Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Maria Bamford is the current Lenny Bruce...(revisited)




Maria Bamford's website; she and Jackie Kashian are doing several shows at Comix in NYC, Thursday through Saturday.

1. The respect of her peers. Other comedians, such as Marc Maron and Paul F. Tompkins, make a point of noting that she's either their favorite comedian or one of their favorites, rather as Bruce was often the touchstone of his time. Also, it's notable the degree of generosity both have demonstrated toward their peers (which is one way to become popular personally, I'm sure...Bruce was frequently willing to incorporate his peers into routines, and Bamford famously talks up her peers (beyond her very good friends, such as Kashian) in interviews, as well as having extensive lists of links to other women comedians on her website...as well as conversing with them politely in those situations, which is rather distinct from some of the peers, who seem to think "Shut the fuck up!" is a hilarious line in and of itself.

2. The dramatic impulse. Perhaps most comedians will work up dialogues with characters for at least some routines, but Bamford like Bruce likes to work up fairly elaborate little dramas, with a multiplicity of voices (Bamford is a busy animation voice actor as well). Bamford often re-enacts job and family situations versus Bruce's film parodies and barroom scenes, but nonetheless the feel is rather similar.

3. The challenge to the audience, without being hostile to the audience. A number of comedians overtly, or not very effectively covertly, have a certain hostility, presumably a love-hatred, of their audiences. Bruce seemed to set up a rapport with his audiences, setting up his most challenging routines (mocking organized religion, using eptithets) as a Can you believe this? and Wow, isn't this an amazing hypocrisy? dynamic. Bamford often deals with similar matters, often from a feminist perspective and with a focus on interpersonal interaction.

4. Looking into their personal "darkness," and making it "relatable." Both have been acutely aware of their own problems, and have been willing to explore them and related matters in a way that was both clearly therapeutic in some ways and in which they didn't hold up the eccentricity as Hilarious Because Weird so much as possibly hilarious because it was so damned spooky...and common.

5. Not so focused on Traditional Joke Structure, as even such "alternative" comics as Mitch Hedberg and Dave Attell have been.

For examples:
Lenny Bruce's most extended routine, among his Fantasy Records recordings, "The Palladium.". About a mildly successful hack comedian who gets himself booked into the largest London music hall, just to show he can perform there...unfortunately, things don't go quite as he hopes, not least because he follows, in the show, a crowd-pleaser of a woman singer who specializes in lachrymose patriotic displays and other blatant ploys...and because he simply isn't that good a comedian.
Maria Bamford's "Road Show", which closes her third album and is clearly a favored routine of hers, and one of her most potent, has a few resonances of the Bruce, without being in any way derivative of it...in Bamford's, she imagines the typical accessible or "universal" female comedian's set, riddled with involuntary expressions of self-loathing as the hack comedian persona makes her way through her routines...including singging a snatch of "The Star-Spangled Banner"...

Bamford performances and interviews I've particularly enjoyed of late:

Maria Bamford as Jazz (or possibly Jess) Martin, or Mrs. Rep. Richard Martin (Paul Gilmartin), the slightly paranoid-schizophrenic wife of a smarmy GOP House-member (their routine begins about five minutes in on this older episode of Comedy Death Ray Radio with guest-host Jimmy Pardo, once and future Conan O'Brien show comedian)

Meanwhile, a video clip (and ad) about Lenny Bruce's relation to jazz, including a NYC-only television hour he put together, a pilot called The World of Lenny Bruce:


Meanwhile, I've embedded this in a blog entry previously, but here is the "Christmas Special," a rather freeform sit-down run through a lot of her stand-up material...delivered in a deliberately unpolished way, particularly compared to her performances on her cds:


Maria Bamford's One-Hour Homemade Christmas Special! from Maria Bamford on Vimeo.

Perhaps the best straightforward interview I've heard recently with Bamford, from the podcast Comedy And Everything Else, which followed this one:

The Bamford WTF interview is pretty interesting for fans of both Bamford and WTF host Marc Maron.

And (the free, truncated form) of Never Not Funny, the first episode of the fourth season, with Bamford. As with his previous, less jokey interview, Pardo goes for put-on swinish humor at first.

10 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Women comics have it tough. Look what just happened to Sarah Silverman. Although SS is too coarse and not witty or political enough for my tastes.

Todd Mason said...

Which thing that just happened? The cancellation of her sitcom? It wasn't her best work, but Comedy Central likes to cancel everything out of hand: good, bad, indifferent, women or men in charge (though they certainly put more on initially for the fratboy demo, particularly among the cheap movies they run). THE DAILY SHOW is now their oldest show by far, and the (bad) jokers who run the station, when celebrating themselves a few years back, managed to completely slight MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, which whatever else it was was the first series to get the Comedy Channel and the post-merger Comedy Central any attention at all.

But, yes, women comedians have always been outnumbered, though the numbers are moving toward parity more than previously...Rachel Feinstein, a not bad comedian to judge by her COMEDY CENTRAL PRESENTS half hour, just played Philly's Helium club last night, and I would've seen her if I hadn't been working. (She's the only non-decades veteran booked for the rest of the month...and the only woman...).

K. A. Laity said...

Dave Attell is a comic? Really?

Too many men are not secure enough to have a woman make fun of them or of men as a group without their feeling their masculinity to have been punctured. Can't have that.

Intelligent women who are not funny nonetheless know what that's like.

Todd Mason said...

In a world where Dov Davidoff and Jim Breuer can sustain careers, and Howard Stern is a culture hero to millions, Dave Attell is a transcendent genius...or, at least, a genial host of INSOMNIAC and a cleverly obnoxious (as opposed to Davidoff and Breuer, who aren't clever) comedian...

And, yet, from at least Sophie Tucker onward, women comedians who skewer at least certain kinds of men do find an audience. I suspect it helped that at least up through Phyllis Diller that they often did self-mocking shtick, along with. Was Joan Rivers the first who just stepped out as herself thus? Probably not, but she's the earliest I can name at the moment.

Pearce said...

First heard of her recently because she was the only female comedian to have a record on the Onion's Best Comedy Albums of the Decade list. I thought it was funnier than most of the other albums I listened to from that list.

Todd Mason said...

I was surprisingly late to the Bamford party, myself...I was peripherally aware of her work from catching a few bits of the COMEDIANS OF COMEDY TOUR series in Comedy Central, then thouht UNWANTED THOUGHTS SYNDROM looked interesting at one of the few surviving brick and mortar stores with more than ten comedy albums on display...then I caught the good tour-oriented and the rather bad one-concert oriented COMEDIANS OF COMEDY dvds...in the latter, Bamford rushes through her set to let others get on, which is also unfortunate in that two of those others are H. Jon Benjamin and David Cross doing an extremely self-indulgent and unfunny multimedia piece that just drags on and on (and involves contemptuous treatment of an audience member who's either an excellent plant or a much better sport than he should've been).

K. A. Laity said...

I'm having a weird sense of deja vu...

Todd Mason said...

The newish stuff falls mostly to the end...

wv: unworty. If only it were true, albeit more figuratively than literally...

David Cranmer said...

Thanks for posting the Lenny Bruce vid. Now, that's entertainment. Damn, Cannonball and Evans! Gets my heart pumping and fingers drumming.

Todd Mason said...

That is the sort of product that sells itself, THE WORLD OF LENNY BRUC with such a cast of jazz folks, even in less than stellar print quality.