Stand-up comedian Maria Bamford has a thousand twisted voices in her head, a cushion of air under her feet and a hit song about escalating family confrontations in her heart.
Bamford, a Duluth native who lives and works in Los Angeles, used her amazing voice work and a surprisingly physical stage presence to tell wonderfully vivid life stories in rapid-fire succession during a sold-out performance at the NorShor Theatre on Sunday night. The hilarious 60-minute set was the first of a two-night downtown engagement.
Dressed in jeans and a jacket, Bamford bounded onto the stage to a huge cheer. She did an odd little dance that included leg stretches, kicks, little jumps and a tippy-toe walk. It seemed as if energy was bursting from her body.
"I'm so scared. I love you so much," she said, seemingly awash in anxiety and nostalgia at the same time. "I know we're all artists out here. I've been to Beaner's coffee shop, it's over in West Duluth. Lizzard's downtown - I've seen the felt pillows."
While Bamford isn't known for her painting or sculpture, she clearly works in the visual arts as much as those who show in area galleries.
For example, Bamford opened with jabs at current national leadership. Political commentary isn't necessarily her strength, but she pulled the routine together by composing an image of her blind and deaf dog - a pug named Betty - having horrible digestive issues in the kitchen. Everyone who heard the joke will not look at a pug the same way again.
A woman in a "Truly, Madly, Deeply" T-shirt and purple Crocs. A disturbed and nearly naked man standing outside a Target store. TV show extras trapped in a van waiting for a stage call. All were described in portrait-like detail that won big laughs.
Bamford has made her mark over the last 20 years discussing serious issues like depression, breakdowns and suicide with humor and grace. While touching on some of these topics, Bamford said her health and anxiety issues have improved the last two years, leaving her low on material. "Maybe I should be worried about that," she joked.
A bit about making social issues sexy put Bamford's amazing voice work on display. She impersonated an aging male hipster and a young millennial woman as they battled over warehouse turf in a gentrification war. A Sbarro restaurant manager and down-and-out female employee were personified to illustrate living wage issues. "You show me your net and I'll show you my gross," said Bamford channeling the manager as he offered a 12-cent raise.
Real voices from real people were also introduced into the show through audience interaction. In one case, Bamford discussed an unsuccessful raise request with a woman who worked at a group home. This led to a hilarious story about negotiating a $10,000 speaking fee for a University of Minnesota commencement ceremony.
The funniest voices of the night, however, came from her parents. Bamford mines the disappointment, wisdom and absurdity in family interactions like no other. She acted out her parents' methods for sharing emotions and described going "three rounds" with her mother in a life lesson bout.
Bamford ended the performance on a riotous musical note. Using a scream-cry voice, she sang a song perhaps called "Saturation Point." In the verses, Bamford described a bitter phone conversation with her mother, an argument over television placement with her husband and clashes on a weekend getaway with girlfriends. Each case has no winner, leading to the chorus: "I love you, you love me, let's just shut up."
Jackie Kashian opened the show with a energetic and funny 30-minute set highlighted by "middle-age white lady" politics and tales from her childhood as a "spooky reading girl."
Mark Nicklawske is a Duluth freelance writer and arts reviewer.
If you go
What: Maria Bamford
When: Monday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.
Where: Norshor Theatre, 211 E Superior St.
How much: $44.50
Online: www.jadepresents.com, (866) 300-8300