When comedian Maria Bamford moved to LA in her early 20s, she struggled to cover her food and rent as she was breaking into the comedy world. "Although I had a college degree, I just did not know how to get and keep a full time job, much less a part time job," she told me. When an unexpected medical bill landed her in debt, she almost moved home to Minnesota—but found the support she needed from a money-oriented 12-step program. She eventually held down a job working as a secretary at an animation studio, which led to her getting voiceover work—and, importantly, health insurance through the Screen Actors Guild.
Since then, Maria has developed a signature brand of comedy that leans into her mental health struggles, the quirky characters in her family and the anxieties of everyday life. I talk with her about the unconventional way she learned to manage money, her memories of psychiatric hospitalization, and how she's working on having better arguments with her husband.
Maria's new comedy special is called to hear more about the Gottmans, the husband and wife psychologists Maria has turned to for marriage advice.
If you or someone you love is at risk of suicide, please go to to find resources and someone to talk to.
Cancer Changed Ken Jeong's Comedy
Ken Jeong described his role as Mr. Chow in the 2009 blockbuster The Hangover as "the most obscene love letter to a spouse one could ever have.” He peppered his dialogue with bits of Vietnamese as an inside joke with his wife Tran.
Ken met his wife while they were both practicing medicine at the same hospital in Los Angeles. Ken had always done comedy on the side, even performing midnight stand-up while he was working long hours during his residency. But after he and Tran married, he quit medicine to pursue acting full-time. Then, a year later, Tran was diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. At the time, they had young twins, and Ken had just gotten an offer to play an Asian mobster in a Las Vegas buddy movie — the role that would be his big break.
Tran encouraged him to take the part. "You're kind of burning out right now," she told him. So he channeled his anger about her illness into his character's comedic rage.
Back in 2015, he talked to me about raising a family in the shadow of cancer, and how his careers in comedy and medicine converged in unexpected ways.
No Slumping With Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp's mother first put her in dance classes when she was a child living in Southern California. "I've always been highly programmed," Twyla told me. But when she got to New York and realized her ballet skills weren't "top drawer," she decided to dig into modern dance and began studying with legendary dancers like Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. "I said to myself, 'Well, okay, Merce does great what he does, and Martha does great what she does, but I don't want to do what they do,'" she said. "And I think ultimately that's how I became my own dancing person." In the six decades since, she's done exactly that — and she's not done yet. Now 78, Twyla joined me from our studio in New York to talk about the start of her prolific career back in the mid-60s, the logistics of raising her son as a single parent while touring internationally, and how now, at 78, she's learning to deal with new physical limitations.
Here is an excerpt of Twyla's first work, Tank Dive (1965):
And here is a bit of The Golden Section (1983):
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Carmen Maria Machado Is Using The Word 'Abusive'
When author Carmen Maria Machado was in her mid-20s, she had her first relationship with a woman. She was in graduate school at the time, and in the beginning, her ex made her feel special. "I just wanted somebody to like, look at me and be like, 'I want you,' you know? And that's exactly what she did," she told me. While Carmen says the relationship quickly became abusive, she was only able to start describing it that way once their relationship ended.
Carmen went on to chronicle this relationship and how she deals with its aftermath in her new, critically-acclaimed memoir In the Dream House. She sat down with me to talk about coming to terms with the relationship, and complicating common narratives around abuse.
It was put together by Hyejin Shim and Graywolf Press specifically for queer survivors of abuse, but it offers insights and resources that are useful for everyone.
Who Are Your 'Quick And Deep' Friends?
Last week, we partnered with the NPR podcast Code Switch to bring you two episodes all about race and friendship. If you haven’t heard those episodes yet, definitely go back, and take a listen to those first.
As part of that project, we also put out . And we’ve also heard from some of you that taking the survey felt...ill-fitting; that answering questions about the number of friends you have outside of your race feels like an experience designed for white people.
We wanted to talk through some of this with Dr. Deborah Plummer. She's a psychologist and professor, who’s studied cross-racial friendships and helped us create our race and friendship survey. Her latest book is called “Some of My Friends Are…: The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Benefits of Cross-Racial Friendships.”