Maria Bamford has been performing stand-up comedy for 30 years. Chances are, she’s either among your all-time favorite comedians or you’ve never heard of her.
This week, Bamford is releasing her third hour-long special. The title, Weakness Is the Brand, stems from the way she explains to her audience why they may notice a shakiness in both her hands and voice.
“I have a tremor that’s distracting in a performer,” she says near the top of the hour, before imitating a critic in her head who asks, “Why don’t you take a medication to offset the hundreds of medications you’re already on so that I feel more comfortable?” The punchline: “To which I’d like to say, weakness is the brand.”
The Minnesota native has always been open about her own struggles with mental health—she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and OCD and has been hospitalized for nervous breakdowns on multiple occasions. But through it all, she has somehow managed to remain one of the most inventive and downright funniest comedians of her generation, both on stage and in her beloved Netflix series Lady Dynamite, which was prematurely canceled after two seasons.
“I think sometimes I get into the ethical anxiety about taking space up in the world,” Bamford tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I’m almost 50 years old and I’m a very well-off, as far as I can tell, white lady. Am I really necessary in terms of being a performer? There are so many other voices that haven’t been heard and they’re so interesting. I don’t even know if I want to hear what I have to say despite the fact that I keep talking.”
That feeling of wanting to listen more is part of what drove Bamford to host a new online talk show called What’s Your Ailment?! for Topic.com on which she interviews other celebrities about their mental health issues.
“I thought it would be fun to talk to other people who were open to talking about their experience,” she says. “I like to joke that it’s the least helpful form of health care you could get. Is it better than the free clinic? I don’t know.”
On ‘internet dating’ with fans
“It is a very selfish drive in that I have a difficult time getting myself to rehearse my material. So now I need to get a witness to sit there and watch me go through the whole thing. If you’ve heard of Twitter, it’s such a loving, sweet, gentle place. You put on your Twitter, ‘Hey, at this time, in this zip code, can anyone meet me for coffee? I’ll buy.’ And then people tweet back and go, ‘I’m available in that odd part of St. Louis, Missouri at 3 p.m.’ And then you get to meet a nice person in the middle of nowhere. So it’s just delightful. I want to say I’ve done it at least 30 times and people have always been very pleasant. I did a lot of internet dating back in the day. And I think I went on probably like 75 internet dates over the course of 10 years, so it didn’t seem that scary to me at all.”
On impersonating her family members onstage
“[My mom] has been OK with it. She lets things roll off her. I think that’s a trait of mothers in general. You’ve heard years of your kids going, ‘That’s stupid, Mom.’ At least I think that’s what’s going on because she just goes, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s great, honey. I’ve got my own life.’ But I used to do an impersonation of my sister and she really felt hurt by that and said ‘I don’t want you to do that anymore.’ So I’m trying desperately not to do it, but it’s hard because she’s very funny.”
On the lack of inclusivity at comedy clubs
“I love comedy clubs—love, love, love them. I wish they would become more accessible to everybody. I think they’re leaving money on the table. That’s why I think these [comedy] festivals are doing well, because they’re inclusive. It’s bizarre how you’ll go to a comedy club and maybe there will be a picture of a famous [female] comedian on the wall who’s never been there, like Margaret Cho or Lucille Ball or something, but that’s it. There might be two or three comics who are headlining who are women. And women of color are like 0.5 percent. I don’t understand it. And I also have heard so many stories of other female comics about how difficult it is to get on. On some level, the door still isn’t open. It’s statistically unjust.”
On Netflix canceling ‘Lady Dynamite’ after two seasons
“I felt sad that it was over on some level, just in terms of wanting to be needed. Like, ‘Oh god, we’ve got to have that show back!’ Even if I didn’t want it, I wanted to be wanted, definitely. I am on some certain psychiatric meds that make me really tired. So 12- to 16- to 18-hour days—doing the show was on the far edge of my abilities. Which is so hilarious, because your dream comes true and suddenly I’m too tired to do it. It was a really wonderful experience, an unbelievable dream come true. Everything has happened for me that I’ve ever wanted and beyond. So I’m good.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian Tom Papa, whose new Netflix special You’re Doing Great premieres Tuesday, February 4th.