I MUST NOT THINK BAD THOUGHTS: Talking Comedy, Mental Illness And Outrageously Large Glasses With Lady Dynamite‘s Maria Bamford

Maria Bamford Lady Dynamite copy

ME avatar 3BY JONATHAN VALANIA Don’t let the corn-silk blonde bouffant, ski-jump nose, and you betcha! patois fool you, Maria Bamford is the Van Gogh’s ear of comedy. The bi-polarity of her stand-up work is Minnesota Nice meets the shower scene in Psycho, sort of like the first season of Fargo, but with pugs. And she knows of where I speak, having struggled with mental health issues most of her life. Some people might consider that an impediment to a successful show biz career. Not Maria Bamford. When life hands her crazy lemons, she makes crazy lemonade. Case in point: Lady Dynamite, her breakout Netflix comedy show which kicks off its second season tomorrow. The show loosely follows the contours of her personal narrative, shuttling back and forth through time from the sunny madness of Hollywood circa now to the blue-tinted eternal January of the near-past, specifically the time she moved back to Duluth to live with her folks after a nervous breakdown some years back. Which may not sound like comedy gold on paper, but to see it on Netflix is to laugh and laugh and laugh in a way you have never laughed before — part nervous giggle, part silent scream. In advance of Bamford’s her stand up show at the Fillmore on Sunday as part of the First Person Arts Festival, we were afforded an email audience with Lady Dynamite. DISCUSSED: The secret of comedy; the link between madness and creativity; the tao of Fred Armisen; how she keeps from cracking up while shooting scenes with Anna Gasteyer’s scene-stealingly funny Hollywood bitch goddess super-agent Karen Grisham, whose profane utterances will make the paint on your walls blush; and what she loves about Philly given that her husband, the artist Scott Marvel Cassidy, is a homeboy.

PHAWKER: What is the secret to comedy? Which is to say, what is the secret to arranging LadyDynamitewords in a very specific and precise pattern that when said out loud have the magic spell-like power to make a roomful of strangers laugh at the same time for the same reason?

MARIA BAMFORD: Oof. I don’t know. Cold air, fear, outrageously large glasses.

PHAWKER: You are a very, very funny woman. In my opinion you are funniest when you impersonate your mother. Wondering how she feels about being grist for the comedy mill, as it were, and if there has ever been a time where she felt you crossed the line?

MARIA BAMFORD: She is delighted to experience any notoriety to come her way. She’s in Italy traveling and could care less- is just glad I have a job.

PHAWKER: Do you think you are funny because of your struggles with mental illness or despite those struggles, or somewhere in between? I guess this is a roundabout way of asking your thoughts on the connection, or lack thereof, between creativity and crazy.

MARIA BAMFORD: I’m not sure- it has been for me I guess and there are tons of books written about that connection. I know that I have to be alive in order to keep writing and that medication makes that possible.

PHAWKER: We love Fred Armisen , ssyched to see that he guest stars in second season of Lady Dynamite (which is hysterically funny, by the way), can you give us a hint about his role in the show.

MARIA BAMFORD: He depicts a version of a teacher I had in junior high, Ms Berry Wolf, for MariaBamford_7690Marriage and Family class.

PHAWKER: There are so many great and funny characters in the show, but Anna Gasteyer’s foul-mouthed super-bitch Hollywood agent is a scene-stealer. Can you tell us a little about the origin and evolution of that character and how do you keep from laughing out loud at her antics when shooting scenes?

MARIA BAMFORD: She’s just wonderful as a performer and person and there were lots of laughs. I’m so grateful and honored to work alongside actors I’ve loved for years.

PHAWKER: Speaking of Lady Dynamite, one of the funniest tropes in the show is you retreating to your safe space, which is standing in the bathtub, fully dressed, sliding down the shower wall as you slowly compress into a ball, silent-screaming with your fist in your mouth. Tell me where that bit comes from — completely made up or somehow connect to your real life experience

MARIA BAMFORD: I did have a period of involuntary howling that happened during a breakdown and it was frightening and not much of a relief but something that happened when I was alone.

PHAWKER: Your husband, the artist Scott Marvel Cassidy, is from Philadelphia, assuming you have spent some time here and hoping you can share some of your impressions of the City of Brotherly Love?

MARIA BAMFORD: I love Philly and especially the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (where Scott went and now our nephew Collin Cousart will be having his senior show in May) and there’s just a huge creative spirit there – I always feel inspired after a trip to the PMA or one of the comedy shows at the new good good comedy theatre, Space 1026 and Helium. We always stay right across the street from the Reading Terminal for immediate access to delicious chow of all types.?