Zoofest Spotlight: Maria Bamford
In the midst of researching the comedy podcasting boom, MP contributing writer Joey Grihalva spoke with comedienne Maria Bamford about her upcoming festival run, heckling abroad, powering down and whether comedy is, or ever was, relevant.
Maria Bamford is a bit less manic these days. Festival-goers familiar with the Los Angeles-based comic's strangely intense and spectacularly oddball brand of stand-up should notice diminishing levels of anxiety during her run at Zoofest. Even so, in the dark recesses of Bamford's mind the big questions still linger.
"Is comedy relevant? Do we really need any more escapism? This is self-loathing talking but part of me thinks, 'Yeah, maybe we do need to escape.' But in the United States, where we have such a high standard of living and use most of the world's resources, it seems like we're already disconnected so much."
"I look at The Simpsons, which is hilarious but also super thoughtful in how it mirrors our society and sends out these insightful messages, yet it doesn't seem to do anything. Does comedy make a difference?"
Whether or not humour has made the world a better place, it has helped Bamford deal with her demons. As a depressed university student in the early 1990s, she jumped at the chance to study abroad in Edinburgh, hoping that somehow the sunshine-deficient Scottish setting would brighten her days.
"I didn't do any stand-up then, I think I was a little too nervous, but I participated in theatre sports. I've been back a couple of times for the festival and that's been super inspiring to see all the different comedians from all over the world. Well, mostly the English-speaking world. If you're lucky you can see a Japanese mime troop."
"It's really neat as an American comic to see the different comedy cultures. I learned how heckling is definitely more a part of stand-up over there [in Europe]. The audience is pretty good at it actually. I think it's the same thing with the American Black community where it's not an insult but rather it's a given."
Bamford is working on her own heckling response skills, but is confident they won't be needed during her third trip to Montreal. She has more anxiety over not being able to speak French.
"Somehow it makes me feel less intelligent than every person in Canada. Maybe if I could get a quick translation of what everyone was saying I would realize there are some French dumb-dumbs too who might be willing to talk to me. But I have a guidebook this time around so I'll be checking out some stuff with my friend Jackie Kashian, who will be opening for me each set."
After a flurry of activity in the last few years -- her own web-series, voice work on a number of animated television series (she still works on a couple) and most famously, sharing screen time with Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn and the wildly popular Zach Galifianakis in the cult documentary The Comedians of Comedy -- Bamford now jokes about having 'finished early.'
"I've made it past any of my expectations and perhaps the expectation of others, so I've had all my gravy. Now I feel like my job is to be there for younger comedians like Melissa Villasenor, who is a great comic but also does really beautiful characterizations."
It's no surprise that Bamford is drawn to characterizations; they are her bread and butter. But unlike Villasenor, who does celebrity impressions, Bamford animates the characters in her stories through brilliant out-of-body voices. In her latest on-screen role Bamford does a hilarious send-up of a saucy Latina reporter in the Sklar Brothers 2010 heist comedy Held Up, starring Ottawa's Jon Dore.
"I don't know if acting is my gift or my interest really," says the Duluth, Minnesota native. "I think my interest when I came out to Los Angeles was fame and prestige, which turns out aren't as fulfilling as I thought. So I don't think more would necessarily be better."
"I'm trying to power down. I talked to a therapist who said, 'The first 40 years are about striving and then after 40 you realize that you're closer to death.'" Bamford bursts with laughter. "I don't know why I keep giggling as I say that."
Maria Bamford's show, "Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome," runs July 25 to 28 & 30 at Theatre Ste-Catherine, 264, rue Ste-Catherine est. Tickets cost $15 and are available by calling 514-509-5273 or by visiting the Zoofest website.
Joey Grihalva is a fledgling freelance writer and seasoned videographer who landed in Montreal after becoming enamored with a Quebec girl while they were both temping in Scotland. Now based in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, Joey is patiently waiting for Canadian Immigration Services to deliver his prized work permit -- after having paid exorbitant international student fees (by Quebec standards) at Concordia University. Before living in Montreal, the only poutine he had ever tried was made with thick Scottish fries, a St-Hubert sauce packet and grated mozzarella cheese. However heretic, it was still quite yummy.
Photo by Susan Maljan