Comedian Tig Notaro Explains How To Find Comedic Light In Tragic Situations

by Stephanie Ironson
Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times

Comedian Tig Notaro is an unparalleled talent.

The 45-year-old actress, author and stand-up comedian is highly regarded for her 2012 "Hello, I Have Cancer" set, which she performed in the wake of her breast cancer diagnosis.

Fellow comedian Louis CK describes her performance as a "truly great, masterful stand-up set," and anyone who has watched or listened to Tig in action can attest to that.

As an artist, Tig has taken the tragedies of her life -- including her diagnosis and her mother's sudden death -- and transformed them into a cathartic expression of light-hearted comedy throughout her stand-up routines, memoir and her semi-autobiographical Amazon series, "One Mississippi."

Tig also has worked alongside Sarah Silverman on "The Sarah Silverman Program" (the genius show that prompted me to unlock the child-block setting on my parents' TV as a comedy obsessed 14-year-old) and on the first season of "Inside Amy Schumer."

At the moment, Tig is gearing up to take her inspiring, deadpan humor to Carnegie Hall (for the second freakin' time!!) for New York Comedy Festival on November 5.

Tig said her upcoming set will include a "very exciting element" that she's "never done live." She said, "I think it might one-up the last time I was in town when I took my shirt off live."

Amid counting down the days (minutes... seconds...) until her show, I had the opportunity to speak with Tig about her career, her impressive and motivational style of humor and her unique perception of the world of comedy.

You really have such an original style of comedy, who do you credit as your major influences?

As a kid and early days of standup, I would say Paula Poundstone, Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, Ellen. And then now, I'm really into... Maria Bamford, Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis -- there are so many great comedians.

Of course, their comedy spoke to me, but even someone like Sarah Silverman, whom I've known for a really long time, [has] really inspired the way I go about my career... I've always felt lucky to have someone that close to me who was that well-known and well-respected...

She didn't seem to just take a gig for money or for anything like that, it was always very much what she wanted to do and it was nice to have that reminder always... It was just a luxury to have someone like her around me who also happened to be one of the best comedians.

Your “Hello, I Have Cancer Set” was easily the most talked about and iconic performance in 2012, how did your diagnosis change your perception of comedy?

Well, I think that personally and professionally, it made me more comfortable with sharing intimate and personal details and allowing myself to be vulnerable and open.

Whereas before, I always allowed myself to grow and change, I just had not gone to... a personal level, and not that all my material is now personal — it's just something I allow myself to do now.

You've used comedy as an emotional, raw, open platform, how have you been able to find the humor in dark situations?

I always have looked at things in a light-hearted way... I guess I just wasn't doing standup when anything massive had happened to me.

I think it's just a natural way of looking at and experiencing life and when you're a comedian and when you're in the spotlight... There are some comedians who absolutely do not share any personal details, but I would say the majority of the time, it might come up in a comedian's set if tragedy strikes when you're working.

Your special, show and your memoir are all incredible, you're -- quite literally -- an open book. When it comes to your struggles and suffering, do you find yourself holding back on certain things?

I hold back parts of my life and experiences… I don't want to share anything just for the sake of sharing and exposing myself, but if something feels right and I feel inspired by the situations or moment I'll definitely share it. There are so many stories and experiences I have not shared, and I don't feel compelled to.

Congratulations on your Amazon series, “One Mississippi,” the first season is phenomenal. What was it like for you to create a show based on such an emotional time in your life?

Thank you, I think it was cathartic in the way all the other projects have been. There are different ways to see my life… and it gives me new insight on myself and those around me.

The TV show in general, even though it's loosely based on my life, playing things out on TV allowed me to see my brother and my stepfather and what they were actually experiencing during that time period... was another level of coming through all of that... Not that I thought that it was just my experience, but actually seeing their lives played out even though a lot of it is fictional, I think it was cathartic for all of us.

I've noticed you let people take over your Twitter account. It's a great idea and wildly entertaining, how did you think of that?

Funny Or Die started my Twitter account; I don't even have the password to it. They started the account and I think Sarah Silverman was the first to tweet, and she handed it off to somebody, and they handed it off to somebody and they handed it off to somebody and now it's been in the hands of open-micer comedians, legendary comedians, authors, cartoonists, everybody.

What can fans expect from you next?

We're waiting on news of a second season of “One Mississippi.” I've heard we should be getting news very shortly and then I've been working on new material for my stand-up and working toward my next stand-up special.

And I'm home just raising babies and living my life. I'm hoping to do another book one day down the road and I think right now my main focus is to not overdo it and not over extend myself professionally or personally, and if "One Mississippi” comes back, we make it even better than the first time.

And [I'm hoping] that my next special is even better. [I'm] just really wanting to have time to enjoy my life, which I am doing so that feels really nice.

I'm very excited about Carnegie Hall and I have a very exciting element to my show I've never done live, so I'm excited for people to see it. I think it might one-up the last time I was in town when I took my shirt off live.

You can buy tickets to Tig Notaro's show here, and I can tell you first hand, it's not something you're going to want to miss.