In 2012, The Special Special Special featured Maria Bamford performing in her living room for her parents Joel and Marilyn. Bamford has had a lot on her plate since, between terrific 2013 album Ask Me About My New God!, a breakout role in the fourth season of Arrested Development, formulating a Netflix series with Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz and getting engaged. She also has an optimistic, calming voice of reason in her mother, whom she channeled at Sunday’s birthday-tribute showcase The Marilyn Bamford Collective.
Though Bamford is known for mimicking family and friends in live performances and her web series The Maria Bamford Show, the sold-out Riot L.A. Comedy Festival event marked the first time Bamford portrayed someone else for an entire hour and a half.
“On her 70th birthday, all I did was buy her something from Eileen Fisher, which was thoughtful but not thoughtful enough,” Bamford explained afterward. “Also my mother is a delightful person. She is very happy and pleasant to be around. Why not practice doing that for a couple of hours, see if I do better at life?”
Sporting a wig, shimmery olive sweater, chunky gold jewelry and Duluth accent, “Marilyn” tidied up the Downtown Independent stage’s living room set with a hand vacuum as gospel singer Sandi Patty performed on the screen overhead. She soon snacked on raspberries, blessed the audience with a fragrant Jo Malone/Holy Water mixture and, in a nod to Maria’s onetime ad campaign, artfully arranged “darling” bird, rabbit and snowman candles purchased from Target at $3.98 apiece: “Can you believe it?”
“I’m a licensed clinical social worker. I am not a showman naturally,” Marilyn conceded. “All of you kids in Los Angeles, I just am blown away by how you are working so hard and you don’t take the time to recognize yourself. You are the most beautiful, intelligent boys and girls in the whole world. And if anyone says different, they are just jealous!”
Between dispensing dating advice (“You want someone who’s grumpy”) and emphasizing “Nothing. Is. Trash. And that goes for people, too!,” Marilyn introduced “Maria’s good friends that I don't know at all but are the salt of the earth.” Dan Telfer, Melissa Villasenor, Bil Dwyer and Cameron Esposito each chatted on the couch with Marilyn and received a random book she admittedly hadn't bother to read herself, followed by a fifteen-minute set apiece.
"I love my daughter, but she is a hot-house flower," Marilyn sighed in character, bemoaning an ex who got arrested "because he didn't like ice in his drinks." She also addressed Maria's pursuit of online dating: "She was being funny and thoughtful and casting a wide net. She was getting all this hoi polloi. She changed her name to 'Hogbook.' One guy...and now they're getting married."
At show's end, Maria ditched her wig and welcomed the real-life Marilyn onstage to blow out the candles on a chocolate birthday cake. As well-wishers filed past after the show, Marilyn enthused, "Maria gets all the nuances right and just makes me laugh. It's fun to be here!"
"My birthday was in November," she added as the room cleared. "We came because it's cold in Minnesota right now."
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