Maria Bamford named her most recent comedy album “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome” for a good reason: she suffers from it. But it also feeds her stand-up routines. “I was about 10 years old and I stopped being able to sleep at night because I had these intense obsessions or fears that I was going to... usually a fear of doing something violent or sexual or something sort of taboo,” said Bamford, who will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at City Arts Center, 3000 General Pershing Blvd at State Fair Park. “It’s kind of like the person who compulsively washes their hands, except you’re trying to wash your thoughts. Like you go, ‘I’m not going to think about the elephant I just thought of,’ and then your brain won’t let you stop thinking about it.’” Bamford originally dealt with the condition by squeezing her fists together or avoiding contact, she said, but then when she would have an incident, she often found that time had a way of bringing out the humor in bizarre events. "Whenever there’s something painful in your life, something you think a lot about, and you get some distance from it, it sometimes becomes funny,” said Bamford, 40. “Like when you lose your temper with somebody at 7 Eleven, telling them you need more crushed ice until you get arrested and you’re in the cop car and you go, ‘Well, that was dumb,’ that becomes a good story.” These days, Bamford is filled with such good stories and comes armed with an amazing array of voices that bring them to life during her performances. Her voice characterizations can turn on a dime, going from a demented baby voice to Alicia Keys from zero to 60. Ridiculous family arguments about politics and religion provide the fuel for her bizarre but realistic bits about her mother, and Bamford precisely executes her mom’s Minnesota accent. Her voices, which crop up occasionally in animated programs such as “CatDog” or “Hey Arnold,” get perfected during commutes, when Bamford says a near-constant monologue is taking place. “I totally talk to myself when I’m walking or driving — that’s usually when ideas come out,” she said. “The few that I do are just me being ridiculous, and my mom is a very strong figure in my life, so it’s easy to remember what she sounds like.” Bamford received some of her greatest exposure from “The Comedians of Comedy,” the film and Comedy Central series featuring her on tour with Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn and Zach Galifianakis, and like many of the stand-up comedians enjoying the latest renaissance in the art form, she frequents the podcasts that help promote their work, such as “Doug Loves Movies,” “The Nerdist” and Marc Maron’s weekly interview podcast. She said those podcasts have transformed the way comedians pack a room by allowing them to speak directly to their fans. While it seems that stand-up comedians are becoming more self-evaluating — a phenomenon spotlighted in the recent HBO special “Talking Funny” with Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais — Bamford said comics have always been self-critical and constantly assess their processes. These days, there are just more ways to listen in on them. “We’re all having our fishbowl experience,” she said. “With the podcasts, we’re just hearing more of what people are thinking all the time.”
With: Jackie Kashian, James Draper and Zach Smith. When: 7:30 p.m. Friday. Where: City Arts Center, 3000 General Pershing Blvd. Tickets: $22 advance/$25 at the door. Information: Ticketstorm.com.