Friday, August 16, 2013

Maria Bamford's "Ask Me About My New God!"

There are a lot of words to describe the new Maria Bamford CD, “Ask Me About My New God!” And, with the exception of “unfunny” and “run-of-the-mill,” all of those words are probably spot on. Words like quirky, goofy, random, silly, funny, confounding, deep, smart, and - at times - intelligible. In other words, everything you’ve come to expect from a Maria Bamford CD. 

It’s no great secret that Bamford is a little off-kilter and she freely embraces it, taking time to point out she’s not schizophrenic (they hear voices, they don’t do voices). It would be harsh to say she has a screw loose. Not that she hasn’t disassembled the gears in her mind and put them back together with a total disregard for the instruction manual of society. But rest assured when she replaced the screws, she gritted her teeth and screwed them in as tightly as she could. I don’t know exactly what she did while she was tinkering around in there but by God, those screws aren’t going anywhere.

And so, with an arsenal of voices (making you wonder which one is really hers) she pushes forward, merrily slipping in and out of a number of public breakdowns, her inner dialogue occasionally slipping through in a burst of shouts that, coming from her soft voice, make for a humorous juxtaposition. At one point she happily skips along, proudly displaying her mastery of pretend-Spanish and pretend-Swahili. The next moment, she’s raging at those who don’t understand her pretend-tiger (You’re not supposed to understand it!) and it’s delightful.

Although it may be easy to dismiss Bamford as just someone who talks in silly voices, that would be a mistake. There’s a lot more going on here than just dead-on impressions of her mom, her sister, the average consumer, and every minivan-driving mother of two. Listen to what she’s saying and you’ll hear some of the smartest commentary on society that’s floating around out there. Bamford gets you to laugh at her favorite - and accurate - American phrases and although the audience initially groans at her comment on the plight of US veterans, once you digest and take in what it is she’s saying, you can almost almost hear an audible CLICK as the light bulb turns on.

Because of her ability to disappear into each character, most of my friends were shocked to realize she’s the same person from the annual Target holiday commercials, something she vaguely references in a way that doesn’t bite the hand that feeds her but is still very funny. Even though Bamford is good at so many voices, she’s not an impressionist per se. Her take on Paula Deen sounds more like Cookie Monster and still sounds right.

Skittery and alert, Bamford careful tiptoes through life like a cat being chased by a kid with a roll of duct tape. Her slowness to trust makes her wary of the new building in town that sounds suspiciously like church and hesitant to participate in family vacations. She stand in the background, sort-of silently whispering words of loathesomeness she’s too afraid to say at an audible volume. There are things she wants to say...but doesn’t necessarily want to be heard.

Secretly mentoring the neighborhood kids and playing a neverending game of phone tag with Chase Bank, Bamford isn’t here to take you by storm. But she will sit back and wish through gritted teeth for the storm to go, go, go faster, go faster! Get him! Get him, storm!!!

Good times.

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