Lady Dynamite star Maria Bamford defends raccoons, advocates for shorter workdays
In a frank conversation with EW, Bamford reveals the toll that starring in her own show can take
In the second season premiere of Lady Dynamite, Maria (Maria Bamford) tells her manager, Bruce (Fred Melamed), that she wants to focus less on her career and more on her personal life, that she needs to find a healthier balance in her day-to-day. Bamford will freely admit that it’s a sentiment reflected in the way she’s feeling about her own life. But it might sound strange, given that Lady Dynamite is her most professional undertaking to date. Indeed, while Maria is pleading for less work within the show, Bamford is pushing herself more and more outside of it.
The beloved comedian knows it’s a little confusing — she’s still wrapping her head around the impact and message of the show herself. Once an insider’s standup legend, Bamford recently broke out with a new audience after the acclaimed first season of Lady Dynamite, a surreal and time-jumping foray into the comic’s mind. It frankly dealt with its star’s struggles with bipolar disorder, her wild animal-stuffed imagination, and her ongoing effort to maintain her career while staying mentally healthy. The show matched her sensibility with that of co-creators and executive producers Pam Brady (South Park) and Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development).
Inevitably, perhaps, the second season is going even more meta. Maria’s moving in with her boyfriend Scott (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), which reflects her own transition to domestic living, and her getting involved in a streaming series proves to be spookily reflective of her own experiences in the medium. But don’t worry, there are plenty more animals — including a quality raccoon guest spot in the season premiere.
In a candid interview with EW, Bamford discussed her own struggles with work-life balance, how Lady Dynamite has evolved, and whether she could muster the energy for a third season of Lady Dynamite. She also touched on the recent wave of allegations of sexual misconduct against various players in Hollywood, having come up as a woman in the overwhelmingly male-dominated arena of standup. Lady Dynamite season 2 premieres Friday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You had a really successful first season. How did you want to build on it going into season 2?
MARIA BAMFORD: For sure, going into more stories of how we got married, and talking about the development of my husband and I — our relationship. But also, I think with the crew of writers and producers, we like to be as creative as possible and have everyone’s dreams come true. To have fun. That’s what was most important, is what is fun and funny to everyone, and have as many animals as possible — within budget.
Speaking of animals: The first episode introduces Randall the raccoon, just as you’re settling into a domestic relationship with Scott.
Who doesn’t love animals? They’re fun, as we can all tell from whatever’s being forwarded to us from the internet — it’s a lot of animals on the internet! They’re comforting. It’s always fun to have them on set, and I definitely do relate to raccoons on some level, in that I can’t seem to control myself — making messes and all that stuff. It’s not conscious, but I’m sure it’s not conscious of raccoons either. They don’t want to drag your garbage can around; that wasn’t their goal. They just wanted to get at whatever they wanted to get at!
It’s a lesson that Scott perhaps has to learn as well, with Maria.
With this relationship with Scott and exploring the domestic dynamic, how did you draw from your own life?
It’s funny because it’s a TV show which goes for like 15-hour days. It’s this thing that’s actually keeping you away from having your personal life, at least for three months — we only did eight episodes, but for people who do [more], I just don’t even know how people do it. Also, that this is about mental health, the idea of doing a TV show is ludicrous! It’s a lot of stress to put yourself under. That’s been the funny part, how the personal comes into the work thing and vice versa. We’re talking about things in the show that were real within life, like how to balance having relationships and love and all that stuff — people-pleasing, it’s still in your life — and then also having a job where that’s part of the deal, since show business is very all-or-nothing. Sometimes.
Did you find better ways of managing that going into season 2?
Well, the crew did such a great job. [Showrunner] Pam Brady was just a genius: They did a really great job of helping. I always got at least a 12-hour turnaround, which is the limit for Screen Actors Guild, but a lot of times they’ll just pay you overtime and you’ll have like a seven-hour turnaround. They’ll pay you extra to not have as much sleep. I was grateful that that wasn’t a practice on this production. Also, all the production was near my house; it was less than two miles from my house, so after a long day, I didn’t have to drive an hour home. And they just tried to limit the hours of the day, which is almost impossible when you’re in all the scenes. I do wonder about if there was a third season — who knows — but I might ask for children’s hours, which is a limit of 10 hours a day. I think the kids have it right! I don’t know if it’s the meds that I’m on or what, but I’m pretty sleepy throughout the whole experience. I don’t know if I’m managing it well, but there’s some great moments. I had a lot of fun, some moments — when I was awake during it. [Laughs]
Maria does say to Bruce in the premiere that she wants to focus less on her career and more on her personal life. I imagine there’s a bit of self-commentary there.
Oh, totally. I think that’s totally true. Despite my actions, I seem to say over and over again — and I do have a great schedule. I only go out and travel twice a month and I’m not a mover, shaker — I don’t go out to events. Perhaps I’m not invited to events, but either way, whatever’s happening — it’s great. It may be a negative thing, but I don’t have the ambition anymore to hustle that hard. I don’t enjoy it. There are some people who are just beautiful to watch. There’s a reason some people are famous, I’m sure as you’ve noticed. They are working their freaking asses off. I’m grateful for what I’ve been able to get away with.
And you do start a dialogue about that in the show which gets a lot of people thinking — about balance, particularly. It’s not talked about a lot.
All I know is my own experience, but now when I watch TV shows, I just go, “Oh my God.” Just the appreciation factor, especially for murder mysteries: They’re in Vancouver, it’s cold, they’re doing that weeping scene for the seventh time. And they might have a short turnaround. And they may be forced — you kinda have a choice about it, but not really, because there’s a lot of peer pressure to save the production money. I’ve had that on other productions where they’re like, “Yeah, we’re supposed to have a 12-hour turnaround, but, not so much…” It’s super expensive and they’re trying to meet a certain budget. But it’s unbelievable how much work some people put into that art form and business. I’m grateful for the standup world, which usually involves, perhaps, three hours a day.
And not as many retakes.
Oh, no retakes! No retakes. Wasn’t that good enough? Turns out, no.
And relationships take a ton of work: Not just romantic, but friends, saying hello to people in my neighborhood, remembering people’s names at the coffee shop. And those are the things that I remember. I don’t so much remember stuff — like, I’ve gotten a few awards, I’ve gotten the OCD Foundation Award as a comedian, and I don’t remember those as much as I remember spending time with friends and stuff. So: Spend less time accepting awards at OCD Foundation is the lesson.
Less time accepting awards, more time with friends.
I just watch awards shows now and I just go “Oh, jeez, Christ.” I mean: Four hours to get ready, you’re hungry, tired, nobody talks to you anyway. I went to one and I was this huge hobo, but they make you all go down the red carpet even if no one wants to talk to you. So it’s like this weird high school dissing. It’s just so brutal. I go, “I don’t want to go down the carpet, I don’t want to go down the carpet.” They go, “People want to talk to you,” and I’m like, “No, they don’t!” There was this one event where they made all the performers go up on stage by yourself in this weird press club place, and they’d say, “Does anyone have any questions for blank?” And so you’d have to get out and stay there. “Any questions for Maria Bamford?” — no questions… I should just bring an animal.
You will get more questions if you bring an animal.
Exactly. “Can I hold it?” “Can I pet it?”
“Why did you bring a raccoon?”
[Laughs] “Isn’t it dangerous?” And down we go from there.
Switching gears a little bit, you’re moving into the future this season, with little nods to the evolution of streaming entertainment. How would you describe where it’s going?
Well, it’s that we’re all powerless to this all-seeing creative machine that just says “yes” or “no” to different ideas.
Like when Maria gets a show picked up without even pitching an idea.
Yeah, you just walk into a room and the machine says “yes” or “no.” I totally get that. But whether we’re talking about Netflix or Hulu or just the vastness of the internet, I think it’s been only positive for artists; obviously, I’m prejudiced, but I know for myself, because of the internet, niche interests [draw] people who wouldn’t normally be asked. It is insane how you’ll go on comedy shows here in Los Angeles and there will still be just 10 white guys. It’s like: “We’re in Los Angeles! Come on people!” You just shout, and you can get five people of color or people with different experiences. I think the internet has been, at least as far as I can see, really empowering to different voices on the streaming services. I know Issa Rae, I’ve been watching her show on HBO, and Miranda Sings, [she] did it all herself and [is] now selling out huge halls internationally. And such a unique, smart, specific act, but maybe not something somebody would bring into a room and go “Oh, yeah!” At least I feel like that’s happened to me personally… [Lady Dynamite co-creator] Mitch Hurwitz was the first person to say, “Hey, you’re 47! Yeah, this is the perfect time to sell a TV show.” Or, “You just had your psychiatric breakdown four years ago? Yeah! Perfect timing.” That’s magical.
Talking about empowering voices and streaming services, the fall of Roy Price over at Amazon is pretty notable.
The great thing, again, about the internet is the power of people telling each other. It used to be like if you had a bad experience, you just go, “Uh.” But now, there’s chatrooms, you can talk about it — you can talk about it anonymously — and [there are] movements of people stepping up and saying that’s not okay. It’s just so much better than when I started. I just know there’s so many more ways — I know the Upright Citizens Brigade is such a great example of that, they have a way you can report any behavior or issues. They have a counselor on-site at their New York and their Los Angeles classes and theaters. For an industry that is very volatile in its mood… It can be so cruel sometimes, and then especially for people who are younger coming up and the vulnerability. I didn’t have any experience of assault, but just times where it’s like, “I know that didn’t happen to a male comic.” Things were said.
As you said, partly thanks to the internet, more voices are being heard now, yours included. What do you hope fans take away from you building your own show from the ground up?
That they can make their own TV show, and do what you can with what you have. Make your own content, make your own merch — that’s my current thing as a comedian, [because] a lot of comedians sell merch after shows. I would like people to start making their own merch. There are enough working Americans, and also, we have too much stuff, so make your own merch and make your own content. Get back to puppeteering. I’m grateful if you watch, but please go outside.
Spend time with animals.
Yeah, spend time with an animal! Or a loved one. Or a loved one who has an animal. No pressure to watch, is what I’m trying to say. [Laughs] That’s a bad thing to say, but there’s so many other things to do that will probably be more life-affirming. That is my type of promo — I’m so sorry.
We are going to get so many new viewers with this interview.
But I do think a lot of viewers find Lady Dynamite life-affirming in its own way.
Yeah. I like to show other artists, you know, I was able to make this TV show — and I’m kind of jacked up and my hands are shaking. Just use it is a trampoline to encourage you to do your own stuff. That would be my hope.