BY NATHAN RABIN
It would be difficult to imagine a more perfect guest for The Mental Illness Happy Hour than Maria Bamford. In fact, it would only be a slight exaggeration to argue that Paul Gilmartin’s essential exploration of the pain and loneliness that unites not just comedians but all of humanity exists to give Bamford the safest, most nurturing possible forum to tell her story.
Gilmartin has essentially given up standup since The Mental Illness Happy Hourkicked into high gear. These days, he’s a podcaster and advocate for people struggling with mental illness more than anything else, and Bamford is equally committed to fearlessly exploring the intersection of creativity and despair, genius and madness. The two share a holy quest to de-stigmatize mental illness, to make people who might feel isolated and overwhelmed and alone realize that there is a massive section of humanity who shares their pain. And the ones who don’t? Fuck ‘em.
When she visited the The Mental Illness Happy Hour in 2013, Bamford was promoting the groundbreaking special she had filmed where, in a dazzling high-wire act of psychodramatic dark comedy, she performed an entire spellbinding, hilarious and brilliant set for an audience of two: Bamford’s mother and father.
Bamford gets her plugs for the special out of the way in the first two minutes. The charmingly awkward and awkwardly charming guest then moves on to promote her real mission in life: confronting mental illness with honesty, courage and unblinking candor. Bamford leads by example and in the early part of the podcast, she and Gilmartin talk about the different roles standup plays for different people.
An artist’s sacred obligation is to expose profound truths. A comedian’s job is more often to entertain drunks. Of course, standup is art, especially when practiced by someone like Bamford, but even artists of her caliber need to bear in mind that part of their particular art form involves amusing drunk people who may not know who you are, let alone be powerfully invested in your emotional and creative journey.
It’s hard to even imagine what a theoretical comedy fan in Oklahoma who knows of Bamford only though hearing her plug a gig on a morning zoo radio show with a name like Beaver And The Horny Goat would make of her soul-bearing style of truth telling. Bamford concedes that when it comes to music, for example, she actually prefers Lady Gaga-style pop rather than whatever the musical equivalent of her own bleakly funny comedy might be.