20%, Give Or Take
Maria Bamford's new comedy album is a little less surprising than previous efforts
By Michael Shashoua
On Maria Bamford’s new album, “20%,” released by Comedy Central last month, she performs pieces with all her familiar subject matter and style, but with a little bit of her previous edge missing.
For instance, “Role Playing,” in which Bamford does impressions of her and her husband’s mothers having a conversation, deploying the distinct characters she uses to populate her comedy, is amusing, and one of the better pieces on this new album.
Yet, when compared with “Baby Jesus,” from her 2009 album “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome,” in which Bamford recounts leaving messages in a high squeaky voice, supposedly as the baby Jesus, on her religious mother’s answering machine, “Role Playing” doesn’t have the same extra element of surprise and daring that made the earlier bit so funny.
She does approach that level in other pieces on “20%,” and the album’s milder tone may actually be a good introduction for those who weren’t as familiar with Bamford’s past work. She’s reaching a higher level of prominence, largely due to her recent autobiographical Netflix series, “Lady Dynamite” (in which she collaborated with the creator of “Arrested Development,” heightening the absurdity and tone of her material). For those who are unfamiliar, “20%” would be a good place to start.
There are some milder surprises to be found here, for Bamford fans, such as “Frat Neighbors,” in which she and her husband deal with fraternity brothers telling them they’re just trying to enjoy their house, that they might hear loud noises in return because Bamford and her husband “have always wanted to try anal.”
Perhaps the element of surprise in first encountering Bamford’s onstage persona, with her channeling of different character voices, is necessary to see “20%” for its full value, but when placed alongside other work, she seems to playing her material in a minor key here.
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