Listening Station

Classic PAINful Comedy: Tig Notaro

by Austin L. Ray

Tig Notaro delivers her jokes in a quintessential deadpan. She can discuss anything—from vomiting in her mouth to the inexplicable ubiquity of Taylor Dayne to the comically misunderstood threat of hotel molestation—without faltering from it, a feat that’s both impressive and almost unnerving in its consistency. It’s this delivery that carries Good One, her debut album on Secretly Canadian (it’s the company’s first comedy record, too), and clearly, she’s developed it over time. Like when she quit what she considers her worst job, temping after first moving to Los Angeles to attempt a comedy career.

“The boss was a ruthless producer, had zero personality or sense of humor and sucked the life out of me,” Notaro recalls. “I would sit, dead to the world, at my desk until finally the last day I was there, she asked what I do when I’m not temping. I was so excited to slowly turn to her with no expression on my face and say in a monotone voice, ‘I’m a comedian.’”

To hear Notaro tell it, she’s always been pretty laid back. Spending her youth in Mississippi and Texas, she eventually failed eighth grade twice, was moved up to ninth “out of pity” and failed that too, before dropping out altogether (“My only regret is not dropping out sooner,” she says). After that, she’d pursue music before ultimately doing stand up. Her ambition and lack thereof seems fitting in the context of her delivery, too—though she says she’s becoming more lively.

“Believe it or not, I feel like I’ve really come out of my shell as a performer,” Notaro says. “Simple things like allowing myself to smile, move, take the mic out of the stand, improv, etcetera. It’s been really freeing. I mean, I’m still not hurling my body across the stage, but who knows? I’m open.”

This easy-going, carefree attitude has earned her the respect and admiration of comedians like Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and many more, and she’s seen increasing work in recent years on Community, In the Motherhood and Last Comic Standing. Meanwhile, she’s got a pilot in the works with Logo, a weekly podcast (Professor Blastoff), another TV project, a short film, the list goes on. All of which is to say you’re going to be hearing a lot of Tig Notaro’s friendly deadpan soon. Unless you’re really close to her.

“I wouldn’t plan on having me as a friend until about April or May 2012,” she says. “I’d love to keep doing it all. I’ve been tremendously lucky so far with every aspect. Stand up is my number one, but I love writing, acting—all of it if they’ll have me.”

But then, everything changed, and that joke took on a bigger meaning.. “Hello, good evening, hello, I have cancer, how are you?” So begins Tig Notaro’s brave August 2012 set at Los Angeles’ Largo, which was later sold on Louis C.K.’s website as a 30-minute track called Live. It’s a stunning, singular moment in comedy, and one that, thankfully, had a happier follow-up just a couple months later.

Before long, she was back on the road and up to her old ways. A recent tour found her coaxing audiences to sing along to the Beatles and, at one especially memorable show, taking off her shirt.

“Ms. Notaro’s new act is not just about conquering illness,” wrote The New York Times. “It’s an ingenious expression of the commanding and persuasive power of art. She shows that comedy can not only transform tragedy into humor, but that it can also distract people from the most marketed and objectified image in popular culture: the naked female body. It can move a crowd into standing and cheering for three minutes, too.”

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