Maria Bamford is a fearless comic. This is not just because she has zero qualms about revealing her personal history and mental issues whenever she gets on the mike. She's also fearless because she loves ... gas-station food.
In her latest special, Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special—which she performs in her own home, with her parents as the audience—the California-born, Minnesota-bred comic salivates over such convenience-store delicacies as tuna-fish sandwiches. ("They're so good, because there's no tuna in it. It's just a scrumptious, fishy nougat.") But when the subject of gas-station fried chicken comes up during our conversation, she admits that it's news to her.
"Is that available?" Bamford asks eagerly, on the phone from her Los Angeles home, when I notify her of gas-station take-out chicken around the South. "I'm sure there'll be a moment when I'm peckish and will have to stop the rental car and check that out."
Bamford, 44, will probably be able to find a filling station ready to serve her some fried poultry goodness when she comes to Durham. She'll be performing for the first time as part of the NC Comedy Arts Festival, headlining her own show at the Carolina Theatre on Valentine's Day.
People who know Bamford's amusingly awkward brand of comedy might find it odd that she's performing on the rosiest of holidays. After all, the shaky-voiced comedienne makes an art of surreally verbalizing how socially and romantically inept she can be. (According to her stand-up, she's the kind of gal who looks for intimate bonds with liquor-store clerks.) However, she recently got engaged to her boyfriend.
"It'll be two years April 1," she adds, sounding proud that she snagged him on April Fools' Day.
Even though Bamford has found that special someone, it's unlikely to stop her from laying out her neuroses in front of audiences. Bamford, who has suffered from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder, uses stand-up to purge her inner demons.
"The reason I do it is so I don't feel as alone, you know," she says. "Because when people laugh, that means they know what I'm talking about. But I think it's becoming more OK to talk about in general in our society, and I'm just part of a giant wave."
Bamford, who has been doing comedy for about 25 years, didn't come into the scene thinking that she'd fit in and find people like her. "I don't think comics are any more screwed-up than any other population of people," she says. "I think comedians have the opportunity to say it out loud. They amplify it. But if you'd talk to anybody for long enough, no matter what kind of job they have, they will reveal some strangeness about themselves."
Bamford's success isn't all about what's swirling around in her head. Her downright spooky knack for voices and mimicry, as she effortlessly slips accents and dialects throughout her sets, has gotten her voice-acting gigs on such shows as Adventure Time and CatDog.
But the people she loves mimicking the most are her family members. (She recently did a one-woman birthday-tribute show as her mom in L.A.) Surprisingly, they haven't told Bamford to cut that shit out.
"They have been very generous and kind about it, and seem to continue to be," she says. "They haven't said that yet, but I've had people do impersonations of me and know how frightening that can be."
In all likelihood, Bamford's family is just happy that she's found someone she loves, is doing what she loves and eating what she loves—even if it's gas-station food.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The imitation game"