Maria Bamford starts her 2017 stand-up special, “Old Baby,” with a disclaimer:
“I always like to tell audiences, pre-program, just in case you were brought here by a friend, sometimes friends lead us astray,” she said. “I had two very close friends — my parents — invite me to see a film, and I said, ‘Of course I’ll see that movie with you, because you love me and why on Earth would you want to see me suffer?’
“And then I sat through Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse,’ which if you haven’t seen, as far as I’m concerned, is a 14-hour real time documentary about a gentle horse struggling in vain to escape from barbed wire.
“This may be your ‘War Horse.’ ”
Bamford makes no concessions for her offbeat comedy, characterized by an arsenal of character voices and jarringly honest observations about her mental health.
“I have those voices because this one is so less than what I had hoped for,” she told Stephen Colbert in a 2016 interview.
Bamford will close out Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center,” by appearing in conversation with Ophira Eisenberg at 10:45 a.m. today, August 2, in the Amphitheater.
Eisenberg is a comedian and the host of NPR’s and WNYC’s weekly radio game show, “Ask Me Another.” She is also the author of the comedic memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy.
Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said Bamford will address this week’s theme by discussing how comedy can bridge difficult divides.
“We’ve asked Maria Bamford to reflect, in part, on how comedy can be used to both comfort and discomfort,” he said, “to create space for critical conversations around mental health (and) around issues that we may otherwise avoid altogether.”
In her multiple comedy albums and two standup specials on Netflix, Bamford has talked at length about living with OCD, anxiety, depression and bipolar II disorder, including spending over a year in and out of psych wards after receiving her bipolar II diagnosis in 2011.
Fictionalized versions of these events are portrayed in Bamford’s Netflix comedy series, “Lady Dynamite,” where she stars as herself.
“I guess what I want to do is make mental illness feel more normal, more like a regular thing,” she said in a 2014 New York Times profile.
She has always brought surprising elements to her performances, from performing her 2012 special, “The Special Special Special” in her living room to an audience of only her parents, to giving a commencement speech to her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, where she spent half the speech discussing how she negotiated with the university for a higher appearance fee, and ended by donating the $5,000 to a graduate.