The All Jane Comedy Festival scored big this year, landing Maria Bamford as headliner for the final night of the festival next month.
Bamford has carved out a space as one of the most innovative voices in comedy. Her stand-up is a master class in subversion with a mild-mannered, wide-eyed Midwestern-ness that’s a great foil for the occasionally scary emotional depths she explores.
But Bamford’s really kicked it into fifth gear with her marvelously goofy Netflix series, “Lady Dynamite.” In it, she plays a fictionalized version of herself and tells stories about rebooting her career after a serious mental health crisis.
We spoke with Bamford from Los Angeles and asked about the health challenges she’s faced.
“When I was around 10 years old I started to have sort of suicidal ideations,” she said, “even though I had an quite idyllic childhood. I remember the first time I went to a therapist. I was around 10 or 11 because I couldn’t sleep at night … I didn’t get into drugs or alcohol, but I developed an eating disorder.”
The next few decades were a roller coaster ride of treatments and medications. She eventually found a mood stabilizer that helped her get on track.
But success brought increased stress. Bamford landed a big ad campaign with Target, bought a house and maintained a high-octane touring schedule. When it came, her breakdown was bad enough that she needed inpatient treatment.
Bamford says that her time at a psychiatric facility was “isolating” but it’s now an important part of her recovery story.
She found support from unexpected sources — including a cold call from fellow-depressive Jonathan Winters, arranged through a mutual friend. Bamford said a shelf-full of memoirs helped her a lot, including work by Kay Redfield Jamison, Mary Hornbacher and Ellen Fourney.
“People come out of the woodwork to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone,’” Bamford said.
Bamford’s made changes in her work life to stay healthy. She’s done with international travel and says she’s getting more sleep.
“I do an hour nap in the middle of the day … and I am guaranteed at least a 12-hour turnaround between each call time” on set for “Lady Dynamite,” she said.
Bamford’s life took a new turn last year when she married a guy she found through a free internet dating site. Her secret? After years of using the screen name “Funny Thoughtful,” she switched to “Hog Book.”
“One guy responded,” Bamford said. “One guy. I married him.”
Bamford said it’s been great to find someone who’s can deal with her hospitalization backstory.
“One of the most romantic things he ever said to me was, ‘If you’re ever in there and they won’t let you have sharp stuff I’ll come in and shave your beard,’” she said.
With a self-produced special under her belt and the new series on Netflix, Bamford presents as someone who’s made a successful leap into new media. But she insists she’s awed by how younger comics are working in digital and social media platforms, with seemingly limitless boundaries.
“You can make whatever you want, even if you just have five fingers on your hand. Like, just freakin’ make something,” she said. “There’s no reason not to.”
Maria Bamford’s series “Lady Dynamite” season one is on Netflix, with a second season in production. She headlines closing night for the Fifth Annual All Jane Comedy Festival Oct. 5-9, along with Jackie Kashian and the Curious Comedy All-Stars.