Tig Notaro has found a way to make life’s trials and uncomfortable moments funny. After surviving a potentially deadly infection, breast cancer and her mother’s death, Notaro is now healthy and enjoying a prolific television and comedy career. The comedian sits down with Jeffrey Brown to talk about her stand-up and new show, “One Mississippi.”
Finally tonight- daily life, deadly disease, and more.
Jeffrey Brown looks at a comedian shaping her life and work.
I am actually a professional comedian. And it's usually a very good sign when a comedian has to announce that.
Tig Notaro, in a recent performance at the Bentzen Ball comedy festival at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Afterwards, I asked Notaro how much of her routine that night had been scripted.
I jotted down a few notes of what I wanted to go over.
But my mother-in-law was actually laughing at me in the car ride down from New York today, because I said, when we were pulling into D.C., I wonder what I'm going to say tonight? And she was like, what?
Whether I'm at a party or a bar that's very crowded, I also love to act like I have lost a very small dog.
And that is a real joy, to see people help look for a dog that's not there.
But the performance becomes about almost everyday life?
It could be anything. I like to give myself the freedom to do a joke, or tell a story, or improv, or do something physical, just whatever strikes me in the moment.
Five years ago, Notaro was on her way up, performing stand-up and appearing on late-night TV, when she was hit with a series of traumas. She contracted an intestinal bacteria that can be deadly. Shortly after, her mother died from a fall at her home.
And that summer, Notaro was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy.
At first, she kept it all private, but then decided to take her comedy into this very new and dark place. A performance in Los Angeles recorded on audio went viral.
Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?
Hi. How are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer. How are you?
I shared my story, and it was one of the best things I could have done for myself, because it opened me in a way I hadn't been before.
And she's still using the story of her cancer in her comedy.
I mean, it truly reached a point where I felt bad giving her news.
I was always like, how am I going to tell Jenny? And this next time I was like, Jenny, I have invasive cancer. Don't know if I will ever be able to have tea again.
I wonder, when you are going to those dark places in a public way, are you doing it in a way to make people feel comfortable, or is the discomfort the point?
I think I probably try and do both, if possible.
I like uncomfortable moments, and — but I also want people to know that they can trust me.
Her career took off.
In recent years, Notaro has been the subject of a Netflix documentary and an HBO stand-up special. Her memoir, "I'm Just a Person," became a New York Times best-seller last year.
I'm happily married, forever and ever, amen.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
I take offense to the cheering.
It seems like you're thrilled that I'm off the market.
Notaro is healthy now, and has twin boys with her wife, actress Stephanie Allynne.
I feel like we're doing a great job. But there have been a few moments where somebody could have legitimately called child protective services.
I was only telling dark stories and jokes and material because I was in a dark place. But I think, after losing everything, and then finding the joy and love and being healthy finally just — I mean, I can have a bad day or be irritated or tired, but I really don't have a complaint.
She's also had success with her Amazon series, "One Mississippi," which co-stars Allynne. It's a slightly fictionalized look at her life after her return home to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, following her mother's death.
It's a comedy, but one that confronts serious subjects, including homophobia.
We just want you to know, despite the controversy around other ministries, it is possible to pray the gay away.
What if I want to pray the gay to stay?
The just-finished second season, written before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, took on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace.
One much-discussed scene captures a woman's growing discomfort at her boss' sexual misconduct during a meeting. It's a scene that mirrors behavior by comedian Louis C.K. detailed in a New York Times story last week. C.K. is listed as an executive producer on "One Mississippi."
Notaro told The Times- "Sadly, I have come to learn that his victims are not only real, but many are actual friends of mine within the comedy community."
Our talk with Tig Notaro came before The Times story, and she declined to address rumors about C.K.
But she had this to say about tackling sexual harassment issues on her show.
The entire writer's room of "One Mississippi" is all female, and everybody in the room had been harassed, abused, assaulted in some way. And we just thought it felt very timely, having Trump in office, and what he had been accused of, and the industry we were in, and the experiences we had just had in life.
It just felt like we wanted to talk about it.
So, when you're sitting around in a room of comedy writers thinking about this very serious subject, what's the discussion like?
It's very emotional. It's very open. It's kind of one big group therapy session in the writer's room. Everybody's kind of willing to share it all.
Thank you. Good night.
For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Jeffrey Brown in Washington,
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Jeffrey Brown is the chief correspondent for arts, culture and society at PBS NewsHour.
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