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Ridiculous Thoughts

Stand-up Maria Bamford fine-tunes material into surrealistic comedy masterpiece on new CD/DVD

On her third stand-up CD, “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome,” Maria Bamford has developed into a master surrealist. Since “How to Win!” released two years ago (see review), she’s made her material all the more intricate, weaving in a wide range of characters all portrayed with different voices.

Bamford’s ability to shape-shift characters like this is even more surreal and bizarrely funny on the extra DVD that comes with the album, containing numerous five to seven minute episodes of her web series, “The Maria Bamford Show.” Some of these come out of previous stand-up material, some from the pieces or elements on this CD, and others entirely unrelated.

Beginning with her familiar cheery but warped voice singing the title of the show, quick cuts help her make her stand-up material come alive -- a different shot for each of her characters saying a line. And sometimes she’s still dressed the same and other times she does wear different outfits to play the different characters. The shows have a charming amateur quality to them.

But back to the CD, which kicks off with a sure-to-please explosive laugh on “Baby Jesus,” in which she prank calls her mom leaving a message in a ridiculous “baby Jesus” voice, but disavows all knowledge of having done this, urging her mom, “you better call him back.”

On other pieces, Bamford puts total conviction into her entire range of demented, nearly alien characters, like an animal rescue nut, a silky-voice DJ, an art teacher and many others. Even when not playing characters, Bamford also now masters up and down emphases on certain words, and tones and volumes high and low for comic effect.

And even Bamford’s more normal characters have this mastery -- for instance, a cliched stand-up comedienne relying on the refrain “am I right, ladies?” and an African-American operator for a health care plan interviewing Bamford about her health problems.

As with “How To Win!”, “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome” doesn’t just stand up to repeated listens. It invites them.




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