Let me preface this review by saying that I am not lumping these two comediennes together for any reason other than their total opposites. Tig Notaro’s album “LIVE” is the rawest, most unprepared and emotionally heart-wrenching comedy album ever. Maria Bamford’s “Ask Me About My New God!” is a wholly prepared journey through characters and comically dramatic situations that many of us have been through. My purpose for combining the two in a review is simply to highlight the versatility two combined comediennes can have. Stand-up comedy is still dominated by men, despite there being many outstandingly funny women out there, and I want to highlight two in the most opposite way possible.
So let’s start with Notaro. Notaro was a relative unknown before her 2012 sophomore album “LIVE” (which is pronounced “to live” and not “to see someone live”) as Louis C.K. plugged the album to everyone in his e-mail outbox. A simple $5 donation was needed to download an album that was “revolutionary.” Her biggest acting credit was one episode of the Office and she only had one album to date, but the word of Louis was enough to push “LIVE” to the forefront. Notaro’s comedy is dark, and usually more easy to relate to than on this album. But 2012 was a bad year for Notaro. She suffered a bacterial intestinal disease, and her mother died tragically shortly after she got out of the hospital. Her girlfriend left her soon after, unable to deal with the stress. Only a few months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The album was recorded only a couple days after this. “LIVE” is a short set, one that is definitely improvised in parts. Notaro says that she cannot competently tell the jokes she has written and talks mainly about all of the problems in her life. Thankfully, the audience plays into her troubles and is sympathetic. Towards the end of her set, she says that she should probably tell some actual scripted jokes, to which some audience members yell “No!” and “This is awesome!” because no such display of brutal and personal honesty has ever graced a comedy album, and maybe no recording ever. Notaro’s jokes on the album grace along her cancer, and the death of her mother, and it is painfully aware to the listener that Notaro is doing comedy because she has nothing else left to lose. The album came out last year but just got a physical release this week. Pay for it, if you can, because she is one comedienne that deserves it. I am not reviewing it for the grade; I am reviewing it for the publicity of her name coming up. “LIVE” is the most brutal record you’ll ever hear.
Maria Bamford, meanwhile, released her fourth album “Ask Me About My New God!” to the typical audience. Bamford is now most well-known for her turn as DeBrie in season four of Arrested Development, and I’ll admit that I was not familiar with her comedy beforehand. But Bamford shares some personal problems throughout her comedy. While Notaro deals with physical illnesses, Bamford deals with depression and her family’s misunderstandings of it in a long burst of practiced characters and dark honesty. Ironically, the thing that the two comediennes share in common is an age – 42 (Notaro is roughly four and a half months older than Bamford) – and both use it as a gauge of immaturity and not growing up among traditional standards. Bamford cites people saying that she should be married by now as one of the main inspirations for the album. She jumps between voices and characters – her specialty – to emphasize the heaviness of mental illnesses and the families that don’t understand them. Her humor is dark throughout, in a more realistic way than Notaro’s. Think of the cynicism of Seinfeld updated for the Internet age and done solely by Elaine.
“LIVE” and “Ask Me About My New God!” couldn’t be more different. “LIVE” is only thirty-something minutes long, and is like no comedy you’ve ever heard. Seriously, it is revolutionary. Notaro plays into her audience’s reactions to all of the bad news and gives a superior set of raw, emotional comedy that both assures the listener that someone always has it worse and prompting the listener to want to reach through their listening device and give Notaro a hug, because no one has ever sounded more in need of one. Bamford’s album trusts audience participation, meanwhile, through many practiced acts and bits that lead into humor almost as dark as Notaro’s. Bamford’s album is also very long, compared to Notaro’s. Yet both are hysterical, and emotionally draining, and both defy the long-standing sexist myth that male comedians are funnier than female ones. These are honestly two of the funniest comedy albums I have ever listened to. Notaro’s album is painful and honest, a look into maybe the worst year any human has ever undergone. Bamford’s album is satirically dark with many personas and voices in a predetermined setlist. They are both hysterical, and both Notaro and Bamford should be forces to watch out for in the near future.
I don’t have an “If you like this” because of how much I stress listening to these two albums.
-By Andrew McNally