Maria Bamford – THE LATE LATE SHOW – March 11th 2022

(CONTENT WARNING: DEATH)

Maria Bamford is well-known (well, among comedy nerds) as being a major figure of 90s alt-comedy, but also for being a comedian’s comedian. Part of it has to do with her command over her voice — if you’ve watched anything animated over the past fifteen or so years, you have heard her extremely versatile voice — but also over her command of tone. She knows how to balance serious material with absurdity through little more than a lilt or twitch.

She also had a semi-autobiographical two-season Netflix show — LADY DYNAMITE — which was a deep dive into her reckoning with mental illness. It was brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny and featured a lot of pugs.

In the before-times, I even managed to catch a performance of hers at Chicago’s Den Theatre and walked away dazed, half-drunk on laughs and self-reflection. After the show, I hung around the bar, reading a book in a cushy chair, listening to a fantastic DJ, and I watched as she spent time with everyone that approached her. She was at her merch table for well over an hour, listening to people, joking with them, making sure they felt seen and cared for.

She’s a goddamn comedic saint, and every one of her works deserve to be in the limelight. She filmed a stand-up special entitled THE SPECIAL SPECIAL SPECIAL where the only audience members were her very supportive mother and father, which I implore you to seek out. It’s an astoundingly awkward, but yet heartfelt work, partially because of Bamford’s mimicry regarding her parents — especially her mother.

Consequently, I was stunned to hear that her mother recently died of lung cancer, and that Bamford did a tight five of it on the March 11th, 2022 THE LATE LATE SHOW.

Here’s where I hand matters off to Vulture’s Jesse David Fox, who is both extremely empathic and brilliant at dissecting comedy. Read his post, watch the piece, and be prepared to laugh and cry:

https://www.vulture.com/article/maria-bamford-corden-stand-up-set-about-her-mom.html

JAMES ACASTER: REPETOIRE (2018)

(Netflix) James Acaster is an English comedian that, with REPETOIRE, embodies the playful, albeit formalist, comedy I absolutely love. His storytelling and setups are accessible, but if you love plays on logic or toying with language, you’ll completely fall for him.

However, Acaster isn’t simply content to play with language, as the specials dabble with color and structure, breaking up his epic four-hour comedy special into four parts, then breaking up those parts into subparts punctuated by blocking and small props, such as how he utilizes his watch.

It’s very smart, oddly thrilling for stand-up comedy, and surprisingly re-watchable.

It’s worth noting that Acaster has taken a hard turn from his prior observational/fictional comedy to focus more on self-reflective storytelling bits regarding mental illness, so REPETOIRE isn’t exactly representative of his current comedy, but it’s still damn good.

(Apparently, a clip calling out transphobic comedians from his latest special COLD LASAGNE HATE MYSELF 1999 went viral in January, so you may already be familiar with him.)

Lastly, GOOD ONE, Jesse David Fox’s brilliant comedy podcast, hosted him recently and it’s a terrific hour and a half that has Acaster breaking down his process and comedic evolution.

“I should have warned you earlier: some of the jokes are sad.”

PATRICE O’NEAL: KILLING IS EASY (2021)

(Comedy Central/VOD) I revel in hearing comedians discussing their process, when they bomb, when they kill, what it took to get from the former to the latter, and Michael Bonfiglio’s examination of Patrice O’Neal, who passed in 2011, is an exceptional example of a documentary about a comedian that provides insight while pulling no punches.

The doc handles his backstory more in-depth than most comedian documentaries by having a fair amount of access to his childhood family, friends, even the headmaster of his high school. While his family and friends keep the majority of their remarks polite and affable, the comedians chosen for the doc, certainly do not. The comedians that appear are all ones that you’d recognize if you been paying attention to stand-up in the 90s (Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Bill Burr, Jim Norton — a lot of TOUGH CROWD folks) and while they all respected his comedic skill, they make it very clear that O’Neal was an absolute asshole, and would double-down on bad engagement and bad opinions. Of course, they also hand wave a lot of that away as “truth telling”, but that’s a subject for another time.

It’s a surprisingly frank portrayal, especially given that comedian Von Decarlo, his fiancée, was the executive producer of the documentary. It’s also a welcome one, if the subject matter interests you and you can overlook the macho approach of much of the comedy.

IT STARTED AS A JOKE (2019)

(hoopla/VOD) I’m an easy laugher, and I also tear up easily. (Often both at the same time.) Really, I’m an emotional person in general, but that’s okay because alternative comedian Eugene Mirman is too.

The first half of IT STARTED AS A JOKE is a ’behind the curtain’ comedy documentary, showcasing the end of an era as Eugene Mirman wraps the 10th and last Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival. This last festival is a star-studded affair, but all of the prior ones were too (just a lot of folks didn’t know it at the time, including some of the performers). We’re talking about Janeane Garofalo, Reggie Watts, Kumail Nanjiani, both Michaels: Ian Black and Showalter, Wyatt Cenac, Kristen Schaal, the list goes on. There’s a lot of great footage of older fests, interviews and bits you’d never have seen otherwise.

The second half deals with how he and his wife Katie (who has also been heavily involved with the comedy scene) deal with her cancer and how they, and comedians in general, deal with finality.

It’s a very sincere and heartfelt tribute from seasoned news and doc producers, but first-time directors, Julie Smith Clem and Ken Druckerman that celebrates the groundwork Eugene and Katie have created, and it make just leave your cheeks as damp as mine.

DR. KATZ, PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST (1995-2002)

(DVD) ‘Improvised animation’ from Tom Snyder (no, not THE LATE LATE SHOW’s Tom Snyder — a completely unrelated Tom Snyder) featuring Jonathan Katz as a therapist to a litany of stand-up comedians, and father to man-child H. Jon Benjamin. While I think DR. KATZ is probably best known for the controversial SQUIGGLEVISION animation process (I’ve personally never had any issue with SQUIGGLEVISION) it still lasted seven years, and even had a syndicated cartoon strip, which was oddly antithetical to the premise of the show. I remember upon first moving to Chicago, I cracked open my first copy of the Sun-Times and was shocked to see it in print.

While the show’s built around extraordinarily deadpan jokes from some of the best era’s best stand-ups (Ray Romano, Joan Rivers, Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Andy Kindler, Mitch Hedberg, to name just a few), the animators always managed to insert more than a few amusing visual flourishes and gags, a stylistic tic that’s worked its way to future Snyder and Snyder-inspired shows, such as HOME MOVIES and BOB’S BURGERS. Additionally, while most of the characters — guests and otherwise — are stunted in many ways, there’s a warmth and acceptance that underlies the show.

The show’s endlessly re-watchable and perfect fodder to work or fold laundry to, especially if you love word play and stand-up.

No trailer, obviously, but in the spirit of the season, here’s their Thanksgiving ep: