Northampton Press

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Maria Bamford has Rx for her standup comedy

Thursday, October 11, 2018 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

Maria Bamford’s comedy can be difficult to describe.

Imagine if all the voices in your head decided to put on a show while embodied in an adorably nervous human chihuahua and you might get a clue as to Bamford’s original comedic brand.

Maria Bamford returns to Musikfest Cafe, 7 p.m. Oct. 14, ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, Bethlehem.

Bamford’s brew, a comedy stew, is part performance art, masterful vocal manipulation, physical comedy, cathartic confessional and stand-up that defies comparison.

Bamford can quickly and seamlessly transition into different characters complete with their respective voices and mannerisms. She often pokes fun about her family. Her mother is a favorite recurring portrayal.

Her hour-long Netflix special, “Old Baby,” which premiered on the streaming service May 2018, is a primer for the uninitiated.

Bamford has been candid in her act and in interviews about her life-long struggles with mental illness, including hospitalization for nervous breakdowns, anxiety and depression. She was diagnosed Bipolar II and Obsessive Compulsive (OCD).

She often touches on dark themes on stage, but in a sweet and self-deprecating fashion.

“It’s a new hour of stuff that hasn’t been on a special or a CD,” Bamford says when asked during a recent telephone interview about the material she will be performing at SteelStacks.

“That’s exciting for me. Hopefully, it will be exciting for other people. If it’s not, then that’s OK. I understand,” she laughs.

“It’ll be fun to come back [to Bethlehem]. I have material about marriage; not as much about mental health because I’ve been feeling so good. My usual topics; just very personal stuff. That’s my shtick.”

Bamford has been married to artist and Philadelphia area native Scott Marvel Cassidy since March 2015. And while being in a stable relationship has boosted emotional well-being, she attributes much of her present state of bliss to something else.

“Meds,” she says with a smile in her voice. “Medications. I cannot say enough. Marriage is nice. It’s wonderful, but I think I could not be married without medications. The effect of being on medication specific to bipolar has made a huge, unbelievable difference in my life. I cannot stress that enough.”

Bamford is pleased to share with anyone who asks the name and dosages of the prescriptions that are working so well for her.

“It’s on my merch that I sell after shows and I would be totally willing to share with you what it is,” she says. “I’m on a 1000mg of Depakote, 25-50mg Seroquel, depending upon whether I can sleep at night, and 40mg of Prozac.”

“I tried a bunch of stuff but those are the ones that are working for me at this point.” Noting side effects, she adds, “I have a bit of a tremor and weight gain and hair loss.

“It is not an issue for me to put that out in public. It’s all helpful to people. I love to share, that somehow is something I’m not private about,” she says.

Bamford’s website includes links to mental health agencies and resources for people struggling with or trying to comprehend their mental health concerns.

Circling back to merchandise. Fans won’t find the funny items featured in “Old Baby’s” merch segments like the “I’m Hiding” wool hat or the grossly oversized gym shorts for sale at SteelStacks or elsewhere on the remainder of her tour.

“All that merch is something I’m slightly not on board with, which is all stuff that’s made abroad where you don’t know how people are being treated,” she explains.

“Despite it being hilarious, it’s shades of gray, ethically-speaking.”

“But I am bringing merch. Hopefully, I’ll still have it [available]. Dish towels, made in the USA, I hope part of it is union [made], I wasn’t totally clear on that. All I know is that they’re beautiful dishtowels and that’s what I’ll have. That’s the thing that has my prescription on it, if you forget. Forgetfulness is also one of the side-effects. What a delight.”

Bamford donates proceeds from her merchandise sales to the Miller-Dwan Foundation Adult Psychiatric Healing Space, in her hometown of Duluth, Minn.

“I’m very excited to come back to Bethlehem. It’s such a sweet town. I love your wonderful bookstore [Moravian Book Shop] there.”

She wants folks in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley to know she’s looking forward to seeing them again. She offers a parting message in a soothing voice before concluding the phone call:

“Come on by. But if you need to stay in, that’s OK, too. There’s no pressure.”

Tickets: ArtsQuest box office, ArtsQuest Center, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem; steelstacks.org; 610-332-1300