Many people first experienced Maria Bamford through her fantastic Netflix series Lady Dynamite. It earned high marks from critics and audiences alike, earning the show a second season order from the streaming giant. Though currently in production, fans still don’t know when new episodes will be available to stream, so they’ll just have to stick to re-watching the first season. That, or checking out Bamford’s new stand-up special Old Baby, which premieres today.
Many will recognize the comic’s signature, seemingly stream-of-consciousness style from the scripted series. Yet Old Baby owes its existence less to Lady Dynamite and more to previous stand-up specials like The Special Special Special! Released in 2012, the latter offers viewers an interesting counterpoint to the Bamford’s latest, as it consists of a private performance for her parents. Five years later, Old Baby travels between six different venues — including a hot-dog stand, a bowling alley and a book store — and throws a few sketches in for good measure.
Bamford spoke about the five years that passed between her two specials, why she takes so long to write her material, and more during a recent conversation with Uproxx. She even shared a joke-in-progress with us that was inspired by, among other things, a brief discussion of comedy and religion’s shared traits. Though before we get to that, we must start with Bamford’s sidekick in Old Baby.
Does your stage pug in Old Baby have a name?
Yes, it’s Arnold. Arnold the Pug. Arnold has passed now, so it is more powerful to have him there with me as a reminder. My husband made the sculpture of Arnold, and he became a kind of talisman for me.
My condolences. I was curious because my dog couldn’t take her eyes off Arnold while I was watching the screener. She was captivated by him.
Oh my God, that’s wonderful! Of course she was. Arnold was such a wonderful dog. I mean, he was just a wonderful dog. I’m so glad that your dog saw that element in him, and was able to appreciate his greatness.
Old Baby takes place in at least six different locations. How’d that idea come about?
Well, that was the director, Jessica Yu, who helped pick the locations, shoot them and edit everything together. My usual pattern in creative projects seems to be just letting somebody else do things like that. I am there for the taping, and I’m grateful someone else is willing to look at the footage and cut it together. That was all Jessica’s work, and I think she did a wonderful job.
You worked with her on Lady Dynamite, right?
Yes, she was a director on Lady Dynamite. Jessica is also an old friend of my husband’s. They worked on a film together, so that’s how I got to know her. She’s just a really spectacular human being and artist. She was a really great director on the TV show, and here on the special. Jessica is very easy to work with. Basically she laughed at my jokes, is what I’m trying to say. She laughs at my jokes. That’s the best.
I was curious because with most stand-up specials, once the taping begins the director just sits back while the comic performs. Considering Old Baby‘s setup, however, you and Jessica had to collaborate even more.
We met and talked about things a lot before we taped anything. I requested certain locations and she gave me feedback about what I wanted, but also offered suggestions for other places to shoot. Like the bowling alley, which I think turned out really hilariously. I also wanted to do an open mic in our neighborhood, which is the hot dog open mic — the one that was outside. That’s every Tuesday if you’re ever in Eagle Rock, California. I wanted to have friends be in it. It was a group process for sure.
You joke a lot about the process of putting on a comedy show. Like at the bowling alley, which you remind your audience was free.
They are! Especially in LA, they are almost always free. Unless it’s a giant name, of course. Though usually you can also see a giant name for free, if you follow and keep refreshing their Twitter feed.
There’s also the merchandising sketches, too. Were the people in those actual attendees?
They were just people I asked off of Facebook and Twitter. I’d posted about “if you wanted to be in this, please come down here on this day and at this time.” And people came down, which was very gracious and kind of them to be a part of our event. So those were all made up of the crowds that showed up.
How long have you been working on Old Baby? You were very busy with Lady Dynamite last year, and season two is on the way.
Ever since my last special, so however long that is. I think the last one was four or five years ago. It takes time to write things, so it was probably about five years ago. Yeah, I am slow. I’ve been building up material for one hour and it’s taken me that long.
You say you’re slow like it’s a bad thing, but it’s evident you pay a lot of attention to what you’re doing. Which voice you’re going to use, and when. It’s so good because you’ve spent so much time on it.
Thank you! Yes, for sure. Badly enough. At least I feel like I put effort into it. I don’t know. My dad says about my job, “Well, whatever you need to do for money.” That really puts it in perspective for me. They are very supportive, my mom and dad, but like all parents they don’t always see what you hope they’ll see.
They were your sole audience in Special Special Special. Were they in Old Baby?
No, they weren’t able to make it. They are in season two of Lady Dynamite, though. My actual parents are in it. My husband is in it too, so that is hilarious. My dad has a ridiculously complicated line that he delivers in a very sculpted way, which I enjoyed. The poor guy. He had to do like 12 takes, and he had to play this part like he’s a doctor. It’s like a science fiction action movie thing, when he delivers his lines in the show. He had to say something like, “The Maldrops of the planet Sphyeron are jetting towards us at maximum speed!” Something like that. I’m so sorry, dad.
I’m sure they were excited to do it. Even when they don’t understand what we do, parents tend to be okay with it as long as we’re happy.
Yeah. “We’re so glad that you’re not asking us for money.” I think that is something they are very proud of.
A lot of stand-up comedy is serious, if not confessional. Yours is too, in a way, but you have fun with it. Like the “big blob” at the end, when you tell the audience you’re moving on to the “serious part.” I love it. Hell, you even got the whole crowd to hold hands with each other.
That is my dream. Comedy is sort of like church was to me when I was a kid. I like the whole thing — from the sermon to all the rituals of it. Though I like it so much better than church, because church today is still limiting of its possible interpretations. They generally tell you what’s what, or that you’re a horrible person. Or they’re just boring. I just feel like it has a lot of insightful or inspiring things to offer comedy. Stand-up shows are entertaining, but they can also be very meaningful. It’s like church, in a way. A cup of cold brew is my new religious experience.
If the “big blob” became a new religion, I’m sure lots of people would flock to it.
It’s fun. I think the main thing would be what was served as food. You have to get good food and a venue, then you have to get good music. All of those things are necessary. Some Christians hawk their wares down our street a lot. Once I noticed they had some really good food, though I wasn’t sure about the music. We were just walking passed it on our way to go eat at a nearby Mexican food place. It hasn’t been compelling enough for us to go in there yet. I’m not sure what would make me go in there. But I think those things work just as well with comedy. It’s always great. Though at church, you’d need to get a bigger glass of wine.
I grew up Catholic so I know exactly what you mean.
Why so skimpy on the portions if it’s Christ’s blood?
Sometimes it wasn’t even wine. Sometimes it was grapefruit juice.
That seems like a horrendous lie. I mean, for God’s sake.
It kind of is.
That reminds me, I was just texting with somebody who told me they were mad that stand-ups sometimes don’t tell the truth. They were acting like comics exaggerate stories, and I was like, “Oh my God!” I suddenly felt terrible because I know I do that. I do exaggerate things, but for the point of making comedy. Stephen Colbert calls it “truthiness,” and exaggeration is definitely a part of it, but I think it’s one of the better aspects of story telling. The specificity of the truth is usually super funny. Actually, can I try a joke out on you?
I was at the funeral of a comedian who had committed suicide and heard someone say afterwards “God, committing suicide is the single most selfish thing to do. I mean, he had a wife and two kids.” And I thought to myself, “I think blaming someone for their own death at their own funeral is the single most selfish thing you can do.” You know what? No, scratch that. Writing down the premise for this joke at a funeral for a comedian that you knew who committed suicide… No, cutting together two separate things. A comedian you knew who committed suicide, and someone in a completely other venue who said committing suicide is selfish, then making that into a story that never happened. That is the single most selfish thing you can do. I mean, he didn’t have a wife or two kids! I’m still working on it.
Maria Bamford: Old Baby begins streaming today exclusively on Netflix.