Maria Bamford is launching a revolution from her microphone. In less than two years, Bamford has survived the death of her best friend — her pug, Blossom — and a battle with depression, suicide, and hospitalization. The result: Her stand-up contains some of the most transformative work being done around mental illness and stigma today.
Last Monday, comedian Mike Birbiglia Tweeted, “Saw [Maria Bamford] tonight at Caroline's. I've never seen a comedian who made me want to give 25 standing ovations in one set.” He wasn’t alone.
I have seen Maria Bamford perform for almost eight years, primarily at the now-shuttered Lakeshore Theatre in Chicago. Her act has always been brilliantly funny, generous, and kind, but at Caroline’s last week something was different. Her new material has pathos rare not just among stand-ups, but all performers.
Maria Bamford has long been open about her own mental health — her 2009 album Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome chronicles her illness of the same name — but now she has a fire in her belly about the culture at large. She takes power away from her anxieties by satirizing herself (she compares her suicidal thoughts to other “repetitively shit ideas” she’s had, like buying raisin bread in bulk) but she explicitly condemns the stigma that keeps society sick. READ MORE
When he was a young actor in Chicago, Stephen Colbert stood offstage waiting for his scene. He nervously watched an actor perform the bit he was supposed to do next: Tossing a Ritz Cracker into his mouth and calling it "The Body of Christ." Colbert, a devout Catholic since childhood, found the joke blasphemous and refused. As he told a packed crowd of 3,000 Fordham University students, faculty, and clergy last Friday, the director was furious. Almost thirty years later, however, abstaining has worked in Colbert's favor: Besides being a major television star, he was kibitzing about piety with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while the director "was part of a Satanic biker gang." Colbert's religiosity, in his own assessment, helped him come out on top.
Comedians and improvisers are seen as a godless lot. After all, some of the most popular "atheist evangelists" are comics. Ricky Gervais, George Carlin, and Eddie Izzard's most famous bits mock religion. Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God is so secure in the atheist canon that Christopher Hitchens quoted her extensively in The God Delusion. Even Louis C.K., whose "Everything is Amazing and No One is Happy" is popular with Christian educators, is skeptically agnostic, declaring, "If there is a God, God is an asshole." READ MORE