Maria Bamford Manifests Her Destiny
Duluth-born comedian Maria Bamford's quirky impressions and internal dialogues have made her a hit with festival audiences and critics. Now she returns to her home state with a successful online sitcom to her credit and a book and TV series on Fox in the works.
City Pages: Tell me about Sit Down, Shut Up, the new animated show you're in. You play a science teacher named Miracle?
Maria Bamford: Yes, it's super funny. It's written and developed by Mitch Hurwitz who did Arrested Development, and it's with a lot of people who were in Arrested Development. There's kind of something going on with it right now though. We did the first episode, but apparently the writers had thought it was going to be a Writers Guild America project. But Sony produces it, and they have an ongoing deal with another writers guild you can do things under, which I guess doesn't have as good benefits or pension as WGA. So, the writers walked out. So, it's kind of uncertain right now what's happening. But it's a good show, so I hope it doesn't just go away, which sometimes happens too. So, it's on the cusp. But, if anything, it 's a wonderful lesson in show business and how you never know. Nothing is ever a sure thing. It's so weird talking about it. Anyways. I got to meet Henry Winkler, who brought in an orange pound cake that he or somebody in his household had made. He's a very nice man. And I got to meet Jason Bateman, who is super funny as well as extremely handsome. And Will Arnett and Will Forte who are extremely talented and they're both on it, and just super funny people. Hopefully it will go on. But if not, you know I'll feel sad about it, and I'll have a grieving period. But I'm working on tons of different stuff. Got to keep all the fires burning at once.
CP: What other things are you working on?
MB: I'm writing a book. I'd read it, and I think that's the important thing. It's nonfiction. The idea is based on this song in my SuperDeluxe.com series. One of the songs is "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," it's about how everybody has weird freakish things going on in their lives, and that's OK. The book is prefaced on that. I love self-help books. But books about depression and mental illness are always fairly depressing. So it's a book about really bad things happening and screwing up, and mental problems of myself and other comedians. I haven't gotten to the other comedians yet. My second part is to solicit entries from other comedians about experience they've had while being hospitalized or whatever weird things they've done. So it's not a self-help book, it's a comforting book to read while depressed.
CP: You perform in the online show as your mom, dad, and sister, and your fans can e-mail your mom through your Web site. How does your family react to being such a major part of your comedy?
MB: My mom loves it, as far as I can tell. My dad felt a little bad at first. He's going to open for me in Duluth and the Very Boring Motorcycle Rally in August. He told me he was ok with it, but now he's writing jokes about me. He told me one, and I was like, “Dad, that never happened,” and he said, “Yeah. Payback.” My sister is irritated. She does not like it. I go, “But it's funny!” But another part of me goes, “I was the victim all these years, and now I get to speak.” I feel scared because my sister thinks that I make fun of people and it hurts people. I've been thinking that I was empowering myself; feeling like I'm the underdog. But if I'm the one who has a microphone, am I the victimizer? I don't know. My stuff isn't true, I mean, it might be true on an emotional level. Am I the James Frey of my family? I don't know. I feel scared and confused. You know what I wish? I wish someone would tell me what to, but I hope what tell me to do is to keep doing what I do.
CP: How does making an online sitcom in which you are the star and on camera differ from voicing a character?
MB: It's not unlike temping, where you have one skill, but it can be used in a variety of offices. When I do the show, it's just me and this guy in his house, and we just make up stories and write them down. It's a lot more organic. It's kind of quiet because you sitting in some guy's house. So then you start looking through the guy's cupboards, and he's on the NutriSystem thing, so you start eating those weird potato chips that aren't like potato chips. When you order your Nutrisystem meals, they come in a giant box with pictures of the food on the front, but it's not like that inside. So, that's different from Sit Down, Shut Up. There's a lot more baby asparagus at Sit Down, Shut Up. They have piles of baby asparagus at studios. There are giant baskets of muffins, and fresh hot eggs, and some guy making breakfast tomatoes. So, you go from Nutrisystem meals and a 20-ounce Diet Coke you brought yourself, to an unlimited fountain of Diet Coke.
CP: You're based in L.A. now. How is that working out for you?
MB: I've lived in L.A. for about 15 years. Every year I think about moving back to Duluth. I looked at houses, but I haven't done it yet. I just bought a house in Los Angeles which may or may not have been… well, it's not a mistake. Whatever it is, it's a learning experience. Sometimes you have run toward the wolf.
CP: So it wasn't a mistake, but are you regretting buying a house in L.A.?
MB: Well, because of the animated show, I didn't think I would be doing many road gigs because I thought this show would be on, but for the time being they've cancelled all the voiceovers. So I have to hustle up some grub. I've been doing a lot prosperity consciousness. I have five prosperity boards going. Have you heard of that?
CP: No, what's a prosperity board?
MB: Oh, my gosh! Oprah does it. Ok, let's say you want to have more trees in your life. You find a picture of a tree and put it on a poster board and put it in a place where you can see it a lot. You then manifest that tree, or maybe you just start noticing trees more. So, here's an example of me manifesting something: I put a microwave on my first vision board. My sister walked by my vision board and said, “You want a fucking microwave?! That's ridiculous. I'll give you a fucking microwave!" Boom! Manifested! Maybe the important part is showing people your vision boards. I went to a vision board weekend up an old nunnery in Montecito, and one old guy was cutting out pictures of hot ladies and guns and stacks of cash. I hope it's working out for him. If you want more pot, why not put a pot plant on a piece of paper? Maybe you'll get more.
CP: Do you like coming home to perform, or is it stressful performing in front of a home crowd?
MB: I think I get a little nervous. The last time I was on a radio show in Minneapolis it was at some rock station and people started calling in. The intern looked at me said, "'There's a woman on the phone who is saying 'Get that woman off the air! She's not funny!'" And I thought, yep, this feels like home. There's that here too, but in the familiar home accent, it's powerful. I stopped by Super America to get a 37-ounce Diet Coke, and the woman there said, 'Oh! Watch your cap there! It looks like your cap's going to fall off and it'll spill all over you!' And I didn't fix the cap because I was busy, and she says, ‘Watch the cap! It's going to spill all over you! You better fix the cap!’ That never happens in L.A. People don't stop and tell you how you might ruin your life.
Catch Maria Bamford tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. at the Acme Comedy Company. 708 1st St. N, Minneapolis. $20
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