Maria Bamford on Getting an STD From a Ferengi and Why Show Business Is Like an Alcoholic Friend

The comedian and star of <em>Lady Dynamite</em> gives us her L.A. story

One thing I love about Los Angeles is the extreme highs and lows. I did a set on The Tonight Show for the first time, and the next day I went back to being a receptionist at NBC. The weatherman walked by and said, “Weren’t you on The Tonight Show last night?” And I was like, “Yeah.” It’s consistently humbling. Show business is like a friend with a terrible drinking problem. Sometimes it’s like “I love you so much! You’re so beautiful, and you’re the most funny. We’re, like, sisters.” Then the next day it’s “I never said any of those things.” I came to L.A. from Minnesota when I was 24 or 25, and I got a job in a Star Trek touring show. I was a Bajoran, which is basically a sexy space lady with a nosepiece. I dated a Vulcan and a Ferengi—the ones with the big ears. That work dried up almost immediately. I was living in Koreatown, and I thought it was safe because it had palm trees. It was so fancy—my God, palm trees!—but I was living by myself, and a number of catastrophic things happened. My neighbor had just gotten out of jail, there were knife fights, and I was mugged. I went to the Planned Parenthood on Vermont because I got an STD from the Ferengi, and they go, “Ugh, how could you let this get so bad?” I thought, “I am getting shame from the Planned Parenthood in Hollywood. This is a real low.” I couldn’t pay the rent and didn’t have insurance, and I have mental illness issues, so I couldn’t get meds. I ended up getting involved with a 12-step community that deals with money, and it saved my life.

I spent time in two different psychiatric facilities: Glendale Adventist and Las Encinas. There were a lot of things that make you feel kind of mental, like puzzles without all the pieces. At Las Encinas I had an interview with a psychiatrist. I told him I was a comedian. He YouTubed me on his iPad and was like, “You’re pretty funny!” I was desperately suicidal at the time, and I think he said, “I had to Google you to make sure you weren’t having grandiose delusions.” It’s not like I said I was Richard Pryor.

I read a book about building community, and it said if you give people a place to sit down, they’ll sit. So I went online and bought a park bench. It’s outside of our house in Eagle Rock. It’s been tagged by a couple of people, but that means it’s part of the community! I put out sidewalk chalk, and someone put penises up and down the entire block. There are lots of mysterious things happening on the block: Another neighbor operates a little lending library. A guy who I believe may have some mental illness problems will clear it of books and then tear them apart and put them in the trash. He must be feeling terrible. But I guess that’s the extent of Los Angeles’s mental health services. At least we’re providing books to tear up.