Moontower, Day 3: She-Bang
What can you say about Maria Bamford that hasn't been said before? The spirit animal of neurotic white single ladies took the stage Friday night following a talented line-up of her neurotic sisters that included Mary Patterson, Alice Wetterlund, Emily Heller, Kerri Lendo, and Morgan Murphy.
Despite the parade of misanthropy, the vibe at New York New York was upbeat, kicked off by delightful hosting comedian Moshe Kasher and reinforced by comics who kept complimenting us, seemingly in earnest, on being a good crowd. It was a love-fest all around.
Even with an evening of great performances, it’s hard not to attribute the special feeling to Bamford. What is it that makes this lady so special? Like the great Louis C. K., her sarcasm onstage can feel weirdly uplifting; but unlike him, you never feel Bamford is making a sad sack of herself or asking for the audience’s pity. It’s like her lacerating negativity goes all the way through the center of the earth and emerges as positivity on the other side. It might seem callous to advise suicidal folks to hang on until late fall, when the weather is more conducive to offing yourself, but coming from someone whose pet peeve is people who dismiss mental illness, it sounds sympathetic instead. Her urging of the suicidal to stay alive out of “spite” drew one of the biggest laughs of the night, along with earnest cheers – a guy in the audience actually raised his fist in the air in solidarity. It was a rallying cry for the depressed.
It's a tough act to follow, much less open for, but Bamford's fellow She-Bangers held their own. Mary Patterson, a brassy Southern belle who milks her rich-girl upbringing for laughs, brought a bouncy energy to the opening act that carried through some of the lower-key acts to follow. Emily Heller's "West Coast v. New York" bit fell a little flat (that one often does in Austin), but she scored with tales of pet-sitting that gave a new meaning to the phrase "cat lady." Alice Wetterlund, fresh from her new gig on MTV's Girl Code, delivered corny one-liners with just enough irony to win the audience over. And Morgan Murphy, a tall, lanky tough-girl with a Radner fro, delivered the filthiest jokes of the night with an almost puritanical sangfroid.
Murphy gave solid advice on how to lose a guy in less than 10 days, but Lendo won the single-lady prize in my book by following a joke about not having a boyfriend with a seemingly careless bit about griping at her boyfriend in a JC Penney. Before the audience can wonder about the inconsistency, she admits that the boyfriend in the second story is imaginary, getting another big laugh; but the explanation feels like an afterthought, a way of pointing out that sad singleton is an audience-pleasing persona, even if it's true. To me, this came across as a sly riff on the seemingly obligatory single-lady schtick in every female stand-up act. Having been both neurotic and single for most of my life (though not always at the same time), I love the schtick, but it's refreshing to hear a lady comic puncture the illusion a little bit. Whether she's single or not, Lendo manages to make shopping at JC Penney sound like a far worse fate.
Bamford’s ninth circle of hell is reserved for critics who piss on art without making their own. Ending a night full of weird, wonderful women onstage, this critic left feeling newly inspired to make her own.