With the comedy of Maria Bamford, it is easy to be lured into thinking that her frenetic ramblings and constant use of different voices would lead her comedy into more style than substance. But between her harried breaths lies an evocative narrative, drawn from the depths of her personal life. Her newest album, Ask Me About My New God, is representative of Bamford’s variety of comedy, but dives deep into largely uncharted comedic territory.
Ask Me About My New God and Bamford’s comedy in general is unconventional to say the least. She is constantly swaying between voices, and her impressions are so masterful that hearing her natural speaking voice, a mousy squeak, is surprising. The album itself is broken into 33 tracks, an absurd amount of mostly small musings, appropriate for her comedic style. With such constantly changing subjects, it is hard to keep us a listener, at times, but once adjusting, one becomes used to the way it flows. However, sometimes her material is simply too non-sensical. I am remiss to say that sometimes I was, quite simply, lost. Furthermore, she occasionally depends too much on her use of voices than on material. But these situations are infrequent enough that it does not detract from the overall quality of the album.
Appreciating Bamford’s comedy is about listening beyond the frenzy for real insight into her crazy, often dark, depictions of her life and beliefs. One of the best lines in the show is about her discussions with her family about religion. Her mother and sister each have their fairly common views. Maria chimes in with her succinct opinion. “I believe that it’s all a cognitive distortion made to help compartmentalize chaos,” she says. “Anyways it’s going to be a great Christmas” And, as the title of the album suggests, there is more commentary on God. Her analogy for what religion feels like to her (which gives the audience great insight into her own personal psyche) draws similarities between it and feeling the comfort of seeing “the glowing logo of an international conglomerate” after being stuck in a scary, foreign place. To say the least, Bamford is utterly unafraid to deal with religion in her comedy.
Bamford often airs out feelings about her family, relationships and neighborhood, and the way in which she does so makes it feel remarkably relateable. She never sugarcoats the realities of her life. As I mentioned she has a complex relationship with her family, and isn’t successful developing relationships. In addition, her romantic life is in shambles. And on her track “Terrible Relationships”, she reveals a big theme of the album, that one of her most difficult relationships is with herself. She means this in a metaphorical sense, but it soon becomes clear that she also deals with it on a clinical level.
The most commendable aspect of Ask Me About My New God is the series of segments that Bamford does on her dealings with mental illness. Bamford notes that she has Bipolar II, and not as one radio DJ suggested after not quite understanding her comedy, schizophrenia. “Schizophrenia is hearing voices, not doing voices,” she says. She even deals with the issue of suicide. On her track “Poor Logic” she considers the dark issue of being caught up in suicidal thoughts. Despite the seriousness of the issues she discusses, as a comedian she keeps it remarkably light. “If you’re ever thinking ‘I’m a waste of space and a burden’, remember that also describes the Grand Canyon.” she says. “‘Oh, but I owe a bunch of people money and everybody hates me.’ Hello Europe…. You’re not alone.”
Overall Bamford’s comedy is considerably unlike any other comedian out there. Her style is difficult to pinpoint. She doesn’t rely on telling jokes in the classical setup-punchline sense, but she also doesn’t fall back too heavily on sheer story-telling. She will even throw in an anti-joke here and there, such as on her track “Healthy Substitutions”. It’s hard to track down. However, the mix works. But I won’t lie and say that I enjoyed every part of Ask Me About My New God. After all, it is hard to follow sometimes, and some jokes fall flat. However, there is enough classically funny material to make it worth casually listening too. But where the album succeeds and transcends other comedy is her readiness to talk about deep, personal issues. Mental illness and suicide are often taboo in everyday talk, let alone on a mainstream comedy album. And for that, Ask Me About My New God is worth listening too, regardless if you are a fan of Bamford’s comedic style. And if you’re new to Bamford’s hectic meanderings, embrace the sheer chaos of it all. Don’t let the many voices fool you, Bamford delivers a strong message, unmitigated by her comedic idiosyncrasies. 4/5 stars