Maria Bamford's comic persona is seated in quietly intense, sweaty-palmed neurosis. In her act, an exchange with her parents (in which one or both of them punctures her self-esteem) easily segues into a horrific encounter with an acquaintance from high school, a moment at a pug-safety orientation, or a meditation on aging inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit. Bamford is personally revealing, and her act has something that goes beyond being simply funny -- particularly her indelibly hilarious characterizations of immediate family and various regional types.
Given the personal nature of her material, it is hard to imagine Bamford with a truly complementary opening act. But in San Francisco's own Nato Green, she has found a regular opener who covers different subject matter, but similarly draws inspiration from a deep wellspring of experience. Tonight (Monday) through Wednesday, Bamford appears at the Punch Line, and Green will perform with her for the 11th time.
Green's material (often political) is just as personal in nature as any other part of his life. "I'm not a political comic," he says. "I'm a political person who is a comedian. I talk about politics in the same way I talk about my family, and my marriage and kids." Green gained recent notoriety for an incisive bit on San Francisco's controversial sit-lie law, which received attention from regional news outlets and spurred additional public discussion.
Bamford likes to catch up with local comics when she's in town, which is at least twice a year: "Usually, as someone coming in from out of town, and especially with Nato, I always hope he'll want to go out for dinner before [a show]," she says.
For Bamford, who maintains an active national and international tour schedule, it's nice to visit cities where she gets to work with openers who are familiar faces and have been in the business for a while. And yet, she adds, "It's also fun to have someone who's only been doing it for two days -- because that's inspiring! They're energized and excited, and that makes me grateful."
Of working with Bamford, Green says that "she draws a particularly smart and enthusiastic audience, so when I am getting ready to work with her, one of the things I'm trying think about is how to take advantage of this opportunity. Because her comedy is so incredibly honest and thoughtful, I want to rise to the occasion. With Maria, I feel like I get to be myself, and do the same stuff I'd do on a show where the audience was coming to see me."
Green is a San Francisco native who speaks fondly of growing up in an environment that cultivated great comic minds. "KQED-TV had a local stand-up comedy show every week [Comedy Tonight!]. Alex Bennett [who hosted that show] was on Live 105 in the mornings. Comedy Day in the Park was a huge thing. There were five full-blown comedy clubs within the city limits. I started hanging out at Cobb's when I was 12. There was an incredible comedy boom happening at that time, and now I've worked with some of the people I grew up watching: Will Durst, Greg Proops. My [comedy] pilgrimages have been very local."
Beyond solo stand-up, Green is one-third of Laughter Against the Machine, a politically oriented stand-up group that includes Janine Brito and my SF Weekly colleague W. Kamau Bell. The trio is planning a cross-country tour and documentary that will see the three venturing from the comfort of their liberal home turf to visit American "trouble spots."
Green says that Bamford "represents an evolutionary leap in comedy. There's no one like her." And it's true that she has gained an enthusiastic following and found great success in the past half-decade, not only through her stand-up (which her fellow comic Patton Oswalt has referred to as some of the most original and creative in the country), but also as a voice actress on programs that include Kick Buttowski, Adventure Time, and Ugly Americans. She says that she continues to draw great inspiration from her friends and colleagues in comedy, and says that watching comics in her own circle -- like Nato Green and her friend Jackie Kashian -- is enormously exciting. "To see [them] risking and growing -- to see that close-up is awesome."
Yet her work remains rooted in her upbringing and an abiding desire to make sense of the world, an effort prodded along by the ever-present sharp edge of her Midwestern parents' pragmatic anecdotes and advice. Ironically enough, as Maria related to us, her father's current favorite maxim (attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir) is "Don't be humble. You're not that great."
Maria Bamford and Nato Green appear with Robert Mac at 8 p.m. through Wednesday at the Punch Line. Admission is $22.50.