Austin apparently likes to keep it weird. No huge surprise, then, that the Paramount Theatre audience would take so kindly to Moontower Comedy Festival headliner Maria Bamford, weirdest of the weird when it comes to premises, voices and preoccupations.
“Sometimes people bring a friend to a show,” Bamford warned up top after a heartfelt introduction from dynamite opener/peerless listmaker Erin Foley. “And when I say ‘some people,’ I mean my parents took me along to a movie. And they hyped it up: “Oh, it’s Steven Spielberg. You’re gonna love it! He did E.T.; that was so great.” And then we watched War Horse. Just two and a half hours of a very kind and gentle horse struggling through barbed wire…this may be your War Horse.”
Though there was plenty of material familiar to those who caught last year’s terrific album Ask Me About My New God!—and 2012’s innovative The Special Special Special, by extension—there’s a second tier of enjoyment inherent in witnessing an older-skewing theater crowd react for the first time to Bamford painting a Color Me Mine dog bank for her father, composing the perfect online-dating profile and enjoying gas station tuna’s “scrumptious fishy nougat.” And for every trademark imitation of family members, friends, neighborhood children and contradictory inner monologues, there were the subtly effective moments easily missed when listening to God! or watching Special. Few rival Bamford at earning laughs solely on the exertion of a fiercely scrunched-up face, a faux-modest bow or a few calculated seconds of heavy breathing.
By knowing the nuances of her older stuff, recognizing the emergence of new bits heightened the anticipation. “Did you guys know it’s possible to run out of genocide documentaries on Netflix?” she asked pointedly, later noting, “It’s hard to be a single mother, but it’s even harder to be a single mother without kids.” An extended act-out in which Bamford adamantly sold a series of fart noises as an artistic “soundscape” showcased her at her anything-goes best. “’That’s not music?’ That’s what they said about Stravinsky and Phillip Glass!” Hunched onto the floor like a jaded rock goddess, she growled, “The most difficult criticism has come from my fellow comics.”
Happily, Bamford has reason to temper the turmoil with optimism. In a relationship for a year, she related the numerous ways her behavior disturbs her boyfriend, and the impact her hard-won, determined, downright relentless positivity has in other areas of her life. (At one point she begrudgingly addressed herself as “Princess Daffodil.”)
By set’s end Bamford had amassed a headful of crazed hair, 16 applause breaks and a standing ovation. She’d also provided a telling glimpse at the new terrain she’s preparing to cover. For all of her cautioning that “I love you so much. I am not, of course, able to show that… I need to find a way to show people I love them despite all my words and actions,” it’s somehow comforting to know that even contentment can inspire her to new heights of absurdity.