Review: Maria Bamford's Many Strengths Are Revealed In 'Weakness Is The Brand'

Maria Bamford

“The important thing about stand-up comedy is call whatever you’re doing stand-up comedy,” said Maria Bamford about 30 minutes into her new comedy special, Weakness is the Brand, which was released via Comedy Dynamics on Jan. 28.

Whether sharing stories mined from her marriage, contorting her face into Picasso-like abstractions or live-critiquing her own bits with characters of her own creation, whatever Bamford was doing throughout the 75-minute show was utterly hilarious. Her self-proclaimed “mental health schtick” has evolved into an examination of the imperfect nature of individuals, situations and society along with an acknowledgment that things can change and people can grow.

“I don’t want to quash this cash cow. I may be mental, but I’m also a millionaire,” said Bamford explaining that weakness is indeed her brand.

Bamford has never shied away from sharing her struggles with mental health and Weakness is the Brand finds her feeling good and healthy for the past several years. In absence of new mental health material, Bamford dove into self-improvement subjects sharing advice that she has received from several of the closest people in her life; her husband Scott, mom Marilyn, dad Joel as well as her octogenarian financial advisor, Elliott.

Elliott came into play during an unbelievably funny segment about Bamford’s experience negotiating her fee to deliver a commencement speech at her alma mater the University of Minnesota. The story highlighted the brilliance of the comedian as she deftly maneuvered between sharing important advice with young people to tackling the rising problems of exorbitant tuition fees and student debt.

This smart meets silly approach was also at the heart of her incredibly funny retelling of the type of role-playing she and Scott use to keep their marriage exciting. Inspired by some of the most pressing issues of today – income inequality, human trafficking, gentrification – these sexy scenes again allowed Bamford’s character-work to shine giving the audience reasons to laugh while pondering tough topics.

Bamford took time out to examine herself with as much scrutiny as any other topic when sharing her experience with getting called out on the internet for writing a satirical essay which was pointed out to be transphobic. She thoughtfully examined her own errors and pledged to read books on gender identity and sexuality before pivoting to one of many laugh out loud moments in the special, detailing how she dealt with the publishing company that didn’t want to remove the piece.

A three-round, head-to-head battle with her mom about who is the best person – Christian rules apply – led into the final moments of the special which found Bamford singing a “song of love” with Scott inspired by a horrible TV-related kerfuffle.

One of Bamford’s greatest strengths is how she wields comedy as an uplifting force, helping people cope with the imperfect world we live in. As the special’s title sequence points out, we need a hero and while Bamford may not be that savior, she is a guiding light in these dark and trying times.

Weakness is the Brand is available now on Comcast, Amazon Prime Video, Spectrum, Apple TV and other platforms. Check out the trailer below and head over to Mariabamford.com for tour dates – including her six-show run at The Den in Chicago April 30 – May 2 – and more information.

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more. When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.