Maria Bamford: take time to smell the mushrooms

photo / Fuzzy Gerdes Maria Bamford 

If you haven’t seen the documentary Comedians of Comedy, you probably aren’t aware that comedian Maria Bamford is indeed a comedian who performs comedy. Here’s a hint: She’s funny, and she’s got the résumé to prove it. She’s been featured in two Comedy Central specials, and her second comedy album, How to Win!, was released last February. Now she’s coming to Austin to headline at the Cap City Comedy Club on July 11–12. To review: Maria Bamford is a comedian.

That Other Paper What was the inspiration for the name How to Win?

Maria Bamford Life coaches and the idea that you could win at the arts or life. I like the idea that life is competitive and that I could win at some point. And I feel that I am. I’m in the middle of a pack, at least. A new joke that I’m excited about is: You know how people ask you what you’re working on? I say, “I’m done. I finished early and I’m in a gravy boat filled with gravy with gravy dripping on top of me.”

TOP What’s your experience with life coaches?

MB A friend of mine turned into a life coach. It’s someone who listens to you, like a therapist. I went to her a couple of times. It was hard because it was her just being a friend. I think the weird part about Western culture is that we’re all so isolated that you have to pay for things like supportive friendship, mentorship in business, and that sort of thing. She stopped being a life coach and now we’re just friends.

TOP With life coaching being so much like friendship, do you think that you might be someone’s life coach?

MB I try to get them out there and make sure they’re not riding the bench. I have friends. I do have friends. I’m generally a positive and supportive person, despite my negativity.

TOP Do you frequently read self-help books?

MB I’ve tried to stop myself because they all say the same thing: just variations of The Secret. Think positive, be pleasant, take time to smell the mushrooms. I read a lot about anxiety, depression, and how to breathe in and breathe out. My favorite book currently is The Confident Performer by Dr. David Roland. He’s this guy in Australia who’s written a book about cognitive behavior stuff for all types of performers.

photo / Fuzzy Gerdes Maria Bamford 

TOP One of the people involved in The Secret was also involved in Amway*. Have you ever had any experiences with Amway?

MB My aunt sold Amway for a long time, so we got a lot of cologne for Christmas. My dad got a big bottle of Taboo one year. I went to a knife sales job. I went to a seminar for that. That was Vector. They were just into knives, though.

TOP How close were you to becoming a knife salesman?

MB I was willing. I have a type of OCD where I’m afraid of being around sharp objects because I’m afraid that I might violently act out against people. That’s one thing that was stopping me at the time, but I saw a psychologist and I’m over that. I would sell knives if I felt people needed them. That’s my problem with sales. I worked in a furniture store for a couple of years, but I couldn’t convince myself that people needed new furniture, so I only sold one bunk bed in two years. But that was because they really needed it and really wanted it. I tried to talk them out of it, but they wanted it.

TOP So, you were a salesperson but only sold one piece of furniture in two years?

MB Yes.

TOP Why’d they keep you around for so long?

MB I don’t know. That’s something you’d have to ask them. I did sell accessories. Somehow, I’m not against accessories. I feel like accessories are a necessity, which is interesting because that’s the opposite. The furniture is more of a necessity, but I didn’t like the furniture. It was made out of airplane crates. It was in malls in the early ’90s. They didn’t fire me, but they did talk to me. There was one manager who was very nice and she let it slide.

TOP Did you pick up any skills from all the salesmen you’ve been around that you were able to incorporate into stand up?

MB Well, The Dale Carnegie Training and Management Course that I took for 18 weeks when I was in high school. I learned how to say people’s names back to them, Ben. And how to say how they’re really good at what they do, Ben. You’re doing an amazing job of interviewing me, Ben, and I really appreciate it, Ben. We’ve been doing this work together, and I’m glad Ben. I really see a great future for you, Ben. That’s what I learned: to say people’s names to them over and over again and to pitch things in a positive way.

TOP Why did you go to the training seminar?

MB I was severely depressed and my dad was going and he said I should go. It was fun because you got to give little speeches and I was with a bunch of salesmen from Minnesota, and we all had a good time together.

TOP What’s your opinion on holistic medicine?

MB It seems good. If people think something works, even if it’s a placebo, it does help. So, why not? I went to someone who [does] energy healing, and I didn’t feel anything. I don’t think anything changed, but it was nice to have someone focusing on me and petting my head. Who’s to say what’s helpful and what isn’t? If I think something’s helping me that might be just as good as actually helping.

TOP Is that the sort of thing that involves crystals?

MB No, she just used her hands and energy. It was very vague. It was in an office building without air conditioning. Not sure if that was part of the energy problem. Maybe she couldn’t get air conditioning because her energy was so powerful. I do think pharmaceuticals help a lot – at least for me. I’ve tried to go off pharmaceuticals for my depression and OCD stuff and that has not worked for me. I’ve tried all the holistic stuff and… I don’t know, maybe if I had taken more echinacea, but that didn’t work for me at all.

TOP Do you meditate?

MB I do. I do the kind where you notice thoughts flowing through your head. I don’t do anything goal-oriented, like trying to attain a state of bliss. That seems exhausting. I breathe in, breathe out, and watch the thoughts run around.

* For those of you keeping score, this is Ben’s fourth interview in which he drops a question about Amway.

–The Editors