books you would recommend?
MB: I love a mental health memoir. Darkness Visible, or anything by Kay Redfield Jamison. There’s a new one called… oh, it’s a great book, what is it called? Do you have a second? I can go get it. Hold on a sec…
She gets up from her computer to find the book.
MB: This has a grim title but it’s also real. Anna Mehler Paperny’s Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person. It’s a first-person memoir but also has information and experiences people have with treatments. It’s more current information on meds and what’s available out there.
MM: Advice for artists?
MB: You don’t want to feel resentful of some faceless gatekeeper. Empower yourself to do everything you can with exactly what you have.
Reach out to the people that already appreciate your work. Ask yourself, “Who do I have that’s already on board?” I like to do a cognitive behavioral shift. Of course there’s hopelessness and constant rejection, but I’m my own biggest fan. Can I make my dream come true to the extent that I can? Yeah, I can. That’s what I like to do, and it’s not that I’m an expert — I know nothing. I know nothing. I like the idea of DIY punk rock, and accessibility too.
I feel like when I’m working on my own creative stuff and putting it out there however way I can, that begets other people asking me to work. It’s just a physics thing. It’s like, the energy goes out and then the energy effects the butterfly, etc. Except in a much less inspiring and meaningful way.
She laughs loudly here — it is glorious.
Maria is on a podcast I really enjoy, Bonanas for Bonanza. It’s an improvised, stream-of-consciousness comedy podcast with Andy Daly and Matt Gourley. In character, they discuss the TV series Bonanza — episode by episode. The podcast has covered 33 episodes so far; there are only 398 episodes left.
MB: Bonanas for Bonanza is so fun. I’m just so grateful that I’m asked to be a part of it. It was made over the quarantine. [Andy Daly and Matt Gourley] were bored and wanted to make something, and I was like, “Oh my god, yeah, sure, I’ll come up with something.” It’s a really weird podcast.
It’s weird and wonderful. Maria plays Amy Sleverson, a mild mannered Christian Entrepreneur, #girlboss, and Bonanza enthusiast. Check it out.
MM: Maria, I love musicals, so I must ask you: [singing] “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”
She groans, then laughs.
MM: Okay, I have another one: [singing] “Maria, I just met a girl named Maria…”
MB: …and bring a friend who’s a weirdo to her show. Tell a friend, “Oh, so, you know how you feel depressed and don’t feel like anyone’s gonna buy your sculptures that make fart noises? Come see this lady. She’s been able to make a living at it. What if you could too?”
I love meeting new people and other comics — I should look up to see who’s opening up for me in Richmond. Let me see… [she sings] “Open-er, open-er!” Okay! Donna Lewis! [She exclaims like an excited bingo announcer] Oh my gosh! Yes!! I’m excited to meet Donna Lewis and all the people of Richmond.
Maria wants to meet you.
MB: I’ll come talk to people after the show. If anyone wants to chit-chat, or give me some advice — that might be fun. Come shake my shaky little hand.
Should I go see Maria Bamford? YES! Are you on the fence about it? Let’s use a CBT technique and figure all this out. CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a form of psychological treatment that explores the links between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. (Maria’s a fan.)
Worst Case/Best Case/Most Likely Case Scenario:
Mind my Peelings, at mindmypeelings.com, explains: “Letting your thoughts ruminate and explore all three scenarios helps you rationalize your thoughts and develop actionable steps so control of the behavior is realized.”
Should I go see Maria Bamford?
Worst Case: You will go to the show and not laugh. You’ll get both offended and triggered (maybe at the same time). You will see someone you know (it’s Richmond, so you will) that you secretly resent for successfully doing whatever it is you are trying to do. They look great, seem happy, and they rub it in your face. Also, you can’t afford to go, but you’ve never heard of her anyway, so…
Best Case: You will go to the show, laugh, be inspired and transformed. Maria will say things so profound, and it will resonate with you so deeply, that your whole world will open up and you’ll be bathed in the light of happiness, free of anxiety, to the point that you’re able to go out and achieve dreams! You see someone you know (it’s Richmond, so you will) and they apologize to you for being a jerk and rubbing what they’re doing in your face, and tell you that they’re secretly jealous of your talent. And maybe they buy you a soda or something.
Most Likely: You will go to the show, you will say, “Oh yeah, I know Maria Bamford. She does funny voices.” Some of her jokes will make you laugh and some may not, but that’s okay, because if you want to leave, you can leave (and Maria’s okay with it). You will see someone you know (it’s Richmond, so you will) that is really excited that you are at the show (that person will be me). Also, you can’t afford it, but you can email Maria Bamford at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get you tickets.
MB: I hope to see you there.
MM: Hope is literally my middle name, Maria.
MB: I think there’s always hope… or there’s gotta be.
“If at any point during my program you feel disgusted, or think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t comedy better than I remembered? Why isn’t that particular premise less ill-conceived? Why isn’t this experience exactly what I had wanted?’ Please let that rage trample in you into working on your own stuff.“ –From her 2020 Comedy Album, Weakness is the Brand.
Maria Bamford will perform at The National on Friday, August 12. Doors open at 7 pm. Tickets are $25-$35, and can be purchased at The National’s website.
Top Photo by Robyn Von Swank.