Maria Bamford has had a very good year. In the 12 months since I spoke with her about stand-up comedy and mental illness, she’s done a terrific guest spot on Louie (an experience she wrote about for Slate), released a widely acclaimed stand-up special recorded in front of an audience of two (her parents), and turned in a hilarious performance as a recurring character on the new season of Arrested Development. And now she has a new Web series: Ask My Mom!
Earlier this week I spoke with Bamford over the phone about the year she’s had, while she prepared for a cake party at her home in Los Angeles. She said she was encouraged by the responses she got to interviews she did both on Slate and elsewhere about mental health; there seems to be much greater openness than there used to be, she said, both among comics and in the culture at large on that subject. And she is enjoying all the stuff she’s gotten to do lately—as well as the great reactions from fans old and new—though she was occasionally “overwhelmed” by it all. She tries to keep a healthy balance between work and the rest of her life. Some may call this “laziness,” she said, though she prefers to think of it as “underscheduling.”
The tagline for the new Web series is “The older I get the less I know the more I ask my mom!” Bamford plays both herself and her mom, who answers questions sent in by fans. Bamford’s mother, Marilyn—whom Maria previously played in her fantastic 20-episode Web series, The Maria Bamford Show—used to take questions over email sent through Bamford’s website, but eventually the “troll factor” got to be too much. Now Bamford imagines the responses her mother would give—always delivering them while doing something else, because Marilyn Bamford is an incredibly active 70-year-old “who wants to travel the world.”
There will be 10 episodes, at least, followed by a Google Hangout in which Maria-as-Marilyn answers questions live. That will happen later this month. After that? She might make more, depending on the response, or she may turn to a couple of other ideas she has “in the crockpot.”
In the meantime, she’s performing stand-up all over, working out new material, and she can also be seen on Netflix, in several episodes of Arrested Development Season 4. Bamford plays Debrie Bardeaux, a recovering drug addict who, in the world of the show, was once the Invisible Woman in a low-budget version of The Fantastic Four. Bamford said she taped her part in about six days of shooting, spread out over a couple weeks. She had no idea what the overarching story of the season would be, but was incredibly impressed by the way Mitch Hurwitz ran the set—and by the improvisational abilities of her frequent scene-mate (and fellow stand-up) David Cross. Improv was encouraged, she said, and Cross was able to improvise whole, hilarious monologues.
Bamford herself mostly stuck to her lines, she said. But she recently enrolled in improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade in order to grow more comfortable with that approach to comedy—and to perform more with others. She had a great time working on Arrested Development, she said—and while she doesn’t know what’s next for the series, or whether she’ll be involved, she did send a thank-you note after her shooting was finished. Marilyn Bamford would, I imagine, be proud.