Comedian Maria Bamford goes the absurdist route for her Netflix mockumentary, Lady Dynamite. The 12-part series, co-created by Arrested Development‘s Mitch Hurwitz and South Park alum Pam Brady, stars Bamford as a version of herself, also named Maria, whose everyday life is full of wacky characters played by big names like Patton Oswalt and Mira Sorvino, candy-colored sets, surreal asides (example: she occasionally turns into a lamb), and pugs. Plenty of pugs.
EW called Bamford to hear about her most memorable moments of the series — like episode 3’s support group for white people against racism — where they came from, and what went on behind the scenes.
EPISODE 1: “Pilot”
Maria wrongs Mark McGrath — yes, the Sugar Ray frontman — so she spends half of the episode trying to make it up to him. “The writers on the show loved the idea of getting Mark McGrath on there, and they just got obsessed with it,” Bamford explains. “He’s such a lovely guy. I talked to him about what it’s like being somebody who’s visibly famous. He says, ‘Oh, yeah, wherever you sell kettle corn, that’s where Sugar Ray is playing.’ He’s very humble and very sweet.”
Maria doesn’t think he’s so sweet once she finds out his Open Arms charity isn’t about hugging like she thinks, but about changing open carry laws “so people can go into Starbucks with semiautomatic weapons,” as Bridget Everett’s character clarifies. Despite Maria’s reluctance to support this kind of organization, she goes through with her planned Open Arms event, where she tries out one of those arms for herself.
“I got to shoot a gun!” Bamford says. “Which… was interesting. And I still don’t think I should have access to a gun,” she laughs. “I am still anti-gun.” And even (a fictional version of) Mark McGrath can’t change that.
EPISODE 2: “Bisexual Because of Meth”
Episode 2 was a big one for Bamford: It’s where she had her first kiss — her first onscreen kiss, anyway.
“I was really scared about that,” Bamford says. “And the guy who played the bisexual meth addict, he was very nice, he was just like, ‘Oh, no big deal!’ He had done tons of soap operas. Turns out, it’s just kissing. It doesn’t mean I’ve left my husband or anything like that. It’s just a job. It’s a job that involves kissing.”
“I’m sure my body was doing weird things, because we are just little animals,” she continues. “I’m sure my brain was giving off weird pheromones and stuff. But that’s not my fault! My brain does that at other times, like during car commercials when there’s a handsome Matthew McConaughey, whose beliefs I do not confer with. But it doesn’t mean he’s the one I love.” Hear that, McConaughey?
EPISODE 3: “White Trash”
Ahead of appearing on a sitcom alongside two black stars (played by 22 Jump Street‘s Kenny and Keith Lucas), Maria tries to brush up on her tolerance by going to a P.U.R.E. (People United for Race Equality) meeting, where she finds a group of white people discussing racial issues. And evidently, that’s a real thing.
“I had gone with my husband to a Black Lives Matter event, as you do when you are ridiculously white,” Bamford laughs. “We went, and they said, ‘Hey, white people, heads up, could you not use our resources when you’re doing this activism? Because it’s not for you. We appreciate the support, but could you do your own thing?’ And they suggested we go to this place called A.W.A.R.E., Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere, which exists in Los Angeles.”
The meeting experience seen on the show isn’t from her own life, though: Bamford says she and husband looked A.W.A.R.E. up online, but opted not to go. “It’s such a funny idea, because it’s all white people. It’s all these well-meaning people, but it’s also…” she pauses. “It feels sort of creepy.”
EPISODE 4: “Jack and Diane”
Bamford’s known for her high-pitched voice, one that her character hides when she meets a cute guy (Brandon Routh) who is enchanted by her (fake) low, sultry voice. “When I was younger, they would be like, ‘Why don’t you talk in that other voice all the time?’ But you can’t do it all the time. I don’t know who would want to,” Bamford says. “I think everyone can relate, everyone’s felt like that in relationships. Like you’re trying to be this other person — more Australian, more of a drinker. Whatever it is they think that’s going to solidify the relationship.”
The whole house storyline has some basis in reality, too. In the episode, a realtor keeps showing Maria bigger and bigger homes before she ultimately settles on a huge one. “[My husband and I] have a house, but it’s pretty small. It’s around 900 square feet,” she says. “My mom, she always says, ‘Well, honey, why don’t you get a bigger house?’ I’m like, ‘Why?!’ The idea in our society is, if you can, get a bigger one… We’re happy in our house and it’s definitely big enough for us.”
NEXT: Episodes 5-8 [pagebreak]
EPISODE 5: “I Love You”
Maria introduces Paul, who’s struggling with depression, to the power of art in this episode. “Art is helping me,” she tells him after admitting she has clinical depression. “If you did more art, you could feel better about yourself, and about your life in general.”
In reality, Bamford didn’t have much opportunity to “create anything while hospitalized beyond painting a precut wooden butterfly,” she says. “But when I began to feel better, creativity was really freeing to talk about all the anger and shame I felt about getting sick.”
EPISODE 6: “Loaf Coach”
Pugs play a large part in Lady Dynamite — but this is the first episode where one, Bert, gets a voice. “My husband gave Bert a voice when we started dating and it really cemented us all as a family,” Bamford says. “Then, we love Werner Herzog as a creative person and thought we should ask him or impersonate him.”
Impersonation it was. “I assume [Herzog] was very busy doing wonderful work,” Bamford adds.
The butter Maria snacks on during her first loaf session with Jason Mantzoukas’ character isn’t the real thing, either: Bamford says that the stick of grease was actually white chocolate. Her arteries thank her.
EPISODE 7: “Josue”
Checklist has clearly been a parody of real-life store Target since the beginning, and in this one, it also parodies the questionable things that go on behind the scenes of big corporations. “I love Target as much as anybody,” Bamford — who’s previously appeared in Target commercials — says, “but it’s no secret that all of their goods are manufactured in other countries whose environmental and labor laws aren’t good and subsequently, we get lower prices… I’ve worked in a factory as a temp and it is not a fun job. I imagine even less so if you have to live at the factory; the shifts are 12-15 hours and there’s an atmosphere of fear for many young female workers.”
Bamford has less experience with the part of the episode where she steals another comedian’s jokes. “I think if it does happen, it isn’t intentional… I give people the benefit of the doubt,” she says. “Nothing is really original. It’s all been said before in one way or another. The reason to create things is because it’s a human need.”
EPISODE 8: “A Vaginisimus Miracle”
Once a year, Maria must have sex on a certain day, or else her vagina “could close up,” she explains. That’s because she has vaginismus, a condition where a women’s vaginal muscles tense up whenever something enters. As Everett’s character demonstrates, Maria’s vagina is like a narrow champagne glass and whatever’s trying to get in is a fat lime.
“I had it for a bunch of years until I Googled it and got a kit online,” Bamford says. “Yay Internet!” Yay Internet, indeed.
NEXT: Episodes 9-12 [pagebreak]
EPISODE 9: “No Friend Left Behind”
After a stray text is sent from Maria’s phone to her former friend Jill Kwatney-Adelman (Annie Mumolo), Maria embarks on a mission to rekindle their failed friendship. In real life, Bamford says she’s related with Jill at times.
“I’ve been the friend who is too difficult to hang out with, and there’s usually a mutual powerlessness to make something work,” Bamford says. “I’m really grateful for my friends, but I think it’s just like a romantic relationship in that it involves time and commitment and care.”
We also see Maria at her very lowest point over the course of the first season in this episode: In a flashback to her time in a Duluth mental hospital, Maria says that she wants to kill herself. The gravity of that scene is intense, but Bamford wasn’t nervous about filming it.
“I think the only reason I could do the show at all is because — thanks to meds — I’m in a good place mental health-wise,” Bamford says. “So, I guess I wasn’t nervous because I’m happy now. When I was ill, I could have been acting in a high-energy upbeat musical and been in danger of killing myself.”
EPISODE 10: “Knife Feelings”
Maria is nervous that her new love interest Scott (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) will end things with her once he finds out about her mental health issues. Trying to figure out the best way to unload that information on him, she invites him to her stand-up show. It’s a scene that somewhat mirrors Bamford’s actual romance with her husband.
“With Google, everything is already out there if someone wanted to check up on anyone,” Bamford says. “I met my husband online and he knew some of my material … so it wasn’t really an issue at all.”
Thankfully, Scott is actually charmed by Maria’s unique take on the world, but the tables are turned when Maria can’t handle his baggage: His father used to threaten him with knives. Turns out, “knife” is what Maria refers to as her “brown word,” but the real Maria is happily “brown word”-free.
“I love all words,” Bamford says. “I am a real fan of every word!”
EPISODE 11: “Mein Ramp”
Remember how Bruce shipped all those Maria Bamford shirts that Maria nixed to Africa? Well, that decision turned out to be… not so great. A band of child soldiers got hold of them and began claiming Maria as their inspiration.
“I have done some volunteering in different countries and it is really confusing how charity can be good and bad,” Bamford says. “I taught English to students who, as it turned out, were being trained to work at an outsourced American factory. It was colonialism disguised as good work. Totally weird.”
Later in the episode, we see Maria go through romantic turmoil as both her past relationship with Graham and her current relationship with Scott are brought to an end. Graham breaks up with Maria after her energy goes away due to medication, saying that he doesn’t want to have to take care of her and wants to stay away from conflict. This conflict avoidance burrows its way into Maria’s brain, and after a stressful Thanksgiving dinner, she breaks up with Scott simply to avoid fighting with him.
“I am a habitual break-upperer,” Bamford says. “I have only been dumped once in life. And I guess the progress for me — that my husband has really helped me with and that happens in the series — is that now I’m willing to sit through the embarrassment of sharing my feelings and experiencing the horrifying discomfort of intimacy.”
EPISODE 12: “Enter the Super Grisham”
The season finale brings the series to its most surreal places yet: In the past, all three Karen Grishams (Ana Gasteyer, Jenny Slate, and June Diane Raphael) fuse together into a guinea pig representing Maria’s hypomanic engine. “I love animals and I thought it was really fun and funny,” Bamford says.
In the present, Maria throws herself back into her work to try to forget about her breakup with Scott. That doesn’t work, and she ends up biking to Scott’s house to win him back. This happy ending was the clear choice for Bamford when creating the finale.
“That’s how it ended in real life, and I like that one the best,” Bamford says.