Interview: Tig Notaro

Comic kicks off North American tour at JFL42 after a series of unfortunate events

The last three years have been both very kind and awfully cruel to comedian Tig Notaro.

First, a string of successes: she released her first stand-up album, Good One, secured a part on the Sarah Silverman Program, was a regular on Conan and had just taken a job with Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer when she contracted pneumonia, followed by the intestine-gnawing disease C. difficile. Notaro’s mother, back home in Mississippi, fell, hit her head and died in hospital after being on life support. That was followed by a breakup, and then, as if that weren’t enough, a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis.

“For the most part my perspective on comedy has not changed all that much,” Notaro says about those experiences.

She’s emailing from DC after delivering a TedMed talk about her recent encounters with the medical world. Next week Notaro embarks on the North American leg of her tour, with dates in Toronto as part of JFL42.

“I would say I now am into exploring some more personal material and subject matter in my stand-up,” she says, “but it’s still me and what I’ve always done onstage for the most part.”

Though Notaro’s jokes are often inspired by her life – from her excruciatingly funny story about a string of coincidental run-ins with 80s singer Taylor Dayne in Los Angeles to her biting criticism of a stranger who feels it necessary to comment on her small breasts in public – that instinct to dig deeper into the autobiographical likely comes from the 30-minute set she delivered to an audience at Largo in L.A. shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

In that set, which Louis C.K. called “masterful,” the comedian surprised the audience with the bad news she’d just received. Among its many striking characteristics was an almost complete lack of bitterness.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she said early on, comforting spectators at the show. And then: “Well, I mean, you’ll be okay. Maybe not me.”

“I was really fortunate to have been surrounded by so many loved ones – friends family, comedians,” she says. “Everyone’s reaction and responses were genuine.”

That said, Notaro’s optimism has its limits, which she also hinted at in her Largo set.

“I’m never a fan of ‘God never gives you more than you can handle.'”

Related: Five more JFL42 must-sees + our profile of headliner Amy Schumer

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