Published Nov 08, 2014Toronto's Dark Comedy Festival would seem the ideal setting for a Maria Bamford show, because she comes from a dark place. Fans of hers will know that she has a history of mental illness, and this is addressed casually in most of her performances. Why, then, is it hilarious? It's as if Bamford could not do what she does without the curse of a bipolar disorder.
This night at Toronto's full Royal Theatre, a venue better known for film than stand-up comedy, began with an opening set by local comedian Rob Mailloux. This is an appropriately touchy opener, and it's possible Mailloux has created "adoption humour." He was an adopted kid, and while that may seem like an esoteric subject, he makes it relatable, and was a great lead to the main event.
As for Maria Bamford, she is as tight as ever, and her language is smartly rhythmic. There's a wonderfully surreal effect to her comedy — even when your mind wanders to absorb the weirdness she just pitched at you, and you become a bit lost when you reengage, it doesn't really matter. She can say almost anything and make it seem funny in her strange way. In her delivery there is timidness, and this is her core stage persona, although probably not her true self.
This character of Maria Bamford sets up her bits and pieces with a quivering voice and a sparse whisper. It usually results by being joined by one of her many characters, which is incredible to watch. She shifts seamlessly into them, from each of her parents (Joel and Marilyn), to her friend Amy (white suburbia at its finest), and even a random little kid. Her voice talents are the pinnacle of this experience, and its no wonder Bamford enjoys a great deal of work in voice characterization. One may also ask why she doesn't get more acting work, because it's her characters that impress most. Many have attributed this talent for characters to her instability, but as she points out, "Schizophrenia is about hearing voices, not doing voice."
As disturbingly funny as it all is, Bamford does not rely on f-bombs and dirt to succeed darkly. In fact, her stage demeanour is always pleasant. She confirms this, at the end of her set, by telling her enthusiastic audience that she'll see them in the lobby. And they do. And it's evident that, as she greets her fans cordially, that she she is not so crazy after all.