Comedian Maria Bamford tested her set on a Duluthian — in exchange for goods
During a December visit to Duluth, comedian Maria Bamford put a call-out on Twitter: She was looking for an audience of one to listen to her set in exchange for food and drink. After sifting through the replies, she picked Ashley Neenan — whom she would later find out has a great laugh and long history of Bamford fandom.
These days, this is Bamford's preferred way to rehearse. She doesn't want to do it alone anymore, and she isn't willing to go out to stand-up sets in Los Angeles, where she lives. Still, she needs to memorize her set, so:
"It really helps to rehearse everything with a friendly person," she said in a phone interview. "I've done hundreds of blind dates which were more painful. This is a blind date with someone you know likes you, without anything creepy and sexual."
After two seasons of starring in Netflix's "Lady Dynamite," Bamford is back doing what she likes best: live performances. She returns to her hometown for shows on Sunday and Monday at the NorShor Theatre — the first show sold out quickly, and a second was added.
Will trade jokes for salad
Bamford said she has taken to Twitter in search of a listener about 20 times in the past two years. While on the road, it's also a way to get her out of her room at, inevitably, the Hampton Inn. When people find out she's in town, they often offer to take her out to lunch. This is like an extension of that.
"It didn't seem very different than OKCupid," Bamford said. "I never met anyone off OKCupid who wasn't very pleasant, even if it wasn't a match. Everyone can keep it together for 40 minutes."
Once a woman drove 9 hours for the meet-up, Bamford said. She also recently met a chemist who is doing genetic brain research.
Neenan was working from home that day and responded with a comment on the snowstorm. She's a longtime fan of the comedian — maybe 15 years, she estimated. She even has a story about meeting Joel Bamford, Maria's father, and another about meeting Marilyn Bamford and complimenting her on her glasses.
Within 30 minutes, Neenan had gotten an invitation via Twitter.
"I ran around my house screaming," Neenan said.
She also wondered whether she should wear the Duluth sweatshirt that she knows Bamford also owns — but ultimately did not.
Neenan greeted the host at Chester Creek Cafe with: "Hi. Uh, I'm meeting someone here and her name is Maria Bamford," she recalled.
The pretty-much strangers ordered garden salads, and then Bamford began a set that has a few Duluth references — including one about the Miller Hill Mall food court.
"I think some people don't realize how effortful it is to listen to stand-up face to face," Bamford said. For her, though, no problem.
"I love to be listened to, any sort of attention," Bamford added, "when I'm speaking prepared bits. There's nothing better."
The trickiest part, Neenan said, was knowing whether the comedian was asking her a question or still in on-stage mode. She didn't offer up a ton of notes, she said. But Bamford told her: "You have such a good laugh," Neenan recalled.
All in all, Neenan got a free salad, a selfie with a favorite comedian and, a few weeks later, a tea towel came in the mail.
Bamford's Netflix series "Lady Dynamite" is a critic-championed series that landed on the streaming service in May 2016. It was created by Mitchell Hurwitz, who was behind "Arrested Development," who also produced it alongside Pam Brady.
It's a layered and surreal show that touches on Bamford's biography — including her roots in Duluth, where she was raised and returned to tend to her mental health years later — and included her push-forward in the biz.
It earned all sorts of kudos and cameos. Variety called it excellent and said it has "a subversive and ultimately sweet flavor all its own" in an early review. Patton Oswalt, Mira Sorvino, Bridget Everett and Sarah Silverman were all featured at some point.
The show was not renewed after its second season. Bamford's takeaway from the experience:
"That making television shows, the people who make them are working very hard," she said. "They're working 14-18 hours a day. If you want to get into doing that, it's good to know."
Bamford is currently working on a new hour of material, she said. She's trying to pitch a special to Netflix, but "I will sell it to anyone, if anyone is interested in Duluth."
She's also working on something akin to an Audible-exclusive audio book that will teach listeners how to write and perform a full hour of stand-up comedy.
Step one, she revealed, is to talk for an hour.
If you go
What: Maria Bamford, with opener Jackie Kashian
When: 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday
Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.
Tickets: $44 at www.jadepresents.com, (866) 300-8300 or in person at the NorShor Box Office