When browsing through the Melbourne International Comedy Festival guide, one inevitably sees a myriad of overseas names that come each and every year, in particular from the UK and North America. It gets to the point where they’re basically considered honorary citizens – Arj Barker probably has a bed set up somewhere inside the Athenaeum.
By means of contrast, the name Maria Bamford has not been on a Melbourne marquee – or any Australian marquee, for that matter – for eight years. Not that she’s been sitting around at home twiddling her thumbs, mind you. In her time away from Australia, Bamford has gone onto create some of the most acclaimed work of her career – the rapid-fire and uniformly hilarious comedy albums Ask Me About My New God! and 20%, for one; the beloved semi-autobiographical, semi-fantastical Netflix series Lady Dynamite for another. Throw in her game-changing comedy special, Old Baby, for good measure and you’re looking at a comic in their creative prime.
At a time when many of her comedic peers would be simply resorting to tired old punchlines and familiar routine, Bamford always endeavours to never tell the same story twice. She approaches every new show with fresh eyes and a new sense of perspective. By that same token, however, those that have followed her work always seem to know — at least, to a certain degree – what to expect from a new Bamford hour. A cast of characters will fly by from her day-to-day life, with her cartoony voice (literally – she’s been on Adventure Time) accentuating her interactions with each. She’ll touch on the personal – her family, her husband, her pets, her mental health – and even though everyone gets a solid roasting, it’s never done out of malice or spite. Celebrities weave their way in and out – such is the life of a woman some 20-odd years in show-biz – and yet it won’t ever come across as gratuitous or name-dropping. It’s celebrity in ironic quotemarks, anyway – you’ll see.
A lot weighs on Bamford’s mind – even though she jokes that her current antipsychotic medication ensures she can physically no longer worry. It seems as though stand-up as a medium has always been the way forward for Bamford, as she digests and analyses the problems of both the innermost personal and the world at large as an audience looks on. Sometimes simultaneously, too. As unabashedly silly as it gets – and it does get very, very silly – Bamford always finds the right moment to convey a single moment of poignancy and introspect. It elicits a cheer just as rousing as the laughs she was getting minutes prior. Her idiosyncrasies, her timing and her persistent energy mean the hour flies by and never drags its feet.
Consider Bamford like a shark in her nature… no, seriously, go with it. The saying goes that if they stop moving, they’ll die. If The Irrelevant Redundancy proves anything, it’s that Bamford is far from done.
Highlight: An ethical debate between Bamford and her beloved mother, played out as a sporting match.
Lowlight: The fact it took her eight goddamn years to come back.
Crowd favourite: Bamford and her husband playing a couple’s therapy game with both of Bamford’s parents – with Bamford, naturally, playing all four parts at once.