Stand-up from a comedian who always keeps her audiences off balance. Info/tix
Stand-up comedian Maria Bamford trades in nervous laughter and radical vulnerability. Her self-deprecation is brutal. Before you've settled into her rapid-fire delivery, you might find yourself laughing in the way you do when you have no other option, as Bamford unpacks her own struggles with mental illness and ping-pongs through impressions of friends and family. Bamford's uncanny voice-acting skill has a way of keeping the audience off balance (that goes double for people encountering her work for the first time), but there's impeccable craft behind the cyclone of personas and accents at work in any given bit.
Bamford also has an experimental bent, as she plays with her relationship to the audience. In 2012's The Special Special Special, she performed jokes about her parents directly to them, and pretty much only to them, in her own living room. Her 2017 Netflix special Old Baby expands this idea to multiple different rooms and groups of people. Bamford starts by warning herself in a mirror that the show might not quite be for her. "[War Horse] is a 14-hour real-time documentary about a gentle horse, struggling, in vain, to escape from barbed wire. This may be your War Horse," she warns. The settings expand, and along with them the audiences, from Bamford's husband to a packed living room, and eventually to an auditorium, where she deconstructs even her fart jokes. "The harshest criticism comes from fellow comics," she says, blasting poot noises in the mic. If you think that's an awkward note to end on, it is. —Reid Kurkerewicz