A favorite among alternative comedy followers for two decades, Maria Bamford's anxious stage persona and exceptionally expressive voice gave her a diverse career that included several comedy albums, a handful of offbeat comedy specials, and numerous voice-over and acting roles in projects ranging from "WordGirl" (PBS Kids 2006- ) to "Arrested Development" (Fox 2003-2006; Netflix 2013- ). The daughter of medical professionals, Bamford turned to stand-up in her teens and worked her way up to television appearances in the late 1990s. A brief turn as a temp worker at Nickelodeon led to regular voice work on countless animated shows for the network and other companies, while grown-ups enjoyed her surreal stand-up observations as part of the "Comedians of Comedy" tour, which served as the basis of a 2005 documentary. After suffering a brief hospitalization for depression in 2009, Bamford emerged busier and more creatively inspired than ever, producing numerous specials for the Internet while logging countless hours in voice-over and acting roles. Bamford's skewed perspective on life and family, as well as her gifted vocal abilities, made her one of the most versatile comic performers of the 2000s.
She was born Maria Elizabeth Sheldon Bamford on September 3, 1970 on the naval base in Port Hueneme, California, where her father served as a Navy doctor. Her family later relocated to Duluth, Minnesota, where she made her first stage appearance at the age of 11 in a student production at the Chester Park Elementary School. Bamford began performing comedy as a teenager in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while also studying at Bates College, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Minnesota, from which she received a degree in creative writing. In the late '90s, Bamford began appearing on variety and talk shows while also enjoying a side career as a voice artist for a wide variety of animated series, including "Hey Arnold" (Nickelodeon 1996-2004), "CatDog" (Nickelodeon 1998-2005) and "WordGirl" (PBS Kids 2006- ). In 2001, she landed her first primetime stand-up special on "Comedy Central Presents" (Comedy Central 1998- ) and earned a second in 2007, which made her the only female comic to have two specials on the network.
Bamford's stand-up career gained considerable momentum in the mid-2000s thanks to fans of the alternative comedy movement, which embraced her vignette-driven style. She released her first comedy album, "The Burning Bridges Tour," in 2003, shortly before joining fellow alt-comics Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn for "The Comedians of Comedy" tour. Their appearances at various rock clubs, instead of comedy venues, was the subject of a 2005 documentary, also titled "The Comedians of Comedy," as well as a six-episode television series for Comedy Central that same year. Following the conclusion of the tour and related projects, Bamford released her second CD, "How to WIN!" (2007), and worked steadily as an actor and voice-over performer on projects ranging from the animated film "Barnyard" (2006) to the offbeat "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job" (Adult Swim 2007-2010). At the height of her popularity and media exposure, which included a series of Target commercials that featured Bamford as an A-type shopper, Bamford was briefly hospitalized due to depression and diagnosed as Bipolar II.
She rebounded in 2009 with a slew of new creative projects, including her third comedy album, "Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome" (2009), multiple vocal roles on the critically acclaimed animation series "Adventure Time" (Adult Swim 2010- ) and writing contributions to The Onion and GQ, among other publications. She also parlayed her brief hospital stay into a critically acclaimed web series, "The Maria Bamford Show" (2009), in which she played all of the roles, including a version of herself after suffering a nervous breakdown. Bamford's career continued its upward swing in the 2010s with standout turns as a hotwired girlfriend of Louis C.K on "Louie" (FX 2010-15) and as David Cross's love interest on the revived "Arrested Development." She also won rave reviews for "The Special Special Special" (Chill.com 2012), a download-only project that featured Bamford performing for an audience that consisted entirely of her parents, and a web series called "Ask My Mom" (Blip, 2013), in which she portrayed herself and her 70-year-old mother, who doled out advice on a variety of subjects.