Maria Bamford Has a Bone to Pick with Mental Health Memes
Memes shouldn’t make you feel stupid for struggling with mental health issues — that’s what parents are for.
Maria Bamford made a name for herself with jokes about her own suicide attempt back in a time when memes almost exclusively centered around cats and cheeseburgers, and the alt-comedy icon is still known in the stand-up world as one of their most playfully frank voices on mental illness. As part of the “Comedians of Comedy” crew that defined alt-comedy in the mid-2000s, Bamford built a brand for herself by working through her struggles with bipolar disorder and OCD through her act, using all the varied vocal tonalities that the technical performer has honed so well.
In her recent memoir, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult, Bamford walks through her many decades of mental health struggles and the work she’s done to manage her diagnoses. During a promotion for the book on last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Bamford warned others struggling with similar illnesses about a common stumbling block for the neuroatypical — internet humor. “There’s a lot of memes out there, they say like, ‘Hey you, ask for help!’ and, ‘Hey, tell someone!’” Bamford explained, saying that the painfully obvious advice can “make you feel like an idiot.” If telling someone was the simplest way to fully treat mental illness, Bamford would have been well again halfway through the pilot of Lady Dynamite.
Obviously, reaching out for help is good advice for anyone going through tough times, but Bamford says that it’s not as easy a process as the memes make it out to be. “Sometimes you can call, even text Suicide Hotline,” Bamford explained. “(But) sometimes there’s a 45-to-90 minute wait during peak surge hours like the Super Bowl.” Bamford’s answer to this problem is to open your mind to other possibilities: “I say, lower the bar to accessing mental health care. Call freaking anybody.”
“I called Hertz Rent-A-Car,” Bamford continued. “This woman picked up on the first ring. I told her what was going on — you know, I’m clearly a waste of resources. She said, ‘All I can do is lease you a car,’ and, before hanging up on me she did say, ‘You know what sweetheart? I do believe every human life has value. You take care.’” Bamford cracked of the exchange, “Come on! That’s not nothing!”
Bamford’s real ace-in-the-hole, however, has a much more political bent. “I love to call the anti-abortion people,” Bamford explained, “because all their literature says life is a gift. Have them take the time to prove it to you!” She remembered a certain call to the pro-lifers when she told them, “I’m not pregnant, my mother was, and that saucy lady kept it. So, 53 years later, what’s the plan? I would like to be placed in a loving home!”