For Tig Notaro, nothing is off-limits

Tig Notaro is due for a vacation.

The comedian made headlines in 2012 when she delivered a raw comedy set about her life with cancer. And again in 2014 when she performed topless for a crowd after telling a story about an encounter with a TSA agent following her double mastectomy. This year alone, she’s done the comedy special “Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro” for Showtime, debuted a self-titled documentary on Netflix, and will release a one-hour stand-up special for HBO, “Boyish Girl Interrupted,” on Saturday.

Notaro is nonchalantly cool, even over the phone. She spoke with us from California about comedy, identity and her dreams for a cover band.

How is this comedy special different from your other ones?

Well, this is my first one-hour special. I’ve done other TV appearances and albums and whatever. But I would say that on this hour, what is different is that I’ve incorporated everything I’ve ever done before. There’s so many different styles and approaches, from crowd interactions, to confessionals, to storytelling, to physical to jokes to just silliness. There’s a taste of each of those things in there.

You seem to really draw on your crowd. How has the audience factored into your comedy?

I really like interacting with the audience. It makes each show different. I think I like the feeling of the shows feeling like a party. I mean, obviously I’m the only one talking at the party.

Have you found where the line falls between humor and sadness? Is there a recipe to integrate both the right way?

I don’t know if I’ve found that. It’s kind of like going to the old conversation of if there are certain things off-limits, and I don’t think there are. I think there’s a certain way to go into a topic and joke to be able to discuss it and make it funny. I don’t know what the recipe is. I think it’s a sixth-sense type of situation. Probably, if there was a recipe it would make writing or comedy boring.

You spoke about your battle with cancer during a stand-up routine back in 2012. Three years later, have you ever wanted people to step away from that comedy set?

Whatever people want to do, whatever they want to think or say or ask me about is fine at this point. But I feel like I’m definitely, naturally moving on from things. There might be a chance I’d want to talk about it or something later. But I think I’m for sure transitioning. I’m in such a different place in my life. There’s not the pain and sadness that I was experiencing that I drew from, so I can’t help but move on. But if people are wanting to continue going over that, or seeing me that way, there’s not much I can do about that.

What are you drawing inspiration from now? What are you trying to achieve now?

Well, I’ve been writing new material that I’m really excited about. It’s kind of a lot of childhood things and experiences that I had years ago, examining certain aspects of my personality. And I’ve been finding a lot of humor in that.

You play with gender norms in your comedy, even in the title of your HBO special, “Boyish Girl Interrupted.” Are you regularly thinking about your identity for your comedy, or just naturally sharing stories?

Nothing has really been a conscious decision, except when I talked about everything on my album [“LIVE”] a couple years ago. I think I’m just sharing things naturally as they happen. There’s not this thing in me where I feel like I have to bring this topic up, like gender norms. It’s just kind of like sharing this ridiculous thing that happened.

Do you think comedians sometimes have agendas?

There’s certainly people that have an agenda. There’s so much of that. But there’s also just people making silly nonsensical jokes on stage without the slightest agenda. I feel like even though I don’t think I have a full-on agenda, I certainly, going through what I did and coming to terms with my life and my body changing, I tried to, you know, make a statement about coming through all of that and coming to terms with my body changing and the taboo of illness and sadness and body image. There’s certainly a message in there, but I like to keep things light and silly for the most part.

You’ve done a lot this past year. Are there other things on the horizon you’re trying to pursue career-wise?

Career-wise? Um, no. I’m really hoping to take some time off and work on my personal life. That’s what really excites me the most right now.

What is something you’re looking forward to doing?

I’ve been kind of hoping to start a cover band with [some comedian] friends of mine and play music once a week. I think that would be a nice way to spend my downtime.

Cover band? What type of music?

Anything. Anything anyone throws into the mix … It’s time to take some time off and play some cover songs.

HBO’s “Boyish Girl Interrupted” debuts on Aug. 22.

Support PBS NewsHour: