Finding the Exxon Within

When I first saw Maria Bamford, what I saw–despite some funny bits–was a comedian whose comedy seemed to consist of, “I’m weird!,” and I wasn’t particularly interested. But I kept hearing interviews in which other comics would talk about how great she is, so I kept trying to listen and learn.

In particular, I listened to a Nerdist interview in which she opens up about her time in a mental institution. The way that she described her decision to go to a place where she would be protected when she wanted to harm herself, the days spent there in safety and boredom, complete with harmful and idiotic comments from visitors trying to help, helped me to notice that she has something–many things–to say, and that her comedy is her art of saying those things well.

Her albums certainly have comedic bits, but her craft is intensely observed stories about mundane things as well as the more raw things which we experience as mundane and don’t recognize for their depth.

She’s not as anti-religious or anti-Christian as a comedian like David Cross (whom Bill Maher does not touch in scorch-the-earth hatred of the religious right), but it is one piece that does deal with religion which I wanted to share with you.

The following is my own transcribed excerpt of her appearance on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn (the MaxFunCon 2011 episode):

I’m trying to believe in God, because I know it feels good. This is what I think it feels like: you know when you’re in a Third World shantytown at midnight, and you’re terrified. But then off in the distance you see the glowing logo of an international conglomerate. And you just feel like, ‘Whoo, everything’s going to be okay. Someone’s looking out for me.’ Perhaps we all need to find the Exxon within.”

Now certainly, if you’ve read any other post on this blog, you know Bamford and I feel differently about religion. But her joke (and reading it is not as good as hearing it) puts together such a complex understanding of religion, organized religion, organized religion and power, organized religion and money, religion and the West, religion and colonialism, all packed so tightly together. And, more important than all that, it’s funny.

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