Bamford doesn't shy away from challenging material in her standup comedy.
For a relatively small city, Madison has seen more than its share of the greats of standup comedy over the last few years -- Patton Oswalt, Mike Birbiglia, Aziz Ansari and Marc Maron, just to name a few. When I talk with local comedy fans, there's one comic missing from that list, someone people have wanted to see in Madison for years: Maria Bamford.
"There is no one else that does what she can do. There is no other comic that can use all the tools of comedy the way she can and make it seem completely natural," says local comedian and Bamford fan Aaron Haag.
Bamford's comedic output has been impressive over the last few years. In 2012, she released an acclaimed comedy special, aptly titled The Special Special Special! The special was not taped at a club or a theater; instead the "audience" was just her parents sitting on a couch. She followed that up in 2013 with her newest album, Ask Me About My New God!, which received similar acclaim.
and has racked up a ton of voice-acting gigs in cartoons such as Cartoon Network's Adventure Time.
Perhaps her standout performance to date is the character of DeBrie (pronounced like "debris") in the fourth season of Arrested Development. Bamford's portrayal managed to find humor in a character who should have utterly depressing. It was a challenging role for any actor or comedian, and Bamford made it into one of the highlights of Arrested Development’s rocky revival.
Bamford doesn't shy away from challenging material in her standup comedy, either. Many of her sets allude to her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The references to her mental illness are often a surprise; she weaves suicidal thoughts into a bit about all the stupid ideas she has had. Bamford talks about it because it is a part of her life, but she does not let it dominate her life. This treatment of a semi-taboo subject has earned her the respect of audiences and fellow comedians.
"One of the things I love about Maria is that she is open about her struggles with mental illness in a way that few people of any art form are," says local comedian Heather Hanford.
"She never speaks about it like it's something to be ashamed of, or as if it makes you broken," adds Haag.
Not all of Bamford's material deals with bipolar disorder. She is just as likely to joke about her desire to learn the recipe for a gas station muffin. Her writing is silly and smart, and her impressive vocal range shows how she was able to get all her cartoon gigs.
Hanford got sick of waiting for Bamford and traveled to Indiana to see her perform. For first-time Bamford attendees, she offers this advice: "Prepare to laugh at stuff you didn't even know was funny."