Maria Elizabeth Sheldon Bamford (born September 3, 1970) is an American stand-up comedian, actress, and voice actress. She is best known for her portrayal of her dysfunctional family and self-deprecating comedy involving jokes about depression and anxiety. A native of California, Bamford grew up in Minnesota before gaining admission to Bates College in Maine where she studied abroad and eventually transferred to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Her comedy aspirations formalized at Edinburgh as she joined the university's improvised comedy group, The Improverts. After a year in Scotland, she transferred to the University of Minnesota, where she began doing stand up at Stevie Ray's Comedy Cabaret.
After her stint at the Comedy Club, she went on to release her first comedy album prompting her first comedy tour, The Burning Bridges Tour (2003) followed by her second album, How to WIN!, and her third, Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome (2009). She starred in her first feature film, Lucky Numbers (2000) before lending her voice to characters on CatDog, American Dad!, Ugly Americans, Adventure Time, and BoJack Horseman. Bamford's film work includes Stuart Little 2 (2002), Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure (2003), Barnyard (2006), Heckler (2007), and her most recent film, Hell & Back (2015). She transitioned into television early on in her career by starring in Louie (2012), Arrested Development (2012), and WordGirl (2014). In 2014, she won the American Comedy Award for Best Club Comic.
Her life story is the subject the 2016 Netflix original series, Lady Dynamite, in which she plays the lead role. Her work has drawn critical acclaim as well as controversy as her subjects span from lighter to darker topics such as suicide and psychiatric conditions.
Early life and education
Maria Elizabeth Sheldon Bamford was born on September 3, 1970 at the Port Hueneme Naval Base in Port Hueneme, California. At the time her father Joel was serving as a Navy doctor. She grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, where she attended Chester Park Elementary and The Marshall School. When Bamford was younger she has stated that she was often troubled with her anxiety, depression, and bouts of what she has called "Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome" a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Upon graduating, she attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, Bamford elaborated on her experience as a college student. She recalled as a sophomore at Bates in 1990 she felt "isolated" and in "a period of despair", when she called the college's suicide hotline after she ate a large amount of food in order to self harm.
In 1992, Bamford transferred to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland at the start of her junior year. While at the university she became the first female member of the college's improvised comedy group, The Improverts. After a year in Scotland, she transferred back to her home state and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where she earned Bachelor of Arts in creative writing. She started doing stand-up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at age 19, at Stevie Ray's Comedy Cabaret.
Early comedic beginnings: 1998-2008
Bamford has been in a number of movies and television shows, including voice appearances in cartoons. She was the voice of Shriek in CatDog, a huge selection of secondary characters in Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, and Mrs. Botsford, Violet, and Leslie on the long running PBS educational series WordGirl. She does various impersonations (including her mother and her agent). Her stand-up comedy often takes the form of vignettes rather than the standard setup/punchline format.
Bamford was featured in the documentary series The Comedians of Comedy on Comedy Central and Showtime, and appears in short skits titled "The Maria Bamford Show" broadcast on the website Super Deluxe. She appears on the comedy compilation CD Comedy Death-Ray.
Rise to prominence: 2008-2014
Her album Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome, produced by Comedy Central Records, was released in April 2009 and includes a DVD containing The Maria Bamford Show episodes. During the Christmas 2009-2010 shopping seasons, Bamford was featured in a series of Target commercials, portraying an overachieving shopper determined to be first in line. For Christmas 2009, she released a free stand-up special online as a gift to her fans.
While working in voice-over shows and advertisements in Los Angeles, she was hospitalized three times over the course of 18 months for nervous breakdowns. She commented on the hospital visits by saying "it was the responsible thing to do" after she felt "suicidal" and "dispirited". At the time she was seeing a therapist weekly and a psychiatrist every three months.
In 2012 she released The Special Special Special for download through Chill.com. The special was recorded at her own home in Los Angeles with only Bamford's parents present as the audience and is now available on Netflix.
In 2013, Bamford created and stars in a web series called Ask My Mom. Maria plays both herself and her mom, who answers questions sent in by fans. Also in 2013, Bamford appeared as herself in one episode of the interview web series All Growz Up with Melinda Hill. She provides the voice of Pema in Nickelodeon cartoon The Legend of Korra.
In 2013, she appeared in season four of Arrested Development as DeBrie Bardeaux, Tobias Fünke's love interest. The series creator noted Bamford as a comical "genius" and said that "real artists, talk about things that nobody else talks about, and talk about them candidly.”
Lady Dynamite and critical acclaim: 2014-presentFurther information: Lady Dynamite
She appeared in Season 3 of Louis CK's Louie. In 2014, she co-created, wrote, and starred in The Program with Melinda Hill, produced by Funny or Die. In 2014, she won the American Comedy Award for Best Club Comic. In January 2016, she was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he called her his "favorite comedian on planet Earth."
In early 2016, Netflix announced the creation of an original series based on Bamford's life. The series, called Lady Dynamite, has Bamford in the lead role. In May 2016, the series went live on the Netflix streaming service. Bamford was asked to be involved in the writing process. She did not write any episode herself, but was in the writers' room often, discussing ideas and "hanging out" with the writers. The writers had freedom to modify her experiences for creative purposes.
Comedy and mannerisms
the most unique, bizarre, imaginative comedian out there right now.— Judd Apatow
Bamford's unique comedic style has drawn praise and criticism. She is best known for her portrayal of her dysfunctional family and self-deprecating comedy involving jokes about depression and anxiety. Her comedy style is surreal and incorporates voice impressions of various character types. Zach Freeman of the Chicago Tribune has noted her content and comedic style as "comically erratic" with "seemingly unrelated tangents and constantly varying vocal inflections." David Sims of The Atlantic noted her roles and voice work as having themes of "serial passivity" stemming from her "polite upbringing and own internal anxieties." Film producer Judd Apatow has described her comedic style as "complex" and "bizarre", later calling her "the funniest woman in the world." Variety described Bamford's comedic performance in her show, Lady Dynamite, saying that "the actress and comedian, whose presence has rarely been used as well as it is here, manages the neat trick of being both believably guileless and winningly sharp." A 2014 New York Times profile of Bamford noted her comedic style by saying:
Much of Bamford’s work examines the relationship between “people” — generally well-intentioned friends and family — and those who grapple with depression or anxiety or any other challenge to the psyche. Her act is a series of monologues and mini-skits performed rapid fire and often without regard for transition. Deploying a range of deadpan voices, she mimics the faux-enlightened who hover around the afflicted, offering toothless platitudes, bootstrapping pep talks or concern warped by self-interest. The humor of any given moment relies not so much on punch lines as it does on the impeccably timed swerves of her tone, the interplay between Bamford’s persona and those of all the people who don’t get her.
Bamford stated in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune that she has been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), "the new gladiator sandal," as she puts it in her comic performances.
On December 11, 2014, during her show at the Neptune Theater in Seattle, Bamford announced that she was engaged to artist Scott Marvel Cassidy. They were married at a private ceremony in 2015. Bamford has one sister, Sarah Seidelmann. She has a private residence in Los Angeles, California.
Bamford has starred in 76 movies as of 2016. She has served as writer for seven movies and television shows and produced three films and shows all as an executive producer.
- Lucky Numbers (2000)
- Stuart Little 2 (2002)
- Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure (2003)
- The Comedians of Comedy (2005)
- Barnyard (2006)
- Heckler (2007)
- Hell & Back (2015)
- Lady Dynamite (as herself; lead/titular role)
- Comedy Bang! Bang!
- Golan the Insatiable (voice: Carole Beekler, Swingley)
- BoJack Horseman (voice: Kelsey Jannings)
- @midnight (2014)
- Arrested Development (as DeBrie Bardeaux)
- Ugly Americans
- Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule
- The Comedians of Comedy
- Comedy Central Presents
- Comic Remix
- Cromartie High School
- Dharma & Greg
- Jimmy Kimmel Live!
- Late Friday
- The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
- Premium Blend
- Rove Live
- Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
- The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
- The Trouble with Normal
- World Comedy Tour
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 (as the fiddler during the square dancing host segment in episode 607- BLOODLUST!)
- John Oliver's New York Stand Up Show (2010) (Season 1)
- The Sarah Silverman Program (2010) (as Mae Kadoodie - Episode "Nightmayor")
- Kroll Show - guest appearance in the episode "Can I Finish?" (2013)
- The Nerdist (2013)
- Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight (voice)
- Adventure Time (voices: Manfried, Slime Princess, Raggedy Princess, Guardian Angel, Duchess of Nuts, Huntress Wizard, and others)
- Leliko (voice)
- Back at the Barnyard (Mrs. Beady)
- CatDog (Shriek)
- Hey Arnold! (Mayor Dixie)
- Mr. Meaty (Ashley Steinberg)
- Home Movies (voice)
- Kirby: Right Back at Ya! (voice)
- ¡Mucha Lucha! (voice)
- Tom Goes to the Mayor (voice)
- Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island (voice)
- WordGirl (voices: Sally Botsford, Leslie, the assistant to Mr. Big, Violet Heaslip and Bank Teller (in Granny Mayor))
- Skunk Fu! (voice)
- Kick Buttowski (voice: "Wacky" Jackie Wackerman)
- The Legend of Korra (voice: Pema)
- Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (voice: Chen)
- Tales of Metropolis (voice: Lois Lane)
- Benched (Cheryl)
- Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero (2015) voices: The President ("3 Big Problems"), Matthews (2 episodes), Mrs. Monkenfluffer (2 episodes), Nancy ("Chuckle City 500"), Nug (2 episodes)
- Fresh Off the Boat (2015) Principal Thomas (2 episodes)
- Pig Goat Banana Cricket (2015) voices: Delooney Hamshank, Ma Hamshank (1 episode)
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (2016)
- Late Night with Seth Meyers (July 26, 2016)
- Take My Wife
- The Burning Bridges Tour (2003)
- How to WIN! (2007)
- Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome (2009)
- Plan B (2010)
- The Special Special Special! (2012)
- Ask Me About My New God! (2013)
- 20% (2016)
- Bravest Warriors (2012) (Pixel, Gayle, Elves, others)
- SuperF*ckers (2012) (Princess Sunshine, Computer Fist, others)
- Ask My Mom (2013) (herself, her mother Marilyn Bamford)
- Talking Tom and Friends (2014) (Ginger)