Maria Bamford has created comedy in, seemingly, a room in a traditional, modern-day home, backed against a show-biz red drape with a flashlight for a microphone-slash-spotlight.
She called it the Pioneer Bar.
She recorded a special in front of her parents in her Los Angeles-area living room. In her last show, “Old Baby,” she started in front of a mirror and ended in an auditorium. In between, she played to growing crowds first on a couch, then a park bench, and then a bowling alley.
With “Weakness is the Brand,” an hour-plus of new material available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Apple TV and more, Bamford comes to audiences from her most unlikely place: An actual auditorium in Los Angeles filled with human beings — not a ceramic pug in sight.
Bamford, raised in Duluth and never short on shout-outs back to us, has built a comedy career on truthiness about mental health, specifically her own bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders. She has done well with it, she says.
“I may be mental, but I’m a millionaire!” she says in her new show.
Now medicated in many ways, Bamford asks, using one of her signature character voices, why she can’t just tack on another drug to stop the tremors.
The comedian raises her shaky right hand.
“Weakness is the brand,” she says.
'Mano y mano'
While mental health has been her muse, Bamford concedes that in the past few years, she has felt so good that she doesn’t have any new material. So, after more than 20 years of auto-comedy, her diagnoses don't specifically get the screen time they have in the past.
The relatively newly-wed Bamford has thoughts on seduction and social justice role playing. She champions mediocrity. She tried to get a restraining order against President Donald Trump, but it didn’t take. Maybe the bramble bush will, though. She learns from internet fights and goes “mano y mano” with her mother in a do-gooder competition.
Bamford’s comedy is packaged in body language and smooth vocal transitions. It’s not just the Midwest Bamford Mom voice or the throat-clearing Bamford Dad voice — among the characters she first developed. She’s also a throaty sophisticate, a crusty artist in a changing neighborhood, a 20-year-old pug covered in fecal matter.
She is her husband Scott Cassidy talking to her — in which case she does a variation on her own voice, too.
Her movements alone could carry her: a stiff-legged walk across the stage gets laughs, as does an over-the-shoulder coyness with her husband. Don’t tickle me, she flirts.
Her writing is concise and colorful — she has a degree in creative writing from the University of Minnesota. In certain sequences, it could be poetry. On the deli down the street from her house, she says: ”It is dusty, dark, Diet Coke hot/ Milk … sour/ You open up a Milky Way, it blooms.”
The woman who goes to yoga class early and creates a moat has with her: “blobs and wads and wickets and sticks.”
It’s also about absurdities. She describes a project she’s working on with Cassidy: mimes his swimming trunks yanked to beneath his armpits as she chases him around the community pool yelling “Mr. Cassidy!”
Bamford describes herself as a human who can’t commit to more than four hours of work on set. She calculates that she comes up with 11 minutes of new material per decade. She wonders why everything has to be good.
“I adore a 2-star experience,” she says.
With “Weakness is the Brand,” she has nearly 75 minutes of well-rehearsed, well-edited content and well-timed winks and deep knee bends. But it’s not so contained that it can’t polish a moment of meh audience interaction and a mucked joke transition that sends her to the stage calling out, “I’m a liar!”
Bamford has worked consistently and is coming off two seasons of the critically acclaimed Netflix Original Series “Lady Dynamite.” She’s touring. She’s arranging dates with Twitter followers around the country who more-than-gladly listen to her set in exchange for, like, a salad, a tea towel bearing her likeness and a selfie. Read all about it in the New Yorker. She has a new show, "What's Your Ailment," which covers mental health topics.
“There are certain people in society who have a tremendous amount of talent. You combine that with an unbelievable work ethic,” she says, then wilts to the ground and adds in a voice-voice. “It is … greatness.”
“Weakness” is just that.
"Weakness is the Brand"
Available Jan. 31 at: Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube and more.