Maria Bamford a stand-up kind of woman at Sketchfest

From San Francisco Chronicle

Maria Bamford a stand-up kind of woman at Sketchfest
By Beth Spotswood

January 14, 2015


Comedian Maria Bamford has a unique way of looking at the world, and as a result, she’s enjoyed a 20-plus-year career as a stand-up comedian and actress. Bamford comes to San Francisco this month to perform in Sketchfest, the 14-year-old, wildly popular comedy festival founded in San Francisco.

The 2014 Best Club Comic winner might be most famous for her work on television’s “Louie,” Netflix’s “Arrested Development” or the comedy documentary “The Comedians of Comedy,” but Bamford’s Web series “Ask My Mom,” in which she portrays her real-life mother, Marilyn, is a favorite. In fact, in between impersonations of Marilyn during a phone interview, Bamford reveals that she’s got a forthcoming show in Los Angeles that she will do entirely as her mother, a hospice volunteer and frozen-yogurt enthusiast. It’s probably worth flying down to see this. Maria’s Marilyn is wonderful.

Solid hour of stand-up
While Sketchfest lasts two weeks, Bamford is scheduled to perform only Jan. 30-31, leaving her time in town to check out other performances. Genuinely supportive of just about everyone in Sketchfest’s lineup, Bamford is particularly excited to see comedians who, like her, do a solid hour of stand-up.

“I’m trying to open my brain to new possibilities,” she says. “It’s inspiring.”

Bamford goes on to name a handful of comics with unfamiliar names, enthusiastically touting their work. Her constant willingness to plug other comedians negated any questions of competition among women trying to succeed in comedy.

Room for specificity
“If anything, there are more and more (opportunities),” Bamford says. “It seems like there’s so much room for specificity. Like, if you can have your own specific career, and not be famous on the national level and still have a great experience and a meaningful career without having to be recognized by a larger corporate structure.”

She credits the Internet with creating enough space for just about anyone to find an audience.

“It’s harder to have bad shows now because of the Internet,” she says. “All the goons who are into what you do come out. Thanks to the Internet, there’s no bad place to go to anymore … except Jackson Hole, Wyo.”

To her point, more extraordinary female comedians are emerging; performers such as Tig Notaro, who melds brilliant personal storytelling with stand-up comedy, and Bridget Everett, who uses comedy primarily through her shockingly powerful music. This year’s Sketchfest is a leader in that trend. While the lineup of nearly 700 performers is ever changing, there is absolutely no shortage of funny women.

Bamford acknowledges, however, that there remains a huge gender gap in stand-up comedy.

“I’m still on shows where I’m the only woman and there are 12 guys,” she says. “It’s weird that that still happens on a regular basis.”

Growing up on “The Love Boat” and “Happy Days,” Bamford wasn’t into stand-up as a child.

“I always really enjoyed doing a speech, and then debate club in college,” she says. “As soon as I saw there was an open mike for comedy, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s exactly what I want to do.’”

Darkly hilarious
Bamford has famously incorporated her struggles with mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, into her comedy. The results are darkly hilarious, especially anything that includes Bamford’s take on an insurance company telephone operator who, when talking to someone with mental health issues, proudly proclaims, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”

Bramford is recently engaged, leading one to wonder whether she plans to include an impersonation of her husband in her act. She finds this an unlikely possibility.

“My mom is one thing. She chose to put me in the world,” she says. “Whereas Scott — none of this is his fault.”

Beth Spotswood is a freelance writer. E-mail:

Sketchfest: The 14th annual festival of comedy runs Jan. 22-Feb. 8 at various San Francisco venues. For details, go to

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