Parts of this interview appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper October 26th ,2007.
Maria Bamford is like a hawk, and the foibles of American culture are the mice she feeds upon. With pinpoint accuracy, she zeroes in on her prey, be it our obsession with success, our inability to savor the moment, or how we can spin global warming into a good thing. But she’s not soaring above it all and simply observing, she’s also doing her part to make the world a better place– with her comedy, through charity work, and by touring the country with The Comedians of Comedy.
I just watched the Maria Bamford show on Super Deluxe, and you mentioned in one of them that if you had the chance, you’d do the character of your mother in a Maria Bamford movie. Is that something that you’ve put thought into.
Oh, no, I haven’t. But if someone has a movie studio and they need my help, I will do it. As long as I don’t have to work on the weekend, I can do it.
What do you like to do on the weekends?
I like to sit around and read, and then walk around with my dog, and then sit around some more, and then… did I mention sitting around?
Then I fall over, and I take a nap. Anyways, it’s a lot of variations on that theme.
Do you like to take your dog Blossom to the dog park?
We’ve been to the dog park many times, but she just sits in the corner. She’s enjoying herself, I think, but it’s something that we can do in our own neighborhood, and I don’t have to go so far. She likes people the most. So I think the best for her is when we walk around the neighborhood, and people go, “Oh, a pug!” I think those are her happiest moments, from what I can tell from her tail. I don’t know for sure, because I just put all my needs and thoughts on her. I have no idea who she is on the inside. I just imagine her to be whatever I want her to be.
The few times that you did take Blossom to the dog park, what was that experience like? Did any of the larger dogs try to eat her?
No, she’s kind of a dominant dog. If anybody gets up on her, she will not have it. She’s not at all violent, but I notice that if dogs come up to her and give her some guff, she stares them down and then they walk away, sort of disinterested. So she doesn’t play as much as some other dogs hope she will. But she’s older. She’s ten or eleven. I’m sure at one point she played. And she certainly is playful when we’re alone together. She has a car wash puppy. We got a pup we got at a car wash. And she eats that guy. She takes him to task when he’s giving her the red ass. She tries to take him out of the game. She’s got that; then she’s got blue elephants. She’s got a lot of different guys she’s pretty mad at on a regular basis.
What exactly is a car wash puppy?
A car wash puppy is when you go to the car wash, and they have stuffed animals for sale, and you say, “I think my dog needs one of those.” And then you bring it in, and that’s called a car wash puppy.
Are you able to take Blossom with you when you go out on the road, or on the Comedians of Comedy?
I am. I have been going back and forth whether I was going to bring her on the tour, because I’m going to go in a car. There’s going to be two cars, I guess, for the guys traveling, and then I’m going to rent a car and just kind of be on my own party self with my boyfriend. And we were thinking of bringing Blossom, but I think for her, every hotel is a whole new experience, because it smells different, it doesn’t seem familiar at all. So it’s kind of stressful. We’re going to be going to a different place every day. She’d be doing it for me more than I’d be doing it for her. I have a very deep relationship with Blossom; obviously I’m very obsessed. But I don’t think she’s going to come, which is sad for me, but I think she’s going to have a great time here in Los Angeles.
Are you going to have a friend look after her, or is she going to a fancy dog hotel?
There’s a nice hotel that’s just downstairs, which one of my closest friends and her two dogs live in, and so they are going to really make things happen when I’m gone. Blossom likes that, and then what she does is she runs back up to the apartment so she can spend the night alone. The other dogs are a bit crazy, so she needs her downtime. I think you know how that is.
You mentioned that they’re going in two vans and you’re going in a separate car. You guys usually don’t use the big fancy RV that you had on the TV show?
No, there’s no sweet RV situation. And there’s no cameras watching. It feels like people, probably mostly myself, are on their best behavior when cameras are on them. When the cameras are off, which is how it’s going to be on this tour, I think it’s better for me to have some downtime by myself. I’m more of an introvert, and since I’m with people all the time, I get kind of cranky. I need to have showcase moments with other human beings. A couple hours of interaction, and then I can enjoy my books on tape.
What sort of behavior were the cameras not catching on the Comedians of Comedy?
They weren’t catching anything, but you’re more in performance mode with a camera around, so you think of funny things to say, et cetera, and you don’t look moodily outside. The nice thing without a camera is that I can get my grump on, and be grumpy freely. And I get to do that in my everyday life, but there’s something about a camera. So those are the sorts of things that they didn’t capture, which was really nice of them, so that I didn’t look like a total jackass. Not that it wasn’t fun, but I think everyday has its ups and down, and I tried to have them capture all of the ups. So that’s the nice thing without a camera, you don’t have to think so hard, you can be yourself and be relaxed. But then in the same way, it’s not as entertaining for myself or others. There’s a lot of me reading meditation literature, and I don’t know if that’s entertaining for people.
What sort of meditation literature?
Well, I’m currently reading a book called Full Catastrophe Living by John Kabat-Zinn. I had pretty heavy anxiety from the time I was ten to about thirty-two. And then I’ve gotten done with that, but then I have new anxieties. So I’m trying to meditate, which I never wanted to do, and I have refused to do. But now I’m doing it, and it really is helping me a lot. Of course. “What, if I eat healthy, I’ll feel better?” or whatever. You know, all the common sense things it turns out are helpful. But it’s about that.
What sort of steps have you taken to start eating healthier?
(Laughs) That was an example; I haven’t actually done that.
Do you ever have any misanthropic thoughts?
Let me see. I have waves of rage that come over me, and usually it’s after I’ve had my third Diet Coke of the day. But certainly I’ve had that happen where I turn against even those that I love. And I don’t know what to do about it. What is the meditation thing you’re supposed to do? I think you’re supposed to focus on your breathing, you accept your feelings, and watch the thoughts of whatever it is float through your brain, and then you focus on your breathing again, and then you just do that and notice how your thoughts come and go and how you can chose to move them or not. But then after five Diet Cokes, you really can’t focus at all on anything that you’ve learned in Full Catastrophe Living. But in fact then you are in the midst of the full catastrophe, and that’s a part of the book too.
Do you have a phrase that you repeat to yourself?
No, I don’t. I get too obsessive about phrases. I go, “Oh, I gotta think of that phrase, that phrase, that phrase, that phrase, that phrase,” over and over again. So I’m trying to just not worry about it and just kind of breathe in and out, and I get obsessed enough about that. Like many people, I have a magical brain chemistry where rather than enjoy life– I do enjoy life– but I think I would have made one of those good Catholic people who are obsessively doing their rosary beads. I think that’s what my brain is like. I think it’s a constant rosary bead. “You gotta do that next, you gotta do the seventeen Hail Marys.” My Hail Marys are more like, “I haven’t answered all my Myspace messages! I’m going to do it. I just did one, but that’s not enough, because there’s eighteen more pages of, ‘HEY, I THOUGHT YOU’RE KIND OF FUNNY. WRITE ME BACK!’” It’s vague, like someone who’s not even that into it, but they go, “BUT WRITE ME BACK RIGHT AWAY!” They aren’t really on board with the comedy, but the desperately expect you to get back to them ASAP.
What sort of response do you give to something like that?
I say, “Thanks for your unilateral support.” And usually I apologize for it taking me four months to get back to them, and I tell them, “Thank you very much.” And then I sign off, El Bamfu, La Boof La Boof, La Food, Du Bomft, variations of that.
You mentioned the rosary. What role did religion play in your life growing up?
I grew up Episcopalian, which is the more liberal version of Catholicism. We don’t have confession, and anybody can go up to communion, and you’re allowed to do everything even if you’re not a baptized person. But we get all the incense and the rituals that the Catholics get, which are fun. I’m kind of on the fence. I don’t believe in God, but I do like repetitive things. So maybe I should get back to church. I like repetition, and I like groups of people getting together trying to do things that are positive, and it seems like most religions are trying to do something positive. At least they’re serving tea or cookies afterwards, and that’s positive. And collecting canned goods. But the problem is that I feel like I’m lying at whatever religious establishment I’m at, because I’m doing all the rituals, but I believe in it in my own special way where I just don’t believe in the conscious God that cares about what we’re doing. I think there’s life or something in the universe, there’s nature, and nature’s going to go on forever. I don’t mean to go on about this, because I’m a comedian. Did you hear about the comedian in Burma who spoke against the government? He’s like the Lenny Bruce of Burma. He was captured and tortured, and they pulled out all his teeth. And then he got out and was speaking out against the government again recently, and they captured him again, and now he’s disappeared.
I did not hear about that.
You know what’s interesting about that is that with freedom of speech we are able to say whatever we want, but have our teeth been pulled metaphorically? In that the government doesn’t pay any attention to what we’re saying at all, including most of its citizenry. Not that the US is an autocracy, but it does somehow act like it. But we can say whatever we want, but it doesn’t seem to matter. People are talking about it all the time, and writing petitions, and showing up and protesting, and it doesn’t make any difference to the government’s actions at all.
Do you personally do any protesting?
Yes! I’ve protested many times, and I don’t know. I mean I guess it makes a difference in that it makes a difference to me. I don’t mean to get depressing here. But let’s go there! I guess it does make a difference in that I feel like I’m doing something, and that’s good.
How many protests have you been to?
Not that many. Like fifteen or something. I’m not going out every week.
Do you do any sort of volunteering or community service?
Yes. I’m a mentor to a teen. I don’t know if she likes me, but I’m trying to help her desperately. In fact, she’s probably only helping me, as usual. That’s what usually happens. You’re trying to help somebody, and of course they don’t need any help, and you’re the one who needs help. But I mentor, and I did one of those volunteer vacations where you go do whatever it is that they want you to do. I did that in Mexico this year. I went for a couple weeks and taught English to technical college students who were not so sure whether they wanted to learn English. But more power to you, because things seem to be going very well in Mexico. It’s in central Mexico. I can’t remember the name of the village. Anyways, things were going swimmingly. Unfortunately, the pollution is very bad, because they don’t have any regulations. Everybody wants to work and make money, and the pollution is really bad. But people are pretty pumped and happy, and lots of churros, delicious donuts, which are my favorite, and enough Coca-Cola Lite for me. I’m not the best person; but I make an attempt at trying to help.
What inspired you to become someone’s mentor?
When I was a teenager, I was super-depressed from the age of like ten until about nineteen. I was suicidal, just really in a bad way. I had cheerful moments, but my brain was pretty tough. Who knows if it would have helped, but I wish somebody could have been there who had some sort of experiences and said, “Hey, it’s going to be okay,” or just been relaxed, “Okay, you’re doing great,” and all that stuff. That would have been really neat, I think. Of course, what if that person was there and I didn’t even notice it? I did have a drama coach in high school, Mr. Blackburn, who was very supportive artistically, and that made a huge difference for me. I felt really great that somebody thought I was valuable and neat and interesting and thought my creativity was important. The show business support kind of thing is always there. People will always go, “Look at how you did that amazing thing! Good for you!” They don’t always say that, but that’s easier to get than when you’re wrapped in a blanket and you can’t move for four days. Usually, most people are going, “Hey, why don’t you get up?” They’re not like, “Hey, it’s okay.” They’re not always as supportive; they’re kind of terrified. The funny thing is, the person I’m mentoring is not a depressive personality at all. She’s just totally cheerful and kind of percolating along, and really funny, and so it’s totally ridiculous. I hope I’m helping in some way.
I had read that soon depression is going to be overtaking heart disease as the most common disease that people get and that also, in terms of careers, if you go to the government’s website about career outlook, psychologists are predicted to go way up in numbers.
Yeah, that’s really interesting. I wonder about that a lot, whether depression and anxiety is a product of our culture. That there’s so much pressure on the individual to succeed, but it’s not about the communal effort, it’s about, “What are you doing to be important?” And then isolation, that’s a sign of success. The bigger the house you have, and the more of a pinball you are rolling around in, that’s how successful you are. And when I was a kid, my parents were wealthy in terms of our neighborhood, and we were isolated, and I was isolated for long periods of time, and all I did was watch TV or read books by myself. That’s not all I did, but there were certain long periods of time where that happened. I wonder how much depression is just a product of how our culture operates. Then they say statistically, there’s a study in the Economist, that says people are happiest in South America, because what’s valued is human relationships, family, and friendships. And they give you time off if you have a break-up. They give you time off from work or something, for most jobs in South America. There’s a lot less focus on your work life than your personal life. I think that makes sense. I think about that in Los Angeles.
If I moved to a smaller place where the culture was less oriented on how you appear, or the most popular question in Los Angeles– “What are you working on? What are you working on these days? What’s going on for you? What’s the project? What’s on your plate these days? What are you working on?” Which I answer, “Oh, I’m done. I finished early. I finished early and I’m in a gravy boat filled with gravy with gravy dripping on top of me.” I don’t know, but I think there’s a reason for the trend. People feel disconnected. I know that I feel myself that in Los Angeles almost everybody’s in their car, everybody’s hurrying someplace. Even with my friendships and in relations with my boyfriend, it’s hard to get together. We’ve both got so much stuff going on, and why? Why is everybody so far from each other? Why don’t we use public transport so that we wouldn’t be alone all the time? It’s one thing when you finish something– I’m sure you’ve experienced this, where you finish something and you go, “I just did this great show.” “Oh, when are you going to do something next? What’s coming up next?” “I just… finished… umm…” Or even relationships. We met, we’re having a great time. “When are you going to move in?” Anyways, what do you think it is? What you think the reason is everybody’s going to psychologists?
What you said about people putting a lot of pressure in terms of succeeding, that seems very peculiar to me, because like you said right afterward, once you have done something, people say, “What’s next?” It’s like they’re obsessed with some sort of ultimate success that they can never attain because they don’t even know what it is.
Yeah, I was listening to this meditation thing, and the guy who does this meditation, the first exercise he has is he passes out a raisin to everybody. For ten minutes, you’re supposed to look at the raisin and whatever and then put it in your mouth, and people are like, “Whoa, it’s a raisin!” It blows their minds. When people eat a lot of times, especially in the US, they’re preparing a new shovel full of food to put in their mouth even when there’s still food in their mouth. That’s what it feels like to me. “But I’m already enjoying a delicious steak.” “TIME FOR DESSERT!”
So you think people should put more effort into just slowing down and enjoying things?
What I’m trying to say is that you can live on one raisin a day. One delicious little raisin. I was watching a movie that took place in Africa, a Netflix movie, and the people have to walk four hours to this clinic to go be seen by this one doctor, and she keeps going back week after week, because there’s only one doctor. And then to compare that with the US and it’s six lane freeways, we’re all getting someplace tons faster, and yet yeah. It’s been said a jillion times before in a much better series of words. What I’m trying to do with my comedy is do it quicker. Not necessarily get to the punch line faster– no. That’s what I should do. I get to the punch line faster. As I’m doing the punch line, I’m already in the premise of the next joke. That’s what I should start doing.
Did Duluth have a small population?
It’s under a hundred thousand now, but they’ve got some groovy groupsters. There’s a huge population of people who are environmental, interested in a slow living movement, enjoying nature. Global warming is affecting the world so much. There’s jellyfish now in Lake Superior. There’s fresh water jellyfish that started showing up for the first time as a result of the temperature of the lake going up. Also it’s interesting because the whole culture in Minnesota is based on, “We’re cold and suffering for nine months of the year,” and now, “Maybe we’re only sort of cold for six months a year.”
Do you find that as it gets warmer in Duluth when you visit that people are starting to get maybe more jolly?
That’s a good question. Yeah, they’re happy. “It’s a beautiful day again.” In Los Angeles, it’s always a beautiful day, so maybe they’ll start to learn that that’s not everything. Then pretty soon, you can feel sort of trapped by a beautiful day, like, “That means I have to go out of my house.” Sometimes there’s something wonderful about winter where you can just, “Oh, we can’t go out.” You don’t have to do anything because you’re trapped. But in Los Angeles you’re trapped in this thing where you gotta keep doing stuff all the time because it’s beautiful outside. There’s no reason. You can’t get out there and go to Kinko’s and make flyers for that show you do.
It seems like global warming is having a positive effect on Duluth because it’s getting much nicer and people are getting out more.
Maybe. You’d have to ask them. It seems like now people are getting more accepting of global warming, like, “Let’s see what the Arctic’s going to be like. Let’s see if we can put condos up there.” Now it’s more sort of positive. My sister seems to be in denial about it, she’s like, “I can’t think about it. I’m busy.” You can’t think about global warming because “I’m too busy.”
Do you think maybe people are going to just start getting pumped up about global warming?
Well, I hope so, but if it begins with me, I certainly haven’t been taking the bus. I need to take the bus more. If at all. I need to once take the bus. That’s supposed to help, when you don’t drive your car. I feel like I’m letting you down, and I’m letting everybody down.
By not taking the bus?
Well, in a number of ways. Blossom, my dog, she’s lying here face first in my Gaiam Goods catalog. Heard of Gaiam?
I have not.
It’s about reducing your carbon footprint and slowing global warming. You can buy solar panels and outfit your solar living unit. Blossom’s face first into that. And look at that, underneath that magazine is Newsweek: How to Heal the World.
Maybe she’s trying to tell you something.
I think she is. And the thing is, you know the acceptance of one’s peers, wanting to look like a normal person so everyone will talk to you, but then going, “I could give a lot more money to things and maybe wear more burlap.” Would that be weird? I could become a Freegan. Know what a Freegan is?
Yes. I did an interview with a guy who gives tours in Central Park about how they can just scavenge normal things that grow there and eat them.
That’s great. How did it go? Was he nice?
Yes, it went well. Have you tried to practice Freeganism at all?
Oh, no, not at all, I’ve done nothing. Okay, I’ve gone to the Ecovillage in Los Angeles, and I became part of the Beyond Barter network where you trade goods or services with other people. And so I found that just a couple times, I helped somebody paint things, and then I did something else. And then somebody wanted to learn how to be a comedian. And so I called him back, but then he never called me back. So maybe he heard the sound of my voice and said, “Yeah, I don’t get it,” and then never called me back.
You mentioned on your Super Deluxe series that you wanted to use comedy to somehow change the world. Have you started?
The one thing I am proud of is the Afraid of the Dark Song. I felt good about that one, because that’s positive, for me anyways. I’ve gotten emails saying, “It’s nice to know that somebody else has dark thoughts.” I’ve always felt sort of like, “Why are you so negative?!” or get sort of upset or anxious about things, so I’m proud to do that and to be myself, or at least trying desperately to be myself, whoever that is. I am giving a lot of money away, or what I think is a lot of money away. Maybe it’s not that much in comparison to other people. But I give ten percent of my gross to people, and I’ve been earning a lot of money through show business. So that’s something. I feel good about that– that the dirty comedy money is going toward the clean goodness of Doctors Without Borders. Although I’m sure they’re kind of dirty, too. Men in the trenches.
When it comes to the Dark Song, and you’ve often talked about your own experiences with depression for example, would you like to encourage fans of yours who see you at a show to feel comfortable enough that they can talk to you about something?
Oh, sure. That’s dreamy. I love to talk. I’d be honored. The problem is at shows, there’s usually five to ten people who might be interested in talking to me after the show. Only five to ten. Maybe one. Let’s be honest, three. And if I’m not available to talk, talk to each other. It’s just amazing how much help there is out there if you tell one person, or just keep telling somebody. I remember I went to a number of therapists and told them about my Unwanted Thought Syndrome, and he had no idea what I was talking about. One was even kind of scared of me. He was like, “So you’re having thoughts of killing people?” And I’m like, “Yeah, but the thing is, I would never do that,” and she was sort of upset by it. And finally I went on the Internet, which is a beautiful thing, and Googled it, and there’s a jillion people. And that’s really wonderful. That’s a great thing. I love the Internet, how you can connect with experts on anything, on the thing you think nobody understands. And that’s really neat. And of course some people use that in terms of porn, but you know, maybe that’s positive too, that people are connecting with other people in some way. That can’t be totally bad.
Was Full Catastrophe Living a book that was useful with the treatment of Unwanted Thought Syndrome?
Yes. The Unwanted Thought Syndrome book was The Imp of the Mind. Full Catastrophe Living is about lots of people who have chronic pain, but it’s also chronic anxiety, or depression or something like that. For example, one pattern that I have in my brain box is, let’s say I’m onstage and either I’m not bringing it, or it’s the wrong crowd– and this has happened a number of times. Manchester, England was one place where people were not buying it. And then this guy started talking to me and saying, “You’re not funny.” And I was like, “Ha, okay.” And when I got off stage, tears just flooded down my face, and I got really depressed. I just spiraled into this, “I’m a bad person and I’m terrible at what I do and I’m evil and I can’t take up space in the world,” or whatever. And I think that pattern of thought was very comforting to me as a child, a depressive, “This could be over,” type of thing. I never acted out on suicidal thoughts, but the thoughts really comforted me. I could escape somehow, and also it kind of got me to cry, and there was some release in that. But as an adult, they’re not useful anymore, because they’re upsetting. I can’t believe I was still thinking like this when I was thirty-seven or something. The main thing is that I kind of notice the pattern more, and this is a big breakthrough, Ben. Can I tell you about my breakthrough?
The pattern is, I’m doing something, somebody doesn’t like what I do, whatever it is, whether it’s comedy, or it could be a stewardess telling me, “Don’t take the Diet Coke off the cart! Why can’t you wait?” Sometimes I grab a little soda while they’re passing, because I think I’m saving them time. But I’m not. My first thought is, “That person’s evil,” and they’re horrible and mean people. And then of course, that’s not true, because they’re friendly to another person I see or they have friends. And then it turns out then I must be a bad person, and I start to take up space. So I was in Vancouver most recently, and I had five magnificent shows. The sixth show was at ten thirty at Yuk Yuk’s, and the thing with the heckling or with somebody saying something bad to me is that I perceive it as being negative and then me weeping uncontrollably into a cracked mirror, that pattern has happened a jillion times before. But this time, this dude really heckled me. He was like, “Get off! Get off! Give her the light! Get her off!” And I was able this time to go, “Okay, so that dude’s being a jerk, I don’t agree with that,” but I noticed that other people were shouting back there, “Shut up, you jerk!” Which I wouldn’t have noticed before. And then I got off stage, and I was like, “I want to weep uncontrollably into a cracked mirror,” and I was like, “Okay, hold on a second. Why don’t you just sit here– you can cry later– but just sit here and enjoy the rest of the show.” And I was able to watch the rest of the show, and have a good time, and be there with my compadres, and Brian Posehn was really sweet. He totally stood up for me on the stage afterwards and said something nice. It was like, “I guess you guys didn’t get the smart girl. Well, she’s super smart, but now okay dum-dums, now you can be ready for me, because I have all dumb jokes. Enjoy the rest of the show, dum-dums.” It was something much better said than that, but it was very funny. And I had a lovely time, and I didn’t have to do that. I didn’t have to cry. I think I cried a little bit back at the hotel, but not in the way of like, “I don’t deserve to be alive.” I was able to enjoy myself and also feel okay. And I think that’s a result of the meditation, being able to see that it’s a pattern of thought that really has no basis in helping me at all. And so that was neat. That helped. And then, I went, “Maybe I should practice my heckle responses,” because I hadn’t been to the club in a while, so I just hadn’t practiced them, and I didn’t have anything to say back to the guy, ’cause I was kind of flustered, and so I got to practice my new heckle responses, and I got a new heckle response out of it. So let’s see, you heckle me. Go ahead, throw me a heckle.
Okay. You want to take me on? You want me to bring it? Okay, I’ll take you on. You know how I bring it? Tears. That’s how I do it. Oh yeah. I’m gonna rain down on you. Oh yeah. I’m gonna bring it on Steel Magnolia-style. I’m gonna come down on you like Sally Fields with some kind of ovarian cancer. ‘Cause that lady can cry. But not as hard as I can! And then do like a wet scene. That’s a new heckle response.
My favorite one is I say, “And that’s when I met your father. And a lot of people said, ‘He’s a jackass!’ But they don’t know him like I do. I love you, honey. He’s so funny.” Or, there’s one where I say, “Hey lady, I know you don’t feel like I’m doing comedy up here, and you’re right. I’m not. Because this isn’t a comedy show. Myself and all the people here have gathered here tonight for an intervention. We’ve come here to confront you about how we feel when you’re a total jackass during comedy shows. So we’re going to go around the room, everybody speaking in I statements, saying how we feel. I’ll go first. I feel angry, and you’re a jackass.” So there’s that one. I’ll think of more. But anyways, that’s what is helping, is to be sort of on a more emotional even keel. And also taking things less personally. That, you know, the person didn’t like me when I came up.
Actually several years ago, I had a couple drinks, and I sat in the back of a show at the Comedy Store Belly Room, and I felt like I wanted to heckle people. And I started heckling people. And so I know that it’s a human need to be heard when you don’t like something or you’re bored or whatever. So it’s not personal. I didn’t know the person I was heckling. There was a guy dressed up as a dinosaur. And so I just kept yelling out, “You’re a dinosaur!” because I was bored. And that didn’t help. But it wasn’t anything personal now that I think about it. It had nothing to do with him; I was just bored.
When you do the intervention response, do you ever get other audience members to help out?
Oh, yeah! That’s a great idea, I will! I’ll go, “And how do you feel?” I will, that’s good. That’s another thing, I’ve always been afraid of the audience. I’ve always been the kind of comic who has just kind of stared off into the darkness and not wanted to connect with people. I’ve been more afraid. And so I’m trying to do that, and this year I did about seven shows of a show called Crowd Work, where the comedians couldn’t do any material, and they could only talk to the crowd. And halfway through their set they would have a crowd work challenge, where myself and somebody else would play parts. Like, a fight breaks out, or there’s a bachelorette party, or somebody just repeats all your jokes to you from the audience. And that was great. So, I’m growing.
Have you ever thought about writing a book about your experience with depression?
No. Do you think I should? I will, if you think I should, Ben.
Then yes, I think you should.
Okay! How would I write it? How would it go?
I guess it could be a memoir. You could write about particular experiences you’ve had. Since it’s getting much more prevalent now, there’d be a big audience for it, and I’m sure it would be very relatable. Plus. you’re a comedian, so you could also market it as being funny and serious.
I don’t mean to put a wet blanket on this idea, but isn’t there that other guy who did his whole memoir about depression whose name is escaping me now but he’s Italian and he has dark black hair, and is very famous. Here, I’ll Google it and see if I can find him. Depression plus comedian
I don’t know about this other book, but other comedians aren’t Maria Bamford.
I appreciate that. I’ll think about it. I feel like books are somehow– look at! List of people suffering from depression. This is from Wikipedia. Carol Aherne is a British comedy performer; Jim Carrey; Charles Dickens– he’s hilarious; Spalding Gray, of course; Spike Milligan, he’s a great comedian. I’m sure there’s tons more than this, too, but– it says Sarah Silverman, too. I didn’t know that. But that’s really neat to know. Mike Wallace. He’s funny. Oh, and Woody Allen. It says he does, too. Interesting. I don’t know why I’m judging them. Oh, look at comedian Drew Carey. Richard Jeni, who killed himself. Gracious, gracious. Laughing in the Dark is a comedian’s journey through depression, which is a book. Let’s look at it. Let’s face it. By Chonda Pierce. And let’s see, yep. Now, is this at all Christian? It looks Christian, but maybe it isn’t. Yes, it is Christian. “Chonda Pierce addresses the depth of depression through Christian eyes without hesitancy or shame.” That’s neat. So there that is. What about the atheist version? I don’t know if I can call myself an atheist, though. You know what I’m saying? Oh, and Owen Wilson. Richard Lewis, that’s who I was thinking of. Let’s see his book, which is called The Other Great Depression. Oh, that’s neat. I will check that out. I’m going to buy that online. And then, I’ll write my own. Copied word for word, but changing Richard Lewis to Maria Bamford. That would be bad, I won’t do that.
I noticed there was a part of our interview just now where you did the voice of yourself thinking and you did it in a very strong Minnesotan accent. When you think, do you think with this accent?
Oh, no. I don’t know why I did that. Oh, look at this.
The Other Great Depression is available for a penny!
Look at that. Concerts From Hell: The Vintage Years. Is that a book, or is that a DVD? That’s a DVD. Okay, let’s get it. I’m getting it. Two dollars and forty-seven cents on my watch. But I am going to get it, and I’m going to buy it with one click. One click.
You mentioned Diet Coke quite a few times, and on your Super Deluxe series you mentioned you have three addictions. Is one of them Diet Coke?
In the thing, I think it was watching TV, smoking, and drinking, but in fact my three addictions would be– Well, I’ve gone to a number of twelve step groups over the years, but I know those are supposed to be anonymous, so I won’t say which ones, ’cause you’re not supposed to say, ’cause then I guess if people don’t like you they go, “That jackass went to it, so I won’t go,” or something. And they’re cultish, and odd in their own way. But wonderful and helpful. And free. Diet Coke is definitely one, I’ve tried to quit over and over again. That’s the definition of an addiction, right? If you’ve tried to quit. I do love anxiety, so I think anxiety might be an addiction. A current addiction. If we’re talking current addictions, I think it would be Diet Coke, anxiety, and self-loathing. Which I know that’s hard to hear, I don’t like to hear it from myself or from people. I feel like I’ve done a good job in my life, and it’s like, “Why don’t you shut up about that self-loathing?” But I think that is some sort of addiction for me where, if I don’t like myself, then nobody else can dislike myself more than I can. Or okay, here’s the real one. French Silk, Half Fat Breyer’s ice cream. Oh my god, have you tried that?
I have not.
It’s so good. I can’t even tell you how good it is. It’s wonderful. It’s great.
I’ll make this my last set of questions. What was it like to grow up with a dermatologist for a father?
On weekends, you could go into the office, and you could look through all the samples, and get little samples of Lubriderm, and dandruff shampoo, and tar, tar-based dandruff shampoo. You could take that home and make a little collection for yourself. Now I think, “What about those poor people who actually had those conditions and needed it?” and yet I was keeping a barrel of it in my childhood bedroom. That was great, and I think the other thing that was great was sort of the same prestige that you get from being a doctor’s kid, where somehow people equivocate your dad’s success with how valuable you are as a person. Which is of course wrong, but I’m sure I got some juice out of that. “Oh, you’re Dr Bamford’s daughter?!.” You know, that somehow I would be smart and help people with their skin problems. Which I can. What you do, you don’t touch your skin. Don’t pick at it. I know you want to, but don’t. Don’t do it. And if you need to pick at it, why don’t you get something to pick at? Like take an old scarf that you want to pick apart. Or get some bubble wrap and pop the bubbles. Or another thing. And do that, and don’t eat as much chocolate or have as much stress in your life. My dad will always suggest that, because it does seem to cause people to have outbreaks of acne, stress or food that isn’t so good for you.
And the other one, oh. This I think you’ll be very interested in. Don’t use soap. Soap is drying, irritating to the skin. If you need to wash your skin, pat pat pat with a wet washcloth. Air dry. Air dry. Don’t use soap. My dad in fact has an entire website based on that philosophy, and it’s called SoapAlternatives.com . And it’s very funny in an extremely confusing and elliptical manner. What you do, it’s this long website that tells you all about how not to use soap, and what he does– because people always want to use soap. They go, “I gotta use soap, isn’t there some sort of special something–” “No, don’t use it, don’t use it,” so now he started making these bars of wood in his basement workshop that are shaped like bars of soap. And he says, “Why don’t you try this?” And they say, “That’s a bar of wood. Won’t I get splinters?” And he says, “Yeah. Better not use it.” So he has about a hundred of these wooden bars, and he will sell one to you, but what you need to do– it’s not an actual sale– what you need to do is donate I believe twenty-five dollars to a skin-related charity, send him the receipt that you donated to that charity, then within nine to fourteen weeks, you will receive a bar of wood in the mail. But it does have “Dr. Bamford’s No Soap” burned onto it with a laser thing. So check it out. No one has gotten one yet, and the site has been up for I want to say a year and a half.
I think my dad feels a bit depressed about that and yet energized by it. That is the beauty of my dad, it’s this thing that’s happening but not happening. It’s the joy in the not doing. He had these bars forever, and then he wouldn’t tell anybody about them. And then he would get kind of mad that nobody wanted one. I went, “Have you told anybody?” He says, “No.” So he finally got the website up, and then he got all anxious that people would see it. So he didn’t want me to put the link up on my website. I said, “How the hell are people going to see it?” And he’s like, “I don’t know.” So finally I put the link up on my website, but he hasn’t gotten any hits. So could you please help him, Ben?
Yes. And will it also come with some sort of Maria Bamford autograph or something?
No. I’m sure you could ask for an autograph from my dad, but that may slow up production by four to six months, because my dad– I mean I’m sure he would do a good job, but I think when you throw him an extra thing to do, it changes– you really gotta see, it’s a wonderful web site. SoapAlternatives.com . Okay, so here. “Why No Soap? Over the years major breakthroughs have improved the mildness of soaps. Some bars claim to be the mildest of soaps. Even the mildest soaps made earlier cause mild to severe rashes, particularly in the winter months anywhere north of Miami, Florida. Only the naturally pure, smooth, block of No Soap, first produced by Thomas Edwin Bamford, Sr. for suffering patients back in 1866, can protect you from real soap damage.” What happened with it? It’s had five thousand, seven hundred and forty visits!
Will that skyrocket after your appearance on Dork Forrest ?
Maybe he will. He hasn’t said anyone’s ordered anything, though. How To Obtain No Soap. Let’s see how you do it. Okay, so you donate twenty-five dollars or more, copy a receipt… delays beyond twelve weeks could occur. It’s a novelty useful only as an educational item. And my dad’s going to be on Dork Forest today! Dork Forest Radio at 4:00 PM, me and my dad.
Photo courtesy of Dan Dion.