Comedian Tig Notaro lost her mother, ended a long-term relationship and got diagnosed with breast cancer all in the same year. It was, she says, more than she could handle, but it also spurred a writing spree that helped her cope with her illness. Notaro offers her Brief but Spectacular take on healing through comedy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.
Tonight, we hear from comedian Tig Notaro, who has used her performances to overcome enormous personal hurdles, including a cancer diagnoses and the loss of her mother.
Her memoir, “I’m Just a Person,” came out earlier this month.
TIG NOTARO, Comedian: In 2012, I was so busy. I was filming a movie, shooting a TV pilot. Then I started to get sick, and I got diagnosed with pneumonia. A few days later, my mother tripped and hit her head and died.
My girlfriend at the time, she and I split up. And then I was diagnosed with invasive bilateral breast cancer.
During that time period, I kept hearing, “God never gives you more than you can handle.”
That was way more than I could handle.
I would hear brave and battling and all of these words that I didn’t know that I really related to. And I kept picturing the military hearing about this brave person and just kicking my door down and coming in to find me just crying on my couch for my mommy, and them being like: Yes, there she is. We need you on the front lines. There’s the brave one.
That diagnosis just sent me spiraling, but also I felt more prolific than ever. I started writing nonstop. And I had a show coming up. I knew I need an opening line that was going to crack the tension. I had this thought that went through my head picturing myself walking out, saying:
Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi. How are you? Is everyone having a good time? I have cancer. How are you?
There were so many mixed responses, from just stunned silence, to uncomfortable laughing, to crying.
To some degree, I was asking for help, even while I was trying to make light of it.
When I had a double mastectomy, I didn’t have reconstructive surgery, and I don’t have nipples. And it was — you know, it was a struggle getting comfortable with myself. But when I really thought about how it was just my skin growing together with my skin and healing me, why is that uncomfortable or shameful or embarrassing or something to hide?
If somebody has a scar on their face, nobody’s like, hey, you need to cover that. That’s hard to look at. After I really healed and was comfortable with my body and was back touring in front of audiences, I kept thinking, oh, my God, I could take my shirt off right now and blow these people’s minds.
I couldn’t take it any longer, and I just had to — I had to remove my shirt.
People say things to me now, oh, this is so empowering for women and cancer survivors, and — absolutely. It’s really more about just being human beings. And this is our body. And who cares?
My name is Tig Notaro, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on healing through comedy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And she took our breath away a little bit there.
You can watch more of our Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.