Her New Religion
Maria Bamford returns from the wilderness with a gospel of stand-up performance
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief
“Ask Me About My New God!” the new CD/DVD special release from Maria Bamford, out July 16 from Comedy Central, confirms why she has reached a different level of greatness in comedy.
It’s been four years since her last album, “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome,” and in that time, Bamford has said in interviews and podcasts, she had herself committed for mental illness. She’s returned intact though with the gift for character voices that animates her stand-up material.
If one considers the two titans Richard Pryor and George Carlin, Pryor’s inspiration came hand in hand with insanity, while Carlin’s genius clearly came from a lot of hard work on his writing and painstakingly thinking about the language and timing of how he delivered the material.
This applies to Bamford when you compare her to another comedian relatively close in age range and appeal – Lewis Black. The inspiration in Bamford’s material seems fueled by a mind as manic as Pryor’s, while Black, for all his intensity, resonates as a comic because of the careful thought about language, delivery and timing that he puts into his material and performances.
Anyway, Bamford’s material on this new audio CD or album previously appeared in an online video program “The Special Special Special” where she performed most of it in her living room with just her parents as the audience. Unless you’re very familiar with Bamford, her newest material plays much better on this new album, because she is performing it live for a full theater audience. The reactions of a full room amplify her material better than the creative, but odd, presentation of the “Special Special Special” version.
On “Ask Me About My New God!” Bamford’s characters come in even faster and shorter bits in the narrative of her performance than on “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome.” As a result, it’s harder to identify a single standout bit in Bamford’s new material on the level of “Baby Jesus” from the prior album. Well, perhaps “Over 40 and Dating,” in her near-wordless reaction to hearing someone says, “if a woman’s over 40 and hasn’t been married, there’s something wrong with her”: a tantrum-like cascade of “oh nos” and squeals mocking a chauvinistic sentiment. The tone and pacing this time around is like several smaller, more persistent bursts of what Bamford has done before, but there’s a method to her madness.
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© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua