Maria Bamford’s Goofy Brilliance Shines on Her New Album CROWD-PLEASER

Comedy Reviews Maria Bamford
Maria Bamford’s Goofy Brilliance Shines on Her New Album CROWD-PLEASER

We’ve been long overdue a new Maria Bamford record; her last album, January 2020’s Weakness Is the Brand, touched on luring Trump into a thicket of brambles and possibly feeling too good as a comedian who usually talks about her mental health struggles. The universe must’ve heard Bamford on the latter subject, because not long after we were all huddled up at home, hoarding hand sanitizer and collectively steeping in existential dread. 

However, to call Bamford’s new album CROWD-PLEASER a “pandemic record” would be misnomer. She only briefly talks about covid during the set, which was recorded in Chicago, instead tying much of the first half together by exploring different cults—Christianity, twelve-step programs, families—and the rest discussing her own personal life. The resulting hour is simply wonderful.

From the jump, Bamford brings her signature frantic, haphazard energy, doing a Chicago word association (“Hot dog, wind”) as she greets the audience. The Lady Dynamite actor is about as endearingly goofy as comedians get, and it’s because of this that her jokes, especially her diatribes about mental health, work so well. Bamford is a rare comic who can make you laugh about intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation thanks to both her absurdity and unflinching frankness.

Key to Bamford’s silliness and, thus, her success is her voice. Referring to someone’s voice as an instrument can definitely elicit an eye roll from me, and yet no word feels more appropriate here. CROWD-PLEASER is consistently, characteristically Bamford—and by definition that means you’ll be surprised by her suddenly slipping into an accent or doing an impression of a helium-voice kiddo. Bamford will whisper ever so softly, and then yell out a joke with Oprah levels of loud grandiosity. Her mere delivery of lines is funny, devoid of context, because her voice is so effective. Bamford’s rhythmic patter during other parts borders on poetic, especially because of her careful word choice. Listening to this album makes you appreciate comedy as not just an art, but a craft.

Beyond her vocal limberness, Bamford’s comedy also hits home because she’s so clever without being condescending. She picks through social mores with a zany creativity that makes familiar subjects enthralling again—yes, even a bit about her friend cutting out sugar and white flour manages to defy expectations. Bamford is incredibly observant about our modern world, yet she also often turns that sharp critical eye inward (“I’m sorry, I lost interest in my own narrative,” she says at one point after talking about eating disorders). Amidst her self-effacing vulnerability, Bamford ends up sharing some bite-sized nuggets of wisdom that are refreshingly blunt.

Staunch Bamford fans and even naive newcomers will find much to enjoy in her latest record—after all, it’s a CROWD-PLEASER.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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