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Comedian Maria Bamford finds 'relief' in sharing her struggles

Comedian Maria Bamford, whose special Weakness is the Brand is out Tuesday, said she loves stand-up comedy because you can do and say exactly what you want to. Photo courtesy of Comedy Dynamics 
Comedian Maria Bamford, whose special "Weakness is the Brand" is out Tuesday, said she loves stand-up comedy because "you can do and say exactly what you want to." Photo courtesy of Comedy Dynamics 

Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Maria Bamford's latest stand-up special, Weakness is the Brand, is out Tuesday from Comedy Dynamics, and the veteran comedian said the hourlong special nearly took a very different shape.

Bamford, 49, toyed with the concept of an audience in her two previous specials, 2014's The Special Special Special, which featured an audience consisting solely of her parents in their living room, and 2017's Old Baby, which saw the performer delivering portions of her routine for small groups of people in venues that included a bookstore and the bench outside her home.

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Weakness is the Brand takes a more conventional route, with Bamford delivering her material on a Los Angeles stage to a full house of spectators. Bamford told UPI in a recent interview that the format, which she jokingly calls "a regular Perkins pancake special," originally was meant to take a more unusual form.

"The original idea for the special was to interview the people who the jokes were about after each joke," she said. "So I did a bunch of interviews with people, and because of my poor interviewing skills, we did not get stuff that would have been useful. It was an epic try that just resulted in Perkins pancake."

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Staying on-brand

The special has Bamford taking on topics that include her admiration for mediocrity ("I adore a two-star experience.") and a failed attempt at filing a restraining order against the president of the United States ("ultimately, a useless gesture that didn't further the conversation in any way and wasted the time of caring professionals.").

The material also includes ruminations on the subjects for which Bamford has become best known: her relationships with her family and her experiences with mental illness.

"You talk about whatever is interesting to you, or whatever makes you mad, or gets you fired up," Bamford said. "And that's what has fired me up over time, it seems. ... Those are the things that seem to come up as interesting to me. I don't think I said, 'Oh, I'd really love to be the mental illness clown.' But also, gratitude to be the clown at all, it's a great job."

Bamford said she isn't concerned whether her comedic legacy is tied to being "the mental illness clown."

"If I'm remembered at all, that's unbelievable, and if it's for something about mental health, then that's OK, too," she said. "I'm just grateful to be thought of at all, especially when I'm merging into traffic."

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The comedian said her tendency to be candid about her experiences on stage has led to meaningful encounters with fans off stage.

"It really helps me when people come up to me and say, 'Oh, I've had the same experience.' It helps me not feel alone. So it's kind of a self-serving thing to be public about different experiences," she said.

Bamford said she felt "grateful" to others who spoke candidly about mental illness before she began her stand-up career, including authors Carrie Fisher, Kay Redfield Jamison and Marya Hornbacher, as well as fellow comedians Dana Gould and Jonathan Winters.

Bamford said her own tendency to talk openly about difficult issues is largely a side effect of her personality.

"I'm not a super private person, I'm an attention-getter person, so it gives me relief to get attention for stuff, whereas I have friends who in no way want to have any audience or anyone to know things," she said. "I think it's not because I'm a good person that I've been open about it. It's because it's part of my personality, I'm somebody who likes to jibber-jabber."

'Why are we doing this?'

Bamford, who recently starred in the semi-autobiographical sitcom Lady Dynamite on Netflix and hosts celebrity interview show What's Your Ailment?! on streaming platform Topic, said it's partially that love of "jibber-jabber" that keeps her coming back to stand-up comedy.

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"I love learning about other things, and that's exciting, but I do love stand-up. There's so much freedom there, and you can do and say exactly what you want to," she said. "It's been a very good job for me, only working one hour during the day, and then you can rehearse on your own. So it's really been a great boon for me. I get to be on stage, under the footlights, and I get to say exactly what I want. It's delightful. It's a non-stop delight."

The performer said she has no plans to quit doing stand-up anytime soon, but she is open to other opportunities should they arise.

"Sometimes artists will say, 'I don't know how to do anything else besides this, so that's why I have to succeed,'" she said. "There's plenty of other things I could do. I've been a secretary, and I do have skills of reading and using the Internet, so I'm sure I could be a receptionist at a nonprofit somewhere. But I do think about that a lot. I don't know what it would be."

Bamford said she sometimes seeks support from other comedians when she feels daunted.

"I just started developing a new hour recently, and I had to call a bunch of other comics, texted a bunch, just to get support like, 'Right, starting from scratch. Why? Why are we doing this?' and it was just really nice to get all this support from fellow comedians, who said, 'Oh, yeah, of course that's what it feels like.' And, yeah, maybe something else might be a better fit for me, I can't wait to find out. But so far, I'm still doing it and it seems fun."

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The performer said she had one piece of advice she'd give to the younger version of herself just starting out in comedy: "Ask for help sooner than later. Go get that help.

"It's OK to ask if you don't know how to do something. I just thought somehow you're supposed to know, get how the world works and it's supposed to come easily. I just didn't have that idea that it's OK to not know everything. It sounds dumb even as I'm saying it, so that's what I would say. Look dumb more often, Maria. It will help."

Maria Bamford: Weakness is the Brand is available Tuesday from the Comedy Dynamics Network on platforms that include Comcast, Amazon Prime Video, Spectrum, Apple TV, Dish, Google Play, DirecTV, Vimeo and YouTube. The corresponding album of the same name is due out Friday.

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