Considering all Tig Notaro’s gone through, it’s important to remember that she’s not only downright hilarious, but truly blessed. Though she had been performing comedy for over a decade, it was one raw and honest performance in 2012 that put her on the map. Having just recently been diagnosed with breast cancer mere months after losing her mother, Notaro used her unflappable deadpan delivery to break the news to her shocked and supportive audience at Largo in Los Angeles.
Since then, Notaro has not only beaten cancer, but she also performed topless following a double mastectomy in 2014, married actress Stephanie Allynne, and was the subject of a feature-length Netflix documentary. This year alone, she unveiled the autobiographical Amazon series One Mississippi, penned a memoir called I’m Just A Person, and became a mother. On November 5th, she’ll be performing at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Comedy Festival, and we recently chatted with her over the phone about what is certain to be another monumental night in another monumental year for her.
Congratulations on what seems to be a pretty outstanding 2016. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you.
Your last time at the New York Comedy Festival was at Town Hall in 2014. That’s quite a jump to go from there to Carnegie Hall this year. Yeah, I think Town Hall holds 1500, right? It’s half the size of Carnegie Hall.
Well, no pressure there. But you must be excited about it! Oh yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. I have quite, uh, something planned.
“Something planned?” Something that is quite something. It’s something I haven’t done on stage yet.
Well, you’ve had some things that are quite something in your past shows, so I’m looking forward to seeing what that is. Since you’re so open on stage in terms of personal matters, and also taking your shirt off on stage, do you find that audiences open up to you? Oh, yeah. I get letters daily from people sharing their stories. Walking down the sidewalk or after a show, for sure. There’s definitely been people that have told me that they were terminally ill and that gets me thrown off guard. But it’s usually delivered to me in this way that’s mindblowing. I remember somebody wrote me that something I had done, maybe it was my album [Live] gave them the courage to die. That really blew my mind. There’s no real way to grow accustomed to that. I still get sideswiped.
Since the Comedy Festival is putting you up in Carnegie Hall, I have to imagine the New York comedy scene in general has been pretty good to you. There’s a handful of cities that are the best places to perform, and New York is at the top. I don’t know if you can find a comedian that’ll disagree.
Do you remember the first time you performed in New York? I think it was maybe in the summer of 1999. It might have been... I can’t remember the venue, maybe Luna Lounge. Comedy Central booked it. Eating It, I think it was called.
Do you have a particular anecdote that stands out when it comes to a New York comedy memory? Well, I’ve taken my shirt off on stage three times in my live performances. The first time was in L.A. at my home club at Largo. The second time was in New York at Town Hall for the Comedy Festival, and the third time was in Boston for my comedy special. The first time I took my shirt off I was kind of trying things out, and as good as it felt, I thought, “Ohhh...this feels...wild,” and then I remember getting off stage and thinking it felt fun and exhilarating, but it didn’t feel like I totally owned it. The second time, I felt, “Well, if you’re gonna take your shirt off and act all cool and comfortable with yourself, you better be...” So when I did it for the second time, I was so excited to do it. I owned it that night. It was really so fun, and the audience was just electrifying.
The L.A. crowd was still really electrifying, but they were kinda where I was with things. People were still excited by it, but it was still part of the process. I was just like “Okay! I’m gonna take my shirt off, and my body language is going to be a little awkward!” Whereas in New York, it was not. I felt like, “Yeah, try to get me to put my shirt back on ever again!” So yeah, it was a very memorable performance, just walking around topless with my scars, feeling like I was on top of the world.
Do you get the odd heckler asking you to take your shirt off on stage or... Not really. I don’t think I’ve run into that. Maybe if I was in comedy clubs and surrounded by people unfamiliar with me, but I feel like the people who pay to see me in a theatre are really respectful fans.
That’s good to hear. Every now and then something weird happens but it’s very rare. And I usually instigate the weird stuff anyway. I feel like I heckle myself more than anyone’s heckled me.
That’s a good mechanism. Did you always feel open and vulnerable on stage, or did you have to build to that? No, I wasn’t before 2012. I felt compelled to be, because I didn’t know if I was going to be alive for very long. I had something to say and didn’t know what my timeline was, and I wanted to take a risk on that. It was something that people really responded to, and that I’ve responded to on a personal level. And aside from professionally, learning that sharing and being open is usually the best route.
And of course, congratulations on becoming a mother. You’ve described them as your “twin boy cubs?” (chuckles) Yeah, our little cubs.
Has motherhood been integrated into your comedy already? There’s mention of them, but it’s not as though I have a whole new hour of baby material. I would say there’s a couple things in there, and they’re really funny moments...and if I had a full hour of baby stuff I’d be more than happy to present it. I think I have a good mix of personal stories and I have one of the silliest things I’ve ever done on stage which goes on for quite a while that gives me tremendous joy and people seem to be into it. It’s not baby related or cancer related. it’s just something fun.
What about parenthood excites you the most? Oh my gosh, there’s a bazillion things. This coming weekend, we’re taking them to a pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin. It’s those ridiculous things. I can’t wait to put my babies in a pile of hay next to a pumpkin. I can’t wait to take them trick or treating. I can’t wait until Christmas, Thanksgiving, to have a full house with family passing the babies around. We are going to go on a family vacation at some point. There’s different parts of the country they’re going to be traveling to with us. Just...everything. I can’t wait until they can walk, I can’t wait until they talk, I can’t wait...it’s the best thing in the world. I’m happy to report that.
What are you dressing them up as? A generically cute pumpkin and bunny.
You’ve released a memoir and show dealing with your illness and loss, and through all the mediums with which you’ve dealt other than stand up. Were you surprised about what one medium delivering where others did not? I really enjoyed all of them, and to this day, I am shocked that it translated into all that it did. The fun part of the TV show is now that the years have gone by and it’s available to the public, it was fun to come out of the reality of my story and fictionalize my story and get more creative with it. But I also really enjoyed being matter of fact and delivering all the details in my book. The only medium I think left would be to do it an ice skating version. But I got offered all these deals at the same time four years ago, and they’re all just trickling out, but I certainly have new things to say and more things to say and I’m in a different place in my life, and everything I’ve put out I’ve just been proud of. I can’t believe that I got to express myself in so many different ways.