The Bamford family's creative projects help explain where Maria gets her funny

Categories: Comedy
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Clockwise: Sarah Bamford Seidelmann's upcoming book, Joel Bamford's No Soap logo, and Seidelmann's smartphone app.
Growing up, Maria Bamford was no class clown or attention hog, not an obvious candidate to become an inventive comedienne. But taking a look at the other members of the family Bamford helps explain some of her creative gifts: the rest of the clan has its own stock of projects, some as original, witty, or goofy as Maria's.

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On the surface, the Bamfords look like a family of doctors. Dad Joel is a dermatologist, mom Marilyn has been a social worker and is now a family therapist, and sister Sarah Bamford Seidelmann is a pathologist. So they collectively play the straight man for Maria over the dinner table, right?

Not so much. In Maria's most recent special, her parents are on camera, an audience of two for their daughter's act. It's not the first time they've stepped out of the shadows of joke fodder and directly participated in Maria's comedy.

About three years ago, Joel opened for Maria at a motorcycle rally near Duluth, at Spirit Mountain. "There was this group of people who, most of them had no idea who Maria is," Marilyn remembers, "and here's my husband, who has never done standup comedy in his life."

Nerves caused Joel to forget some of his jokes. "My dad bombed, and then I bombed," Maria says. "It was a family affair."

The family's funny side comes out in more independent ways, too. For 20 years -- "ever since the internet started," says Maria -- Joel has had a sideline gig to his medical practice, as a co-purveyor of Dr. Bamford's "No Soap."
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The back of a bar of No Soap.

"My dad sells these bars of soap, or well, they're bars of wood," Maria explains. At SoapAlternatives.com, potential No Soap owners can follow a two-step process to obtain their own bar of wood shaped like a bar of soap. One: Send $25 to a skin-related charity. Two: Mail Joel proof of the donation and your address. Three: Wait up to nine weeks, due to "staff vacations, personally designated holidays," and so on, says the website.

Joel's philosophy is that everyone's sold on the marketing of soap, but that really, the stuff is drying, and people only need a wash cloth.

Maria describes Soap Alternatives as a lesson in how the premise itself can be as worthwhile as the follow-through. "It's really fun as a constant thing that doesn't happen," Maria says. "Nobody gets it. Nobody really understands what it is. One person ordered one, and he was a comedian. My dad and I just talk about how we might market it, and how it would be frightening if people did start ordering it."

"My dad won't give them away if someone asks, even though he has 50 bars made," Maria says. "But just it existing has given us so much joy over the years."

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Sarah Bamford Seidelmann's smartphone app, "What the Walrus Knows: A Field Guide to Beastie Energies!"
Then there's Sarah, Maria's sister. After 11 years as a practicing physician, she decided to take a six-month sabbatical, and emerged with the conviction to leave medicine and become a life coach and shamanic healer.

Now, she's developed a book and corresponding smartphone app about animal totems, What the Walrus Knows: A Field Guide for Beastie Energies. Her second book, Born to Freak: A Salty Primer for Irrepressible Humans, is set for release in mid-December.

The family has started kicking around ideas to bring these talents together. Recently, Maria shopped a reality show featuring all four of them, in which the Bamfords would drive around bringing health services to traveling comedians.

"We were going to go to different clubs, and my sister would be the life coach shaman, my mom would be the therapist, my dad would give them a general check-up," Maria explains. "Comedians are by themselves on the road all the time, and it would be nice if they had a van of people to come visit them."

For now, the show is shelved. "There was some nominal excitement, but it fell away, as things do," Maria says. "But we can always live in potential energy. Who wants things to actually happen when they can almost happen?" (See also: No Soap).

In the interim, the Bamfords keep playing with the possibilities. Here's hoping the rest of the family will join Maria at some point in the future on a small screen near you.

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