Montreal Just For Laughs 2011: Maria Bamford - Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Maria Bamford’s psyche must be like a theme park for therapists; both exciting and terrifying, and packed with far too many bells-and-whistles distractions to properly take in. She’s one-part little girl lost in her own imagination, one part psycho-killer with a schizoid voice to match, flipping from cutesy whimsy to Saw voiceover in the space of a comma.

Rather than try to control or conquer her insecurities, she gives them free reign to take over her comedy act – hence this show’s title, Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome. Her self-esteem, her parent issues, her overactive imagination, her relationship hang-ups, her career doubts – each of the voices in her head is given a platform. In a whiney, distracted half-whisper she lays herself bare.

The depressive undertones, and constant focus on her perceived psychological failings, can get a little too much, despite her attempts to vary the mix with more surreal, or occasionally more observational routines. But she’s not even close to the mainstream ‘What’s the deal with..?’ comic – when she brings up an observation it’s from a point of view no one else will be able to relate to; rather it’s another outlet for her oddness. Never has the phrase ‘Just me, then?’ seemed so apt.

Sometimes her application of those warped sensibilities produces exquisitely silly comedy, such as the ill-informed global geography lesson with which she opens the show, or her vignettes of late-night radio shows. Other times, it seems like we should just humour her til she’s got the stream of consciousness out of her system. After all, she seems like a nice, vulnerable lady in need of our protection, and as the audience indulges such childish nattering, it almost seems to act in loco parentis. Given her issues with a passive-aggressive mother and critical father, this makes for a loaded relationship between performer and viewer. But there’s no denying she gets the laughs – and presumably the validation, however short-lived – that she seeks.

Bamford is certainly a distinctive comedian with a unique voice, both literally and figuratively. The care she demands means the full show requires patience, so even with a jaunty warm-up from Jackie Kashian eating into the time, there’s something of a midway lull. But for a break from the norm, Bamford’s your woman.

Review date: 29 Jul 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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