Maria Bamford, the star of perhaps Netflix’s most truly original comedy, went fully nude in the first episode of “Lady Dynamite,” just for funsies. “There are so many male nude scenes that I think are funny. I just — I’m older, I don’t give a shit,” she said, with a laugh, to IndieWire.
The scene features Bamford dodging attempts to pixelize her naughtiest bits, in an effort to (as one of her pet pugs explains in voice-over) celebrate “body positivity.” That’s an absurd sentence to write, out of context. But it fits perfectly with the mindset that drives “Lady Dynamite,” which features Bamford as a somewhat fictionalized version of herself, dealing with the pitfalls and pratfalls of the entertainment industry in a heightened reality where dogs can talk, the boundaries of space and time don’t matter, and, really, why shouldn’t a 40-something woman strut around naked?
“I get the empowerment of showing a real body,” Bamford said of that early nude scene. “I always feel so deceived when I see a body double or somebody who’s perfect [on TV]. It’s depressing to me. I like a lot of British TV, I like British murder mystery shows where there’s a strong, older English woman who hasn’t gotten any work done — at least as far as I can tell — and looks like a regular person. And it’s still considered beautiful or interesting or sexy.”
“I’d Rather Look My Age”
Here in America at the age of 47, the nudging to look younger is something Bamford is more than familiar with. “There is so much pressure,” she said. “I go to a dermatologist because of the skin cancer in my family, but every time I go I see all these posters of like ‘before and after.’ ‘Spray yourself with acid! Don’t go out for a few days, avoid friends and family as your face turns pink!’
“If you like those processes then that’s awesome. If you see your body and your face as sort of a crafting project that’s ongoing, awesome. But to me, it doesn’t seem fun at all,” she said. “I’d rather look my age. If I was going to try to make myself look tight, puffy, and wet just for the purpose of television I think it’s too late.”
Bamford has instead found a magical alternative: Surrounding herself with other amazing comedians over 40. It’s led to a cast that gathers together some of the funniest women over 40 today, something that might not be possible on any other network but Netflix, at any other time in history.
In fact, two minutes after IndieWire ended a phone interview with executive producer Pam Brady, she called right back, because she had something she needed to add about co-star Ana Gasteyer, who plays the intense and ballsy super-agent Karen Grisham.
“[Gasteyer] said to me, she never gets to do stuff like this,” Brady said. “That there’s an appetite for that larger-than-life female comic character, like the way Will Ferrell did ‘Anchorman’ — it’s interesting that it’s sort of coming around now. I think the world is changing pretty fast in a lot of ways.”
“We’re So Lucky”
The choice to feature women over “a certain age” wasn’t a conscious one, according to Brady. “I don’t know if there was a deliberate thing to go for women in their 40s. We’d just think of who are the funniest people in the world?” she said. “It was almost like those movies about an action team, like ‘Armageddon’ where Bruce Willis is getting everybody ready to go and drill into an asteroid. We realized at one point, we were like, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got Lennon [Parham], you’ve got Bridget [Everett], you’ve got Ana, you’ve got Mo Collins… we have a murderers’ row of comedic talent. We’re so lucky.”
For Bamford, it meant an opportunity to work with her peers, as well as people with more experience, “because that makes me feel more like confident about things. It would seem weird surrounding myself with nymphettes and…what are the male versions of a nymphette?” She laughed. “I definitely want to be surrounded with appropriately aged people to my experience.”
The casting process, according to Brady, proved relatively simple due to Bamford’s status within the comedy world — unless someone was literally out of the country filming another project, all their first choices were on board.
That even included some of the less expected picks, such as Emmy-winning “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway, who cameo’d in the second season thanks to actor Melanie Hutsell (who appears on both shows).
Hutsell told Brady that Soloway had mentioned loving “Lady Dynamite” in between takes on the “Transparent” set. Brady’s reaction: “We were like, ‘What?’ It never even occurred to us, so I’m like, well, would it be weird if I reached out? Melanie says, ‘No!'”
Soloway didn’t get off easy during that sequence, as “it’s like a five-page scene and [Soloway] has all the dialogue and Maria’s character is like, ‘Really? Uh huh, and then what?’ Jill Soloway was like, ‘I’m going to kill you,'” Brady joked.
But given that Soloway’s production company is literally called “Topple the Patriarchy,” Brady felt that it was “so cool” for the showrunner to be involved in a scene about the secret underground group of Hollywood women undermining the system.
“The Ultimate Artist”
Casting Soloway was just one amazing moment in the casting process. As Brady explained, “It was so fun to have the gravitational pull of Maria, just that people wanted to be a part of this. Like Judd Apatow. He loves Maria. And it’s just cool that people who love comedy are like, this feels like an experiment, it feels like we’re trying something weird, but everybody that wanted to be a part of it because of Maria.”
It speaks to Bamford’s standing in the comedy community. In Brady’s words, “I think people see her as the ultimate artist. She loves what she does, she never sold out and everybody senses that. So it is so cool that she kind of came to the peak of her powers right when Netflix existed.
“I mean nobody else, nobody else would get this show,” she added. “It was the perfect home for the perfect comedian at the perfect time. And I think everybody in stand-up or in comedy just sort of knows that Maria is the real deal. You know, she doesn’t put on any airs, she is for real, and everybody senses it and she gets the most respect.”
“Her Real Self”
In real life, Bamford doesn’t audition anymore. “I have let go completely. I auditioned for 10 years and never booked anything, except for one thing where I was in a bad mood and they thought that was funny.” she said. “I went in for ‘MadTV’ like seven years in a row and just never got it.”
“At that point I was like, pound-for-pound for my advertising dollar, clearly this audition thing isn’t working out. And it wasn’t something I enjoyed, I didn’t enjoy the process. Now after 10 years, I do offer-only. But it’s not due to wanting to be prideful. It’s just I don’t want to waste other people’s time or my own. If you’re in it, you’re in it.
“There are just a million people, and everyone is extraordinarily talented. I don’t have as much ambition,” she laughed.
Also, being offer-only ensures that when someone wants Bamford for a project, they’re really interested in her. “It’s like dating in a way where — well at least for me, I used to be the pursuer in dating, and it’s just easier and more relaxing to let people decide for themselves [to work with me]. It’s also less painful I think for the other people.”
Fortunately, “Dynamite” is literally tailored to her and her life story. It’s the ultimate result of a dance that occurs between Bamford, Brady and the writers, and the real facts of Bamford’s life.
“[Brady] just took the new things that were happening in my life autobiographically and transferred them into the new season,” Bamford said. “She did a wonderful job creating very dramatic interpretations of what must be necessarily regular life occurrences.”
Bamford, her husband Scott, and her parents Joel and Marilyn have all come into the writers’ room to share stories about their lives, which Brady thinks is why everything feels real “because Maria is really opening up her real self with everyone. It’s incredible. I don’t know if I could be that honest with the writers. I wouldn’t trust that. I wouldn’t trust us.”
Fortunately, not only is Bamford that open, but the stories she has could fuel so many more episodes. “Oh my God, we have 15 seasons,” Brady said. “We have stories for 15 seasons, you can print that.”
When asked where she might want to take the show in future seasons, Brady suggested that the show might go to Iceland to meet Scott’s family, and also pitched one big idea: “I would like to actually send Maria to space, and do a whole storyline from the International Space Station. Some intrigue with a Russian cosmonaut, perhaps Zero Gs. I think I would like that.”
What matters most to Brady, though, is making sure that she and the writers don’t let Bamford down. “That’s going to be the thing we shoot for all the time. We are telling stories about Maria’s real life, you know? She hits the special note of absurdity and emotional truth that I’ve never — I mean that is the most inspiring combination. I’ve never seen it done like she does it before.”
“Lady Dynamite” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.