As I sit on my balcony, drinking a Just Peachy tea from David's, feeling the breeze on my face and revelling in the fact that it is almost 8:00pm and the sun is still shining away, I'm thinking about a high-voiced woman with a penchant for old pugs who was brave enough to share her story with the world. Lady Dynamite is a new Netflix comedy from Maria Bamford, probably one of the funniest people alive today.
About a year ago, Ms. Bamford made her way up to Toronto for a set during the Dark Comedy Tour. I attended her show with a friend and I'm still not quite over it. It was by far the best stand-up routine I had ever seen. I'd never experienced anything like it. Jesse Thorn, on his podcast "Bullseye", while interviewing Ms. Bamford, referred to her comedy as a "narrative novel," and I've never heard it put more accurately. It takes time and effort, but goddamn if it isn't worth it in the end.
Lady Dynamite is a semi-autobiographical look at Ms. Bamford's life in three stages: the peak, where Maria achieves commercial success and love, the plummet, when she is institutionalized with Bipolar 2, and the resurrection, when she takes what she's learned from the prior two stages and attempts to use them effectively in a positive and fulfilling way.
Lady Dynamite isn't for everyone. It's a time-hopping, meta galavant through a comedic genius' mind. Ms. Bamford's comedy is... different. Highly self-effacing, Ms. Bamford uses her surprisingly huge vocal range to tell her story in innovative and interesting ways. It's hard to even fully describe what she does in a way that would make sense. Ms. Bamford is the type of comedian who, instead of filming a comedy special in front of a massive audience at Madison Square Gardens, she'll film it in her living room in front of an audience of two: her parents. She's the type of comedian who will try to raise awareness and lower the stigmatization of mental illness while showing us exactly what she went through at her highest highs and her lowest lows. She's the type of comedian who will create a show called "Lady Dynamite" that is wacky, and difficult, and bright, and heartbreaking and will leave you wanting more.
I won't try to explain the show because it wouldn't do it justice. Just know that like any great novel, you have to give it time. Let it work on you. Let yourself soak in it. Engage with the absurd and the mundane (though the show is anything but boring). Let yourself enter the world of Maria Bamford, the world that she is allowing us to peek into. Enjoy the magic and the mayhem of a woman who is showing the world what mental illness is and why we can't be afraid of it. Watch Lady Dynamite and you will emerge slightly different. Maybe more tolerant, maybe slightly more understanding, but absolutely, you will emerge a Maria Bamford fan.