Maria Bamford’s show-business career spreads far beyond her stand-up, which she’s been performing since the late 1990s. She’s voiced dozens of cartoon characters — most notably the Slime Princess and the Wildberry Princess on “Adventure Time,” cameos on “Downward Dog” and “Bob’s Burgers,” spots on “American Dad,” “Spongebob Squarepants,” “Bojack Horseman” and literally dozens of others. She’s had roles on “Arrested Development,” “The Sarah Silverman Program,” “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and, again, a few dozen more projects. She’s had her own Netflix show — two seasons of “Lady Dynamite” that mined the humor out of her nervous breakdown (funnier than it sounds). And Judd Apatow called her “the funniest woman in the world.”
Maria Bamford performs Friday, Oct. 4 at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. Find tickets and additional info at the UNSCA website.
I mean this in the best way possible, but you are weird. And you also get an enormous amount of work. What is it about you that people relate to?
Well Brian, I hope that weird means something positive to you — I’m gonna assume that it does. But I don’t think there’s anything weird about me at all. I’m pretty milquetoast, especially when it comes to comedy. There’s some more wonderfully creative people out there than me.
I hope the reason I get hired is that I’m extremely talented. If it’s because I’ve been charming, and being charming is the only reason I got the job, I’ll take that. If it’s because my mother made a backdoor deal with them, financially, then that’s okay, too. I want her to be happy.
The current era of comedy is fraught with political correctness. You’ve worked with Louis CK, whose career was stalled after multiple accusations of sexual harassment. A new hire at “Saturday Night Live” was terminated before his first season because of racist remarks on a podcast. Dave Chappelle and others have spoken out about this in their work. How much do you worry about offending others in your work?
I’ve worked with Louis CK, but I don’t know him super well. I’m one of the people who says he could have signed up some financial reparations to the people he affected — that’s my own personal judgment.
But the thing with the arts is that it’s not for everybody — it’s for the person who created it. Why does everyone have to like it? I like to acknowledge the experience of others, but I’ve definitely said some things I have no experience in, that I probably shouldn’t be talking about, but that was also my own personal judgment.
I would hope that people can say or do what they want as long as it doesn’t incite violence on a mass level, which arguably could be done with a comedy show. I’m always down for trying to be kind, but I have plenty of material that upsets some people, including members of my own family. That’s a part of life itself, not just the arts. If you’re irritating someone, then you’re breathing.
And then there’s this part of comedy that’s supposed to make people a little uncomfortable, like what Andy Kaufman was doing in the 1970s.
My husband loves Andy Kaufman. It goes from uncomfortable to unbearability. Eric Andre is like that. Tim and Eric. There’s all sorts of sensitive material. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and comedy is in the vocal chords of the laugher? Something like that.
What are some of your favorite projects?
I loved ‘Adventure Time,’ really enjoyed that series; it was a beautiful show. I loved ‘Word Girl’ on PBS, though that was a long time ago. Currently I’ve done a little on ‘Animaniacs’ new season, ‘Big Mouth’ on Netflix, very excited about that, I think that’s a really funny show. Whatever I’m in, I’m pumped about.
You had your own show, ‘Lady Dynamite,’ on Netflix that dealt with your own mental illness and breakdown. Was that cathartic or terrifying?
‘Lady Dynamite’ ran for two seasons; it’s still on there. It’s semi-autobiographical, me having a mental breakdown — hilarious fun for family and friends to watch. Cathartic? Well, financially, sure, but I had already told my story so many times myself, it was lovely to have a bunch of other people tell my story — a team of writers who took the basic story idea and made it into something quite beautiful. It was a wonderful experience. I always wanted my own TV show and now it happened, and I own a home in Southern California.
Some comics script everything on stage, while others rely more on improvisation. Where do you fall on that continuum?
Full scripting. Full, total scripting. I definitely like to know what I’m going to say, and have it be rehearsed and know exactly what’s going to come out of my mouth. Sometimes I improvise with the audience and stuff like that, but I’m more of a performer in that way, an actor and entertainer.
Anything else you want to talk about?
I want to talk about my opening act. A local North Carolinian, Lauren Faber. She’s out of Durham and a super-funny young person. I’ve worked with her before — she won the Funniest Person in North Carolina or something a few years ago; she’s just super great and we’re lucky to have her. You can see her stuff at laurenfabercomedy.com. She’s funny and has a good Twitter feed, if you’re into that kind of thing.
That’s very generous. Did other comics help you like this along the way?
Dana Gould was very nice to me. He gave me my first sets in San Francisco. I took the train out there. He was very kind to me and continues to be very kind to me. People in my local area were supportive. I grew up in Duluth [Minn.], and there was an accelerated theater program that made a huge difference in my life. Shout out to Mr. Blackburn, who made it fun. There’s also people who still do theater in Minneapolis. You don’t know how huge a difference you make in young people’s lives until later, when they’re being interviewed by the local news.
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