Netflix's latest series begins with the energy of a lit firework and never slows down. It's Maria Bamford's Lady Dynamite and it is a semi-autobiographical tale of the struggles of the comedian. It features storylines in three different time periods: Her initially growing professional career, her recovery process after a mental breakdown, and attempting to rebuild her career post-breakdown. The content of the show is based on true events from Bamford's life. But, the show also takes detours into the absurd and the downright-cartoonish to explore her relationship with Hollywood, while also managing to dedicate time to a more grounded, nuanced story of her healing process. But, no matter which changes in tone occurr or which fourth walls are broken — the proceedings are anchored by Maria (the character), her kind nature, and a sense of positivity that is just as much an instinctive trait of hers as well as a survival tool in a cynical world.
It's all of these traits and stories that Bamford pulled from her real life that make Lady Dynamite great when blended with the surreal. In an interview with Bustle, Bamford explains what it was like to have adapted her life to television, and the fear that came with that. "I felt scared. I know a number of times I was like 'Oh no, God!'" she says. "I think that’s how it always it. There’s always moments of 'OH MY GOD, WHAT AM I DOING, IS THIS GONNA BE OK?'"
Bamford's life, and the stand-up she performs inspired by her experiences, served as the basis for the show, but Bamford didn't craft it on her own. "Pam Brady and the team of 12 writers that were there ... took some of my material, the story, and then they put their spin on things," Bamford says. "I didn’t have a part really beyond eating salads and coming in to laugh ... It’s truly a kaleidoscopic effort."
Although Bamford is the first to give the writers credit for helping adapt her story, that didn't make it any easier for her to dive into her own life for humor. Bamford recalls that "sometimes I did get scared or I fought certain ideas — "Well, I dunno if I would wear overalls right now." — Let’s just put ‘em on Maria."
There are some changes from Bamford's life to the show. The sister character that Maria portrays in her stand-up is replaced by a best friend, and Maria spent time in a psychiatric facility in L.A. as opposed to Duluth in the series. Although "there is a wonderful one [in Duluth]," she tells Bustle. Bamford easily recalls that the name is "Miller Dwan Adult Psychiatric," and states that she hopes to do a fundraiser there soon, eager to help contribute to mental health resources in her hometown.
However, despite the changes in location and character, the emotional truth of the series still rings true, especially when the show takes on a more subdued tone to detail Maria's time in a psychiatric facility. "Psychiatric facilities are really very, depressing ... It’s super dark." Bamford says of her experience. "There are no fun activities ... No whiffle balls, no puzzles ... People are just wandering in circles around a bucket."
Bamford is aware that portraying the true darkness of her experience at these facilities is more akin to a dramedy than a comedy, and so she intended to keep the tone light and the humor accessible in Lady Dynamite. "I really love the show, and what we did. But, also, if anyone says, 'Wow. That’s not what my hospital stay was like,' I think [they] are correct."
And, though Lady Dynamite is inspired by Bamford's own story, she hopes that the audience as able to learn from her past just as she has managed to learn from it. Bamford said that the core message of the show is "Y’know ... It’s OK. And even if it’s not OK, it’s OK. All you have to give is 20 percent, if not five. Five percent."
Bamford strives to see the best in people, which often gets Maria into trouble in Lady Dynamite, but it's that positive attitude that keeps Bamford moving forward in life. "I hope [Lady Dynamite] makes [audiences] feel energized and inspired to do any creative thing I want to do. Feel beloved by the universe, Etcetera."
The comedian's seemingly endless well of empathy and hope after the events of her life serves as an inspiration to anyone who has ever felt like things wouldn't get better, or that they were beyond repair. If Bamford ever got the chance to talk to you — yeah, you — she'd almost certainly remind you that "You’re doing great," she tells me. "That’s what I would say. I hope that's what the show makes people feel. 'I'm Doin' Great!'"
And, that's exactly what the fun, honest, delightfully weird (characters can turn into actual sheep without notice or warning) show will do for its audience starting May 20 on Netflix.
Images: Doug Hyun/Netflix (3)