If the holidays flood your heart with an arctic chill and the inescapable death cloud of dread; if you feel devoid of gift inspiration and have nobody special in your life to make you feel truly known and cared for with a gift in return; if the darkness descending promptly at 4:47 p.m. every day makes you want to pull out your hair by the roots and snarf down eggnog-free whiskey until you hit sweet oblivion, Maria Bamford knows how you feel.
She knows that beneath the gauzy Hallmark veneer, Christmas is also a time to stick families too close together for too long in a pressure cooker of secrets, expectations, and resentments, perhaps in a city where it’s too damn cold to go outside much. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to not be alone. Yes, Maria Bamford, one of our most thrilling and crucial comedians, is acutely familiar with the true meaning of being freaked out by Christmas, which is why she made a frazzledelic holiday special celebrating the cerebral carnage of it all: Ave Maria Bamford.
It’s a 12-episode trip into the psyche of someone who has just barely learned to cope with Christmastime stress, which should make anyone struggling to get through the holidays feel extremely seen.
“I’ve been medicated for six years now. I don’t know if I feel happy, but I feel a low-grade contentment at all times,” Bamford says during a recent chat with Fast Company. “But before then, the holidays for me would feel unmanageably sad.”
The comedian, whose real-life bouts with mental illness inspired her Netflix series Lady Dynamite, has had more than her fair share of rough holidays. The end of the year conjures memories of having to leave rooms to weep uncontrollably, tearing up at regular intervals, and having to go for walks around the block to stop weeping. She’s suffered through addiction, financial failure, and the end of a relationship during the holidays, but sometimes all it takes is the malignant interpretation of a comment from her mom to fill her mental stocking with coal. Even now, in a relatively healthy space, Christmas has a way of making her feel… not right.
“I like the time off and the idea of it all, but there are feelings of isolation, like you should be feeling something else other than what you’re feeling,” Bamford says, trailing off before sighing and adding, “Anyways, the world is on fire.”
All of these jangled nerves wrought by jingle bells led the comedian to create Ave Maria Bamford, a collaboration with the visual storytelling platform Topic.com. Each short episode of the just-released series features Bamford venting about a different soul-crushing aspect of the holidays—from the aforementioned existential despair to the perils of being a single mom (you know, like Mary Magdalene?). There’s even a chapter on climate change, which can be depressingly evident during unseasonably temperate Decembers. (“Climate change: It isn’t real… but what if it was!” she says in a loopy cadence, slyly mocking those who still don’t believe in science.)
If each of these darkly bubbly rants, delivered mostly while wearing faux-papal regalia, sounds raw and immediate, it’s because the series wasn’t scripted. It’s more of a riffing festival, with Bamford seizing on her well-considered targets, with stream-of-conscious darts. She offers zero solutions–“I don’t find there are any solutions”–but rather simply catalogs several flavors of holiday-specific neuroses, as though enshrining them in a museum of trauma.
So how is Bamford planning to make it through this year’s holidays, the political turmoil around which might make them seem bleaker than usual?
“Several 12-step programs that will remain nameless,” she says. “It’s good to see people face to face and hear what’s actually going on in people’s brains. I can have a perception, like, ‘Oh, somebody’s wearing earrings and a necklace that light up, they must be having a great holiday season!'” And then if you hear them in a support group meeting and they’re–‘I’m on my second divorce and the kids are not speaking to me’–it feels like a reality check that you’re not alone.”
For anyone unable to make it to an actual 12-step group for the holiday season, well, at least there are 12 episodes of Ave Maria Bamford.