Laughing at adversity
Maria Bamford’s struggles become a source of material for act
Maria Bamford’s go-to yoga position is the reclined pigeon, in which the comedian lies on her back, crosses both legs like she’s striking an early-’90s breakdancer pose, and lets gravity do the rest. It’s light. It’s low-impact.
“That’s my favorite thing, when there’s little- to- no effort involved,” Bamford says with a laugh, describing her morning yoga session at home in Los Angeles. “You put out enough energy to make people think you still exist, but not too much to draw attention.”
The irony is that Bamford, who will perform today at the Palm Beach Improv in West Palm Beach, is no slouch. Bamford’s ambitious and critically acclaimed Netflix series, “Lady Dynamite,” has drawn more attention than the 47-year-old comic can handle. On the sitcom, Bamford plays a fictionalized version of herself as she struggles to restart a career after a mental breakdown, a typeII bipolar disorder diagnosis and a stay in a psychiatric ward, all of which also happened in real life. “I want to be less ambitious, or maybe not ambitious, anymore,” Bamford explains to her overzealous talent agent in the first episode.
Bamford says even her 2017 Netflix special, “Old Baby,” has reaped more attention than her 2012 special, “The Special Special Special,” in which she awkwardly performed at home for an audience of two: her parents.
“I’m a complete bull---- artist,” Bamford says of her work ethic. “I’m definitely hustling, and I’m totally into working as much as I can, but I can’t do19-hour days, on five hours of sleep, for months. I know I’m not Kathy Griffin. She’s a hustler. And she’s maintaining a very low weight. I just want to earn a certain amount a month. I’ve got to keep getting the pugs’ eyeball medication. But I don’t have that willingness to hustle a lot.
Bamford says a small work schedule now helps preserve her mental health, a topic she’s comfortable spinning into comedy on “Lady Dynamite,” which will pre- miere its second season Nov. 10 on Netflix. Mirroring the comedian’s personality, Bamford’s character on “Lady Dynamite” is an easily excitable firecracker, bouncing back and forth between manic highs and sluggish lows. She says she’s been open about her bipolar disorder with the show’s writing staff, who’ve been “respectful of the whole mental thing,” she says.
Public acceptance of other celebrities with mental illnesses, ”such as comedian Tig Notaro and singer Demi Lovato, has helped her confidence, Bamford says.
“There’s even a bipolar magazine, for god sakes. It comes out quarterly,” Bamford says. “It’s part of a greater movement in our society. When you’re sick, you’re devoid of any personal self-confidence. But I’m very confident now. It’s just that my natural state is inertia. As a comedian my energy onstage is mostly ‘I don’t care,’ but I desperately care.”
Bamford’s real-life pitfalls and triumphs are constantly reflected on “Lady Dynamite.” Early in the first season, Bamford’s character shoots a series of commercials dressed as an overly hyper shopper inside a big-box retailer. These scenes are a re-creation of her actual 2010 holiday commercials for Target, filmed just before her hospitalization.
Bamford, who recently finished taking beginner- level acting classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles, says Season 2 will dive into her marriage to artist Scott Marvel Cassidy, whom she met on an online dating site.
“It’s even more bizarre to me, because it’s about my husband, and that experience, and it’s also science fiction-themed,” Bamford says, cracking up with a snort. “It’s almost confusing, but I swear it will all make sense. Maybe only to me.”
“You put out enough energy to make people think you still exist, but not too much to draw attention,”says comedian Maria Bamford.