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Comic Maria Bamford is down to 'Join Your Cult'

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. And today, my guest is comedian Maria Bamford. She's written a new memoir called "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." It's a hilarious account of some of the extreme steps Bamford has taken to belong, from earnestly taking advice from self-help books to attending Debtors and Overeaters Anonymous meetings.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIA BAMFORD: Here's what I love about these meetings - No. 1, free; No. 2, free; No. 3, they can't kick you out. That's one of the main rules of the cult. So even if I go to a meeting with a full bottle of Jack Daniel's and I'm eating an ice cream cake with a stolen porn DVD...

(LAUGHTER)

BAMFORD: ...All anybody will ever say to me is, keep coming back.

(LAUGHTER)

MOSLEY: That was a clip from Maria Bamford's comedy album "CROWD-PLEASER!" which compliments her new memoir. Bamford is known for making fun of her mental illnesses, including her bipolar II disorder. The Netflix original series "Lady Dynamite," which aired for two seasons, was loosely based on her life. In 2014, Bamford was awarded best club comic at the American Comedy Awards and breakout comedy star at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Her other comedy specials include "The Maria Bamford Show" and "Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome." In Season 4 of "Arrested Development," she played DeBrie Bardeaux, Tobias Funke's love interest. Bamford is also a voice actor, starring in several animated series, including "BoJack Horseman," "Adventure Time" and "WordGirl." Her new memoir, again, is titled "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult."

Maria Bamford, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

BAMFORD: Thank you so much for having me, Tonya. I'm delighted.

MOSLEY: I want to play a clip from "CROWD-PLEASER!" where you talk about cults in the context of 12-step groups. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BAMFORD: They're very weird. They're very weird, pseudo-spiritual, paternalistic, Judeo-Christian language - the, thou, He, Him, et cetera. Peer counseling was a terrible idea. My husband went - he - I brought my husband to one of the meetings, and he said, these people need professional help.

(LAUGHTER)

BAMFORD: Yes. Yes, they do. And yet none is forthcoming. And so here we are in this Zoom breakout room.

(LAUGHTER)

MOSLEY: That's Maria Bamford from her new comedy album, "CROWD-PLEASER!" And, Maria, you're using this term cult loosely. I guess...

BAMFORD: Yes.

MOSLEY: ...Really, there is a fine line between self-help and joining a cult.

BAMFORD: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think every - I mean, with the - I think I put the definition at the beginning of the book of - that it's just a group of people with a unique set of beliefs. So I think sometimes I don't always realize when I'm adhering to a set of beliefs that are odd, you know, that not everybody is. You know, I think show business is definitely sort of a cult thing. I live in Los Angeles, and, you know, it's not questioned of, like, if your business calls, you do whatever they say, you know?

MOSLEY: Whatever it takes. Right.

BAMFORD: Yeah. Yeah. As if it's a minor god. And, yeah, so - but everyone's on strike, so I guess there is no God.

MOSLEY: Well, how many 12-step programs have you been a part of, and...

BAMFORD: I've been...

MOSLEY: ...What do you like most about them?

BAMFORD: I've been to, I think, around five. And I just want to say that is one of the main cult rules. You're not supposed to say publicly which groups you attend, which my joke is that that's impossible for me. I tell everybody everything, which is preventative honesty. If I tell you every single thing about myself, you can't, at a later date, say but. Oh, I believe I was very clear on my second album, third track.

But, yeah, I've been in - have attended Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Al-Anon, which is for friends and family of alcoholics. I've been to Alcoholics Anonymous mostly just to their meetings just when I'm out of town, just as a place to go and see some - have some face-to-face - F-to-F - because I do believe - for me, anyways, this is how I use these groups - is it's cognitive behavioral therapy or just the healing eye contact of other individuals talking in a place that's authentic and trying to do something more positive with their lives. And it's also harm reduction. If I'm in my - in a church basement for 90 minutes, that's 90 minutes I won't be alone in a hotel room compulsively ordering nitro cold brew.

MOSLEY: Oh, my God. I think I've heard - like, I've heard - I think it was Mike Tyson who said he goes to - every city he goes to, the first thing he does is find a 12-step. And it doesn't even matter what kind of group it is. He will go...

BAMFORD: Oh.

MOSLEY: ...And sit in it.

BAMFORD: Yeah.

MOSLEY: That's that same...

BAMFORD: Yeah.

MOSLEY: ...Thing. Yeah.

BAMFORD: Yeah. It's really comforting. And there is - one of the things they always say in these groups is take what you want, leave the rest. There's no - the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop doing whatever the nonsense the group is about. So it's all about just a desire. You don't even have to stop doing the thing, which I love. And, yeah, it's a very welcoming space. It reminds me a lot of open mics - comedy open mics. If you've ever been to a comedy open mic, there's a bucket, and you put your name in the bucket, and then you get to go up and talk about whatever you want for - usually it's three to five minutes if you're in a major city. But I really like that democratic process where no one's in charge. And even if you're saying something awful, you know, like, people are going to go, all right.

MOSLEY: It is pretty hilarious how you describe the differences in the people who are part of these 12-step groups. So, for instance, you're part of Overeaters Anonymous. Of course, they're different than those who are part of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

BAMFORD: Yes. Yeah. So there's - well, there's a vibe to every single group that you go to. So there's, you know, always just different personalities. I would say in the South, sometimes there's more of a Christian element. People will mention Christian things more often. But, yeah, Overeaters Anonymous is more often women, though not always. You know, definitely, there's men who suffer from eating disorders. But it's more of a quiet vibe, also, I want to say, more sorrowful, you know, because there's this loss and there aren't any snacks, too, at the meeting...

MOSLEY: Right.

BAMFORD: ...Which is something that - there was always snacks at NA and AA. Now, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is - there's this - there's - at least this is my experience, is it's kind of like a club when all the lights come on at the end of the night and you go, oh, that's who I've been talking to? Like, and everyone's got that - everyone's got a vibe. Like, everyone's - has those beautiful eyes that you look into and you kind of lose yourself in. Those are the kind of people, including myself - and I include myself in that group. I used to try to seduce people.

MOSLEY: Shifting gears a little bit, Maria, the first cult you joined, as you write in this book, was your family. And I want to offer my condolences on the death of your father, who died...

BAMFORD: Thank you.

MOSLEY: ...While you were writing this memoir, and your mom, who passed away a few years ago. We really got to know them, in a way, through your comedy.

BAMFORD: Yes. They - I miss them every single day. And I think I didn't realize, like, how - but especially until they died - and I'm sure this happens to many people, like, how much I really followed their philosophies. My mom - I - my mom used to always - I always felt like she always got the perfect thing. Like, she knew what was perfect, and she got the perfect - you know, knew the right thing for everything. And then I realized after she passed, she just chose to see everything she got as the perfect right thing. Like, you know, if I'm holding this pen in the recording studio, (impersonating mother) oh, this is wonderful. Well, it doesn't have a cap, but you don't need a cap, you know, 'cause you're going to be writing. You know, you just don't need a cap. There's no need. And you just use it. This is - gosh, of course they have a prismacolor premier, you know?

MOSLEY: I love the voice.

BAMFORD: 'Cause this is classy.

MOSLEY: Yeah.

BAMFORD: Yeah. She was very, very positive and had very strong opinions about, you know - but she would - as soon as she met somebody, she would be on board like, (impersonating mother) Tonya Mosley. Have you met her? Oh, my God.

MOSLEY: (Laughter).

BAMFORD: She's darling and so gifted. And she's out of Detroit. And we have family from there. And so you know she's good people, you know?

MOSLEY: Would she try to introduce me to family? Would that be something she would do?

BAMFORD: Oh - she would amp you up to the next person she met. Like, so she would...

MOSLEY: Yeah.

BAMFORD: ...Have your information. Then she'd have Google - you know, Google you, tell everybody. She was a hype man for everyone.

MOSLEY: The No. 1 thing that every cult has is a masterful leader.

BAMFORD: Oh, right.

MOSLEY: And in your family, you write that your mom was the leader.

BAMFORD: For sure.

MOSLEY: So aside from her, like, making everything good - and she had a positive outlook - what made her the leader.

BAMFORD: She - well, she had the enthusiasm for everything. So she was delighted by everything. And she had some strong - yeah, just - she loved to travel. She loved things that were - I mean part of the reason I got into show business - she loved things that were shiny, like fame and prestige, things like - she liked to win. She liked the idea of people who were the best. Like, so my sister, when she became a physician, I think that was a real piece of tinfoil for my mother's nest. As well as, you know, when I have experienced any level of success, she likes to - she was very excited by that. And I would - my sister and I definitely bring her stuff to go, is this good enough, and is this going to make the cut?

MOSLEY: That type of person, the person who is absolute in their thoughts, their opinions, there is something to their opinion that you really value because when they like something, it kind of showers over you. It's like, OK, I know this is good because they said. So your mom, for instance, like, she had lots of opinions and analysis, as you said, so...

BAMFORD: Oh, yeah.

MOSLEY: ...Like, Delta Airlines is good. American, not so good.

BAMFORD: Not good.

MOSLEY: Yeah.

BAMFORD: And it's like - I mean, how true it is, I don't know. (Impersonating mother) Nordstrom is wonderful. And Nordstrom Rack, are you kidding me? I mean, I don't know what's going on in there, but don't do it. Don't waste your time.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is comedian and actor Maria Bamford. She's written a new book called "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." It's a memoir of mental illness and the quest to belong. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. And today we're talking to comedian Maria Bamford. She's written a new memoir called "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." She also has a new album called "CROWD-PLEASER!" Both are about her life in show business, mental health and the comfort so many of us gain from rigid belief systems.

One thing that you've been very open about is your intrusive thoughts. I think you actually talked about it quite a bit the last time you were on the show with Terry. And basically, it's a form of OCD where these thoughts come into your head, and then they can be overwhelming because you ruminate on them, especially when you were younger and you were a child. You didn't have coping mechanisms. Can you describe it, that loop?

BAMFORD: Sure. So it's like - everybody has these thoughts that kind of pass through your head. Like, I know Jake Johannsen is a comedian who had this joke like, do you ever look at your dog's butt and go, that's kind of sexy? Like...

MOSLEY: Oh, my God.

BAMFORD: ...Which he gets - it was something - I'm not sure - I'm probably misquoting that, but it was...

MOSLEY: Something like that. Yeah.

BAMFORD: ...Like, these weird thoughts that just come into your head where you're like, oh, whoa, that was weird. Now, somebody who is anxious, who is prone to OCD might say, I just had the most monstrous thought that my dog's butt look sexy. That means something about me. I've got to get - I got to make sure I never have that thought again. Now, if you do have an OCD, you know, brain, then what might happen is that then you start doing things - because the thought will never go away, you start avoiding dogs. Like, you start not going anywhere near dog parks, going - you maybe adopt your dog out. Like, you really are tormented by this anxiety, though you've never acted out on it, though it's not something that you actually feel about your dog. Like, it's, like - it's a fear-based thing of something that you fear is going to happen.

MOSLEY: Right.

BAMFORD: So one of the one of the primary ways of treating it is exposure response prevention. So here's another intrusive thought. Like, sometimes people have a fear that they're going to hurt somebody, like push somebody into the subway. OK, so they never take the subway, and that's - all of a sudden, they've started avoiding all these things so that they make sure that they never push anybody to the subway, even though they've never done that before. They have no plans to do it. They - that's - desperately don't want to do that. So that's why they're even - maybe not even going out, maybe staying in their apartment so that they avoid hurting people. So one of the exposure response prevention things might be you go with your therapist to the subway. Your therapist stands in front of you on the subway platform, and then you just stand there. And you could push your therapist into the subway, but the whole thing is the realization that you don't.

MOSLEY: Have you ever gone through this type of (inaudible)?

BAMFORD: Yes, yes.

MOSLEY: Yeah. What was it for? What was the fear?

BAMFORD: It was - I was - since the age of 10, I have had these fears that I was going to hurt other people that I love, or - they began when - alongside - my sister gave me these - it's something where you - kids, they start doing it usually in junior high, where they give a twist to somebody's nipples and they do it to boys, girls, etc. My sister had it done to her. She did it to me, and I felt super freaked out and thought, oh, what if now I'm going to do that to other people? I got very anxious. Then - I watched a lot of TV as a kid. I read a lot of books. So I got more creative. That's part of OCD imagination, is that some of the obsessions or fears get very weird. I got afraid that I was going to become a serial killer, that I would kill my friends and family. I would avoid knife drawers, that type of thing. I started staying up all night and kind of sitting up - sitting on my hands to prevent myself from doing anything violent. And the - yeah, I tried to tell my mother about what was happening in my brain, and she was like, honey, it's OK if you're gay.

MOSLEY: (Laughter).

BAMFORD: And that brought a whole slew of new other obsessions and fears. And it's kind of whatever is taboo in your culture, that's what you're going to be afraid of acting on. So if - there's religious obsessions, there's ethical obsessions. There's - one that's very common is with new mothers who have - that they're afraid they're going to hurt their baby.

MOSLEY: Absolutely. Yeah.

BAMFORD: There's OCD - pedophilia OCD, where you're afraid that despite having never acted out on it, despite having no desire to, having no sociopathy, you are afraid that you are a pedophile. So you start to avoid being with children. So it runs the - like, all over the place. It could be anything. It destroys the things you love. That is what OCD does.

MOSLEY: That's powerful, that it destroys the things you love, and your mind can't turn this off. So you have to find coping mechanisms 'cause I think to a certain extent, like, we've always heard that every thought we have is OK. Even the craziest, most insane thoughts are OK as long as you don't act on every thought. But if there's an intense fear that you're going to act on it, then it takes away your joy. People can talk to you about that 'cause you've opened the door with your intrusive thoughts. But - right? - these are not thoughts that we can just share with everyday people. Like, you have this lens into people's minds, you know?

BAMFORD: No. No. And you can get - yeah, be careful who you share intrusive thoughts with. If they have any - they need to have some OCD background therapy. I once was kept in the psych ward for 10 extra days because I tried to explain to the psychiatrist. He - the weekend psychiatrist had asked me - was like, oh, what's your history? And so I explained to him. And I was hypomanic. So I was kind of excited to explain to him what intrusive thoughts OCD was. And he was like, no, you're a danger to others. And so he locked me down for 10 days. Also, I went to a therapist who did not have any experience with OCD, and I basically paid her 75 bucks to call the police. She cashed that check, and the cops didn't come 'cause we're in Los Angeles and they're too busy. But, yeah, so it's not always - people can be very frightened or disturbed by you sharing something...

MOSLEY: Sure.

BAMFORD: ...That they don't understand.

MOSLEY: Our guest today is comedian Maria Bamford talking about her memoir, "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." We'll be right back. I'm Tonya Mosley, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA AND BELA FLECK'S "BRAZIL (LIVE)")

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. And today, we're talking to comedian and actor Maria Bamford. She's written a new memoir titled "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." Bamford also has a new comedy album called "CROWD-PLEASER!" Both are about her life in show business, mental health and the comfort of rigid belief systems.

I want to talk about something you joke about often, and it falls loosely under this talk about cults. And that is what you call the Temple of Thin.

BAMFORD: Yes.

MOSLEY: So there is this story in your stand-up where you talk about the last days of your mother's life when she was in hospice. And in it, you, of course, impersonate her voice, as you do so well. Let's listen to a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BAMFORD: My mom was positive till the end. (Impersonating mother) You know, I mean, the great thing about this whole thing is this is the first time in my life I've been below goal weight on Weight Watchers.

(LAUGHTER)

BAMFORD: Mom, you do know that even if a coffin is tighter on the hips, eventually it fits.

(LAUGHTER)

BAMFORD: (Impersonating mother) Honey, do not do that one. That is not a good one.

(LAUGHTER)

BAMFORD: But the joke's on me 'cause she got herself cremated, and now she's just a pound.

(LAUGHTER)

BAMFORD: She can wear anything.

(LAUGHTER)

MOSLEY: That was Maria Bamford from her comedy album, "CROWD-PLEASER!"

OK. So, I mean, listening to that joke, all I could think was I hope to God that I am not still worrying about my weight when I am...

BAMFORD: Right?

MOSLEY: ...On my deathbed.

BAMFORD: Right.

MOSLEY: And yet, I see the satisfaction of finally getting to your goal weight. Is that horrible...

BAMFORD: No.

MOSLEY: ...To say?

BAMFORD: No. It is bizarre. And I think that is sort of, like, the - I mean, I love my mom so much, and - but she - that was kind of her - one of her hobbies or, like, - basically every day, she would write down her weight and had journals and journals of - and she was an active person. Like, it didn't disable her. It didn't, like, take her out of the game. She was very - would totally do stuff. Like, if she had disordered eating, it wasn't - didn't make her life small or anything. She just was kind of always upset about her weight. But...

MOSLEY: Do you think it was the mark of her generation, too? It seems like they were very weight conscious in the way of writing down your weight every day, that kind of thing - weighing yourself every day.

BAMFORD: Yeah. I don't know. I don't think it's gone away. I just think - I mean, I think there is a lot more body positivity, but, yeah, I think it's definitely still a thing, at least for people I know, you know? And - but as I get older, I'm hoping that I have less interest in that stuff. But it's hard because it is - was set in me early - and even my dad. My dad - part of the reason he died, I think, was depression. And he also got very obsessed - and I don't know if this is a thing with dementia - of trying to - he was worried that he was going to get fat and had - anyways, he was 5'10", probably, like, 120 pounds. And he got COVID, and he passed, partially because his body just didn't have any extra to maintain him on. He was very weak. So, yeah, being thin - but that was a major value in our family, was my mom was always on a diet, always no butter, no - like, yeah, no sugar or - in the house - like, bananas.

MOSLEY: Yeah. You write and you talk quite a bit about your own eating disorder and that magical number that you're always looking for on the scale and the five-pound difference between that number and the number that then gets you worried. It's just really interesting how you say as you get older, maybe that grip has lifted a little bit. Does it feel different? Is the obsession - does it lessen?

BAMFORD: I hope so. I don't - I think it's kind of like a - I mean, that's the other thing I like about 12-step groups is, like, it is kind of a day at a time. Like, I can go back into the - yeah, into that freak-out immediately, if I wish. But, yeah, I'm hoping that as I deteriorate and it's - yeah, that it's - I'll be more accepting of myself and also spend more time thinking about other things.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is comedian and actor Maria Bamford. She's written a new book called "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." It's a memoir about mental illness and the quest to belong. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODY ROYSTON'S "BED BOBBIN'")

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. Today, we're talking to comedian Maria Bamford. She's written a new memoir called "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult." She also has a new album called "CROWD-PLEASER!" Both are about her life in show business, mental health and the comfort of rigid belief systems. The next part of our conversation is about Bamford's experience with suicidal thoughts. So this is a good time to mention that if you're having thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, help is available by dialing or texting 988, the number for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

I want to talk a little bit about this other big taboo topic that you joke a lot about, and that is suicidal thoughts. You write that thinking about suicide feels more like fantasy football to you. Can you explain this?

BAMFORD: Yeah. I think it was always a comfort to me, and I think to many people, like, it's just sort of a passing thought of - there's only been one time in my life - that was about 10 years ago - what the TV show was based on, where I really - I felt I had lost myself and was just - really wanted to die. I mean, really, every moment was untenable, unbearable. And so I've had that experience. At other points in my life, I have not been somebody who's acted out on my suicidal ideation. I've definitely felt extremely depressed and wanted to escape. But I think it's been more of an escape valve for me of I feel so terrible; I wish this would stop. I know that with other people with suicidal ideation and/or impulses that it's dangerous and that people - you know, it's more impulsive.

MOSLEY: Right.

BAMFORD: I don't have that experience, so I don't want to speak to that. But I've only been in that in that situation once where I got 5150'd where I was, like - and that's when you're - they say you're a danger to yourself and...

MOSLEY: Or to others, yeah.

BAMFORD: To others, yeah. And so - and I was put in the hospital, which I was grateful for because I - one thing that is - I'm sure anyone who takes medication will know this, is - of course, the clinicians will send you home with so many meds, it's hilarious. Like, you know, I'm not well, but, you know, the amount I had warehoused - you know, a ton of pills at a certain point - and was thinking of utilizing them just 'cause I - just didn't have the - didn't believe that things were going to get any better. And I think it is hard to believe that...

MOSLEY: Yeah.

BAMFORD: ...When you're feeling so terrible.

MOSLEY: Right. The irony, though, of you being suicidal...

BAMFORD: Yeah.

MOSLEY: ...And then being given a whole lot of medications as you're being discharged, right? You know, I feel like, as the person receiving a joke about suicide ideation, it's kind of a hard position to be in because, at least for me, I immediately go into all-hands-on-deck intervention mode if anyone says an offhanded joke or a comment about wanting to end their life. How does one know the difference? Like, how do you know the difference between your friends who might have dark humor like yourself versus, you know, a real cry for help?

BAMFORD: Yeah. I think it's about actually asking, you know? Like, I mean, if you really genuinely are concerned about somebody, you can say - I know I get comments on YouTube - this is a cry for help - you know, and fair enough. I'm glad that they care, like - but I think - yeah, it's about asking 'cause I definitely - I just took a peer specialist training - a class through the Painted Brain here in Los Angeles, and you can train to be a peer specialist. It's usually 80 to 90 hours of training. All you need to have is lived experience with mental health or a drug or alcohol addiction. And there's many jobs that are available nationwide in these positions to help. It's a different experience from when they just call the cops. Now they call these psychiatric emergency teams. And so a peer specialist will often go with them or often answering suicide hotlines, et cetera. But that's something you can train to do in the - and it's a fairly good wage. So I like to tell people about that. I just got certified...

MOSLEY: Was this always something you wanted to do, or what made you decide to be certified?

BAMFORD: Well, I - yeah. Well, I'd like to be more useful. Like, I'd like to be - 'cause sometimes people come to comedy clubs, and that's where you can access somebody to tell that you're not doing well, you know, about - it's easier to come to a show than it is to get in to be seen by anybody. You know, I get it. So - but for...

MOSLEY: I'm also thinking about - your audience probably gravitates to you because they know, you know, this is a space where these topics are talked about in a way that is open. It allows them space. So you are interacting with people who might be dealing with real challenges.

BAMFORD: Yeah, and - which I'm pumped for, you know? I am - I love - yes, please come to the show by yourself. I will sign your pill bottle. I will...

MOSLEY: (Laughter).

BAMFORD: I'm often - I'm an assignment from a therapist sometimes. But - oh, but from the peer specialist thing, one of their philosophies is - as peers - is that it's centered on what the person wants. Like, so even if someone is suicidal, it's, like, really listening to what they need instead of, like, going into this panicked, well, we've got to get all hands on deck. And it's like, are you even listening to the person, you know, like, and what they - what's going on for them? What could they possibly need in this moment instead of this - yes, call 911. You know, that that can be helpful, though, sometimes from - I've had many friends who have said - was not helpful and, in fact, can get you killed...

MOSLEY: Right.

BAMFORD: ...Depending on what neighborhood you live in, what color your skin is, you know, so it's not - or whatever your mental health diagnosis is. Sometimes people with certain behaviors - it's - are - can be hurt or killed. So...

MOSLEY: Yeah. And that's why there is the - just - I just want to step in to say that if anyone's struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call - there's a specific number for Suicide & Crisis Hotline. It's 988, so not 911. Nine-eight-eight. is the number to call. Yeah.

BAMFORD: Nine-eight-eight. And also to let people know that when you call 988 or text 988, you know, there is - can be a wait time. It's also a human being on the phone. So, you know, if you don't like who you talk to, call again. Like, there's - that help is out there, and it may not be perfect - like - 'cause I think that sometimes - I think that can feel kind of hopeless, like, if you talk to somebody who doesn't understand what you're talking about or - but it's just like any service. Like, hang up, call again. You know, if it's - sometimes there's a 45-minute wait during peak surge hours for 988.

MOSLEY: Wow.

BAMFORD: Yeah. So just keep - you know, and, I mean, I joke about this but call [expletive] anybody. And I'm swearing, but call anybody. Call any - a local business. Talk to somebody on the phone, say what you're doing. Like, do not limit yourself to these - 'cause I think sometimes that makes me feel sad when it's sort of like everything's put off on these, like, well, take care of yourself. Call the suicide hotline. You know, do it, you know? And it's like - yeah, just doesn't have to be a professional.

MOSLEY: You said that you love to go where the love is, meaning you don't like to bomb either. There's a sense that - for me, I know, when looking at your career trajectory, that you go where your audience is. So how would you describe your core audience, the folks who know and love you and come to your shows?

BAMFORD: I guess anybody - yeah, usually people who are - you know, don't like to drink too much because once you drink too much, then it's - I got too many words in there. And then I think kind of fellow, you know, weirdos, like, in terms of creative - people that have dreams - dreamers and people with mental health experiences or friends and family of. And I know that sometimes comedians come see me and go, huh. And then - (laughter). That - yeah, I think - that's my favorite. I do like performing for other comedians 'cause that's the best.

MOSLEY: Really? How come?

BAMFORD: Just that - I mean, well, if I bomb, it's - that's so sad. I just bombed. I don't do benefits anymore because what happens with a benefit, Tonya, is that the person who hires you is a big fan. The person who's trying to raise money for schizophrenia research - huge fan 'cause he has schizophrenia. We see eye-to-eye. Right on. People he's trying to get money from are a bunch of winos in Napa Valley, Calif. So who opens up? Yamaneika Saunders, who is a tremendous powerhouse. She destroys, kills. Then she brings me up. I do about 15 minutes. People begin clapping in a way that suggests that they either hope I'm done or think that I'm done. I have to explain to them, I got 15 more minutes I'm contracted to do. My apologies. I'm also disappointed. And then I bring up the last act, who is always the right act for every room, and that man is Mr. Howie Mandel.

MOSLEY: Oh.

BAMFORD: But there's no need for me to do benefits anymore because - yeah, they just - I - have you ever been at something to raise money where you have to suffer through a creative act on behalf of Parkinson's? Like, what's happening? Rich people, just put all your money in a pile. We don't have to put a show on.

MOSLEY: Maria Bamford, thank you so much for this conversation.

BAMFORD: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

MOSLEY: Maria Bamford is a comedian and author of the new memoir "Sure, I'll Join Your Cult."

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO'S "GREAT DAY")

MOSLEY: Coming up, our critic-at-large, John Powers, reviews the Danish crime series "Face To Face." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEBO VALDES TRIO'S "PARE COCHERO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Tonya Mosley is the LA-based co-host of Here & Now, a midday radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR. She's also the host of the podcast Truth Be Told.