A lot of times when I watch, read, or experience something great, I have a lot of thoughts that I want to put down. But it’s not always as formal as a “review”. It’s not always as glowing of a “recommendation”. And “dissection” leaves a bad taste in the mouth. So for now, I’ll leave it as Re:, as in “regarding”, or any other re- words that fit what I’m trying to say!
Maria Bamford is a comedian I didn’t know much about until she appeared on the Nerdist podcast a while ago promoting her new special (that I’m discussing here). She talked about mental illness and other serious topics in a wonderfully humorous way, which is rare. This was also at a time when my own views on the subject had recently evolved to a more reasonable and compassionate approach. It’s sad to say that some of the terrible, harmful examples Maria impersonates in her routine are thoughts I’ve had, though thankfully rarely shared.
Anyway, it took me far too long to sit down and watch it. And it’s great!
The first aspect of the special that’s immediately notable is that it takes place in Bamford’s house with an audience of solely her parents. This comes into play in several ways, with jokes directly referencing one of the two, or breaks to answer the door or turn off an oven! It’s an especially personal show, so the setting fits the mood.
Bamford’s style of humor is complex. She speaks in a soft tone, sometimes just barely making out the words, then switches to perfect impressions of people she knows or simply a more generic, “normal” man or woman. Certain parts of jokes completely passed me by until I thought about them in a delicately-placed pause. But it’s funny on multiple levels, from the basic funny voices to the complete, imagined scene she’s painting with each bit.
The humor comes first, but her tackling of subjects like suicide and mental illness were as illuminating as they were hilarious. She describes her personal experience of bipolar disorder: what it’s like on a daily basis. She comments on the many different reactions people have to her condition, from classic misunderstandings to the outright awful responses. But it remains consistently funny, not sad, throughout. You really get the sense she’s conquering the topic with humor, not succumbing to it, as all the best comics do with difficult subjects.
In addition to mental illness and stigma, she covers religion and spirituality in an enjoyable way, and that’s coming from an atheist who’s heard many tired jokes about already! She discusses her problems with relationships, be it in romantic partners or just trying to make “connections” with new people. She shares many aspects of her quirky personality and invokes some real hidden truths to take home afterward.
She expertly ends the set with a joke suggested by her mother that I don’t think anyone could make funny, turning morbid reality into laughter in ways I don’t understand.
If any of this seems interesting, take a look at the preview and see if it’s your style. I really enjoyed it! If you’re looking for her to speak more candidly, personally, and directly about her experiences, I also recommend her second Nerdist interview, linked below. Hearing the interview first added a lot of context to her special that made it even better and more insightful than it might have been otherwise.
Maria Bamford interviewed on the Nerdist podcast (1:22)
Maria Bamford’s Special Special Special (0:49, $5)