Maria Bamford has made waves this year. Her Netflix series Lady Dynamite was released with great critical acclaim. Now, she is dropping a new album 20% which flaunts similar charm and content. The comedian talks about dating before her husband, making it in show business, the pugs, and of course, her midwestern aging parents. She also reveals her own personal struggles and flaws.
She begins the album warning people that show may become their War Horse, a painfully long story with little action, but that could not be further from the truth. Bamford’s insight on her life is fascinating and vulnerable. She shares dark moments in her life such as opening up about her bipolar disorder to past lovers. For the ones who didn’t turn her away, she shares reverse scenarios where her lovers then reveal their baggage to her. The joke progresses by Bamford expressing how she could shown acceptance for each situation. She also heightens the joke by using vocal inflections, escalating to loud and growly and descending to gentle whispers. She constructs a comically observational view using unique voices.
Speaking in and out of voices is Bamford’s comedic signature, and she uses it well on this album. Sometimes the voices act as a meta device, commenting on the joke or something she, the comedian, just said. Such as after declaring she, “was an older bride,” she quips in a higher status, mature voice, “What is that? A specter in the attic?” It gets a great laugh and carries the bit forward.
She includes her notorious impressions of her parents which still sounds fresh despite being her known go-to. These are characters with real history both in her act and as her act. Bamford plays with time, in the voice of her father, saying, “Your mother has been opening up my mail for 45 years. That is a federal offense.” It’s a great use of the parent characters. At another point on the album, she refers to them as her friends, and it is believable. Her impressions feel genuine and caring despite their interactions being the punch of the joke. She has definitely made her mom and dad fully fleshed characters which draws a lot of richness.
Bamford also does an impression of a geriatric dog trainer, Howard, which hangs out at her local dog park. She creates a voice and vernacular for Howard. In his voice, she goes on about good versus bad and a problematic female dog of the past. The best part about her impressions is they feel real. The audience likely does not know her mother or the old man with stories of dog yore, but her voice conveys the characters in a convincing way. They radiate humor.
Maria Bamford has many more characters on this album from her mother-in-law to the frat guys living next door. She quips on the album that the title, 20%, is about how much effort she is able to to give. If that is true, it’s safe to assume at 100%, she would break the internet and cause a revolution with no survivors. I am just going to believe she is staying at a cool 20 to avoid that. Thanks, Maria, for looking out!
You can order Maria Bamford: 20% right here!