Maria Bamford, headliner for this year’s North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, has been practicing her strange and wholly original approach to stand-up comedy for more than 20 years now. The topics of her comedy can get very dark, indeed – mental illness, OCD, suicidal thoughts – but she always spins them out into surreal punchlines that celebrate the victory of comedy over tragedy.
In an event co-presented by NCCAF and the Carolina Theatre of Durham, Bamford will present a Valentine’s Day show on Saturday, February 14 at the Carolina. Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, Bamford talked about her comedy, her parents and Valentine’s Day.
Q: When you were starting out, what was the appeal of stand-up comedy as opposed to other forms of expression – writing or acting, say?
A: Well, I liked that it didn’t involve anybody else. I liked the idea that I was by myself, that I didn’t have to be with other people. That’s less interesting to me now, but at the time was very important. I’m an introverted person, so the idea of sketch comedy or improv comedy with others was overwhelming to me.
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Q: Has that changed over the years?
A: Yeah, now I like to work with others more. It’s more fulfilling and exciting. I try to get together with other people and do our jokes back and forth to one another – whether it’s a comic or another artistic person. It’s also not fun to do a big show then have no one to talk to or celebrate with. It’s like – “Ohh, that’s why people interact!”
Q: In your recent release “The Special Special Special” (now on Netflix) you perform for a captive audience of two – your parents. What was the idea behind that?
A: Well, it was mostly out of sloth. I was just kind of exhausted and I had an hour’s worth of material to perform, and I thought, how about I just perform it in my house, so I don’t have to go anywhere? I thought about my parents – it just makes me so happy to make them laugh. Who cares about 300 strangers in a room? But anyway, I have to say that I did pay my parents. I gave them $300 apiece and they both got free pizza.
Q: Everybody wins!
A: Everybody wins!
Q: Your Durham performance is on Valentine’s Day. Is there any format or theme to the show?
A: Well, with the romantic part of it, I’d just say that as an audience and a performer – we’re a team. We’re all in this together. If there’s anything I learned from couples counseling, it’s that: We’re a team.