Recap: Maria Bamford Turned Silly Voices into High Art at Turner Hall
Generally speaking, if a standup is described as doing a lot of zany voices, it’s usually a bad sign. Impressionists and their ilk, often as bad at writing jokes as they are adept at mimicry, rank one notch above ventriloquists on the comedy totem pole. But of course there are exceptions to every rule, the glaringly obvious one in this case being Maria Bamford. Instead of adopting other personas to distract from flimsy material, the characters that Bamford manically flits between only serve to reinforce her own utterly distinct comedic voice by contrast. While that’s a difficult feat in itself, it’s really just one of the many conventions she fearlessly turns inside out, displaying an uncommon boldness despite suffering from anxiety so severe that it’s a challenge just to take the stage.
Before she had to face tonight’s crowd at Turner Hall, an impressively large one considering Bamford rarely receives the amount of media attention she deserves, there was a pair of well-chosen opening acts. First you had deadpan Minneapolis-based standup Rana May, whose tight, entertaining 15-minute set contained a particularly memorable bit about listing Prince as her emergency contact, then throwing caution into the wind in hopes of meeting His Royal Badness (and maybe having him make some end-of-life decisions for her). Next up was Rebecca O’Neal, an exuberant Chicago comic who reflected on, among other things, the cognitive dissonance that arises when you grow up nerdy in the hood, noting the irony of clutching brass knuckles inside an NPR tote bag, and the socially awkward combination of being both extroverted and clinically depressed.
As Bamford emerged, greeted by enthusiastic applause, there was an increased spring in her step, and she confessed to feeling relatively positive following her recent nuptials, even if her past panic over failed relationships has simply been replaced with the panic induced by trying to keep a successful one going. Being a big change, the transition from single life, hilariously complicated by her many neuroses and self-described raccoon-like lifestyle, provided much of the material here, though her cheerfully unhinged style allows her to jump between subject matter, and the occasional absurdist digression, with ease, each of which is colored by the pitch-perfect voices of the outside world, be it an oblivious stranger, a rude radio DJ or her own mother. Silly as they are, they’re a big part of what makes Bamford so brilliant.