Of all the voices that Maria Bamford is known for, the most important ones just might be the voices inside of her head. Maria has used her anxiety and dysfunctional personality to her advantage, and has emerged as one of the most successful and well-known comedians in the business. She is the one of the stars of the hilarious film The Comedians of Comedy, and has appeared in many popular television shows and movies, as well as lending her voice for animated hit series such as Hey Arnold! and CatDog. The Texas Travesty sat down with Maria to talk about dark humor, becoming a department store star, and allowing your pet dogs to set your schedule.
Texas Travesty: This is an obligatory question for comedians, but how did you first get into stand-up comedy?
Maria Bamford: There was a talent show at my college, Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. In grade school I remembered getting to do a speech for the first time, and I loved it. I got to do a really funny speech. Then, at a high school talent show, I got to do another funny speech; basically just like stand-up. I brought some props on stage, and it was super fun. I did it again in college, and then I did improv, and in my last year of college I started doing stand-up all the time. That’s when I realized, “This is what I really like to do.” Now I’m still doing it, and it’s really good, but I have had problems with performance anxiety. Now that I’ve gotten older, I think that shows are more important, or something like that.
TT: A lot of people could see your comedy as somewhat dark. Does that ever turn any audiences off? Are most people still able to relate to your particular brand of comedy?
MB: It’s very subjective. You never know who is going to like something or not like something. I still bomb. I was at the Improv at Melrose for a late Saturday night show, and there was plenty of silence to be had, you know, for those looking for a quiet place to think. Saturday night at the Improv might have been a good time to go and be by one’s self in a quiet area. [Laughs.] I try to avoid that, but you never know what people are going to like or not like. I feel really lucky right now; it seems like people will know what I do, and the people that like it will come, and that works out really nicely, but then sometimes you’re [performing] at a club, and some people are just coming out for a nice time, and you’re both unfortunately surprised. [Laughs.] “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” “Me either!” It’s disappointing for both of us.
TT: How do your parents feel about your impressions of them on stage?
MB: They feel very proud, and sometimes irritated. My dad will tell anyone that will listen about me and my sister equally, and my mom as well. One time my dad opened for me at a show, and he did a joke about me, and an impersonation of me, and I was so mad. I was so hurt. I was like, “Dad, I never said that,” and he said, “Ooh, payback. Payback’s a bitch.” Probably because that’s totally what I do; I put words in their mouth that they never said.
TT: You never really have to think about them getting back at you in that way.
MB: Yeah, but it would make sense if they did. It is sort of painful to have yourself mimicked. But I am very grateful for their kindness. I try to be cognizant of their sensitivities. My parents don’t really have as many sensitivities as they used to. Now they’re almost 70, and they’re like, “Sweetie, I have a story for you. When I visited your father at medical school I had to pee in the sink because there weren’t any bathrooms,” and I’m like, “Mom!” And she goes, “Well there were no bathrooms for women, and I think you could fit that into your...” and I’m like, “Mom, Jesus Christ!” And she keeps going on with things like: “Once I wasn’t wearing underwear, and…” Anyways, they celebrate their stage personas.
TT: You were in the film The Comedians of Comedy with Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, and Brian Posehn. What was it like working with them, and how did their material influence yours?
MB: It was really great. It was like a dream come true, to be with other comics that are really good and get to watch them every night, and to see how their material develops and what things they added. It was really, really great. I try to bring an opener with me, and you know their act so well, so it’s like having a pal. Because then you can give each other joke challenges, or you could say, “Oh, that joke was great,” but you’ve heard that joke so many times that you can be more supportive of each other. It was awesome; I really enjoyed it.
TT: A big part of your comedy is the voices that you do. I was reading an interview recently and you described it as having only two voices: high and low. Surely you have more variations than that?
MB: Well, it’s not like I have million voices; I think I have about 7. Maybe 8. I don’t know; I feel like I could work on it more. I do some voice-over work, and you meet people where all they do is voice stuff, and that’s pretty spectacular. They do all sort of different accents and crazy sounds.
TT: But you have crazy sounds as well, like the pterodactyl voice?
MB: Well yeah, I have that crazy sound; it’s a pretty good one. And that’s one that everyone can do. It’s easy.
TT: I saw that you did a few commercials for Target recently. How did that opportunity come about?
MB: Well, it was like a miracle. It was like there was some sort of benevolent force ruling the universe that cared about me as an individual. It actually wasn’t a miracle, but rather a series of coincidences that came into play. I did a web series, and some people liked that, and I think at least one of those people worked at an ad agency, or at Target, and had seen me do some different characters. I didn’t have to audition, and they had made me an offer and had written all of the scripts. It was super awesome.
TT: So you had a lot of fun?
MB: It was so much fun. It was really wonderful. There is something great about being the “star” of something, because it’s not like when you’re an extra, and you have to sit somewhere for hours and the craft service table is just a tub of Red Vines. [Laughs.] It’s hard times, but when you’re the star they bring you juice, or water, or coffee; whatever you really want, in terms of beverages. It was an amazing five days.
TT: You have a few shows coming up at Cap City Comedy Club here in Austin, Texas. What’s your take on the comedy scene here? I know you’ve performed with [local comic] Kerri Lendo before.
MB: Oh my God, yes. Kerri Lendo opened for me in Philadelphia. She is really great. I know a lot of people who have moved [from Austin] to LA, like Michelle Biloon and Chris Fairbanks, and there’s Martha Kelly, who’s still there, and she’s super fantastic. I know Mike MacRae; I think he’s from Houston. I think it’s a great place, a wonderful place to do comedy, and there’s so many great comics that I’m worried about naming any more individuals for fear of insulting the rest. It’s really great because there’s tons of shows. People can perform a lot and it’s a groovy, creative atmosphere, as far as I can tell.
TT: I think it’s definitely up-and-coming; I think comedy is only going to get bigger here.
MB: Yeah, pretty soon everything is going to explode. And I mean everything. [Laughter.]
TT: So what’s next for you, besides tons and tons of touring?
MB: What is next? I don’t know, but I’m really excited for it.
TT: You’re just excited about the future in general?
MB: I’m excited about the future in general. Whatever happens, it’s going to be great. And even if it’s not great, that’s pretty great. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Hopefully I will keep writing jokes and enjoy comedy as a whole.
TT: But even if you don’t know what you’re going to be doing, you still have your dogs, right?
MB: Hello! Those guys…they have a couple of ideas of what I should be doing, like sitting down more often and letting them fart in my face. They don’t do that all the time; just occasionally, when they’re upset.