Maria Bamford has been one of the funniest working stand-up comedians for close to two decades. Yet when she appeared on the pages of TMZ for the first time a few weeks ago, the site didn’t even use her name in the headline.
“COMIC FILES FOR RESTRAINING ORDER Over Nuclear War Fears,” the headline screamed of Bamford’s intentionally provocative attempt to get a judge to say President Donald Trump had to stay 1,000 yards away from her at all times. As Bamford live-tweeted, her request was ultimately denied.
Speaking to The Daily Beast by phone ahead of performing a new hour of stand-up at Comedy Central’s Clusterfest in San Francisco this weekend, Bamford admits that the stunt was probably “useless” and led to some scary death threats. For someone who has been open about her struggles with mental illness, she acknowledges it probably wasn’t the best idea.
That experience of being diagnosed as bipolar and spending time in a psych ward provided the backdrop for Bamford’s surreal and hilarious Netflix series Lady Dynamite, which ran for two seasons before the platform decided to pull the plug in January. Bamford told me just before the first season dropped in 2016 that her medication had made it difficult to complete the long days required of her on set. For that reason, she says she’s “relieved” the show won’t have a third season.
“I got to say everything I’ve ever wanted to say, basically, on TV,” she says now. Plus, now she has more time to focus on things like stand-up… and growing vegetables.
You’re going to be performing stand-up at Clusterfest in San Francisco this weekend. Do you enjoy playing festivals?
Yes! Very much so. It’s a great thing, because you get to see everybody else. I’m going to see Kate Berlant and John Early and hopefully a few other people. You get to see people you don’t normally get to see a longer set of while driving around Los Angeles.
Do you think you’ll be trying out much new material there?
Yes, it’s an all new hour so let’s hope it’s good. If it’s not, let that disappointment trample you into working on your own stuff. [Laughs] I think I’ve got an hour that’s all new. If I get frightened I might back into an old trope, but I’m trying to do a full hour.
And are there any themes that you feel are more dominant in this hour that you’re working on? How would you characterize it?
I mean, I think everybody talks about the political stuff, just because it’s so miserable. And the embarrassment of being ineffectual as a human being despite horrors being committed around you. Why can’t I create a list like Schindler’s List? Bamford’s List. I feel like I want to make a grand gesture to bail a lot of people out, but I either don’t have the creativity or I don’t know. But I’d like to help. I’m doing everything that I can, so far. My husband and I are starting to take in roomers, because the L.A. housing crisis is so bad and it’s really affecting a lot of our friends. So we have one person moved in and may get up to two more people, so we’ll see. It’s all for us, too, because it’ll be more fun to have more people around the house.
So did you really file a restraining order against Donald Trump?
Yes, yes, which was useless and only meaningful to me. And I feel bad, because I did get some feedback of, “Oh, you wasted the court’s time.” But I’ve got to tell you it only took about a half hour. It was a very quick turnaround. The judge saw me and denied it and then I went home. And I would have followed it further, but I did get some violent messages from people and death threats. And I just thought, well, not only is this not doing anything, really, it’s just creating a spectacle. I thought it was a funny idea and then I just entered the chaff of all the useless things on the internet, it turns out.
Yeah, I’m sure the people who were threatening you were not fans of your comedy, didn’t know too much about your work.
Oh, yeah, and I don’t think that even matters at this point. It’s just not personal at all anymore. It seems like there’s just a real divide and I certainly don’t know how to fix it.
I know there were some news reports about it in TMZ and elsewhere, but from your perspective, why was the restraining order something you wanted to do?
Well, I’d heard so many comedic premises where you go, “That’s not a bad idea.” This comic Isaac Witty suggested, I think it was in the late ‘90s, that we should send a high school marching band into any foreign conflict. That it would be confusing, relatively inexpensive, and then quite possibly hilarious. So that’s what inspired it. And also just a sense of individual frustration that as a citizen, I’ve marched, I’ve written a hundred letters, I’ve called people and just feeling impotent to make any real change. My state of California is already voting my way and the people in power are already trying to do the things that I would like them to do. So it’s really the federal government. If Donald Trump is the head of our government, and I hate saying it, but he is the head of our government, there’s not even a facade of acting — at least in past years, you’d have a politician say, “I’m so sorry” or “Of course, I really care.” And even if their actions were different, at least you had the comfort of shame, that they have some shame about what they’re doing or that they care about other people’s concerns. But that is not the case anymore.
So I also want to talk about Lady Dynamite. I was a big fan of the show and was sad to hear Netflix announce that there is not going to be a third season. What were your feelings about that? Were you disappointed? Relieved?
I think I was relieved. It was a great experience. I got to say everything I’ve ever wanted to say, basically, on TV. Because of the meds that I’m on, I generally don’t have the energy it takes to star in a TV show. It was a real stretch for me to do it. I’m on an antipsychotic, which means I usually sleep about 12 hours a night, which is not possible during television production. And they worked as hard as they could to be helpful to me and not have it be over-budget. So I was just glad everybody had a great time and a great experience from what I understood. I did ask, if we had a third season, to have 10-hour days, do children’s hours. And I think that would have been very hard for them to do. I don’t think a lot of shows can do that. And also, I don’t know where the story would have gone, so that’s enough. Two seasons!
Now that you’re not going to be doing that show anymore, did that experience give you new ideas or make you think about other things you might want to do in the future?
For sure. It’s fun to work with other people. Had I not been so tired during the whole thing, it would have been a tremendous amount of fun. So that was too bad. You know, just like everyone in L.A. I have different irons in the fire, different creative projects. And I love doing stand-up, so I’m really grateful to be performing, doing that still. I am getting older, so I’ve had that experience of achieving something and it’s like, “OK, so what else are you going to do?” And I’m like, “I just did this fucking show! I’m done, actually, I finished early.” I spent a lot of my youth really focused on show business and am trying to spend more time having a personal life. What if I grew a vegetable garden?
That would be great.
Well, it’s pretty exciting. And if you plant lettuce now, there’s a chance it could grow. Then I’ll have lettuce. And then I’ll have to tell my publicist, they need to know about the lettuce, because that is what I’m doing right now. I can’t get anyone interested in the lettuce!
This interview has been edited and condensed.