somehow i made the cover. not complaining, that’s for sure. unfortunately, this magazine is only in select cities, but you can see it online at www.thecomedians.org. or, for the lazies out there, here it is:
Every night, people leave their homes to have a drink, grab a seat in a dimly lit room and watch someone use only words and gestures to make them forget their problems for a while and laugh. Every month, the comedians and thecomedians.org take a look at this phenomenon by focusing on those who practice their humorous craft alone on the stage.
It’s a cold, drizzly night and I can’t find Tig Notaro’s home. Mind you, us Los Angelinos consider it appropriate to don the winter regalia of scarves, gloves and Uggs as soon as the temperature dips below 70. I am scanning the residences on a quiet Venice Beach street,making sure I’m on the side with the even numbered addresses.Considering the endless stretch of green across the street, leaving only one side of the street with homes on it, I’m pretty sure I’m on the right track. I finally find her place, approach the dimly lit doorway and soon enough am welcomed in by the crackle.com dubbed “deadpan diva,” herself. I transition from the wet street into her welcoming home, decorated moderately and exuding a cozy feel. Her relaxed demeanor puts me at ease, not unlike her onstage persona, which coupled with her astute wit makes for a successful comedic combination.
Initially assuming Venice was a roller-skater swamped crazytown, she soon discovered its amazing, laid back, small town feel. If you are familiar with her trademark mellow cadence, you will agree this environment suits her perfectly. Notaro has broadcast her offbeat perspective on her own Comedy Central special, as well as NBC’s Last Comic Standing and most recently appeared on The Sarah Silverman Program as Officer Tig, a character she has described as herself with a holster.
Her stand-up act is characterized by an apparent comfort on stage and her ability to pace herself adeptly. “The pregnant pauses are as important to her comedy as the words she uses,” observes LA comic Chris Fairbanks, “she uses silence… I don’t know how to do that.” It seems contradictory, since she appears before her audiences with such ease, and as Tig puts it,”[loves] the awkwardness on stage. I love tension. I love all that comes from the pauses.” Originally from Mississippi, Tig grew up with a family she refers to as a collection of “storybook-type characters” (and she means that in the best possible way). A Texas high school dropout, she traveled around the country and moved to Los Angeles. As she put it, “When I got here, I thought, there’s all this stand-up. I’ll finally try it out.” That was 11 years ago.
I think moving around and traveling in general inspired me to have an openness about people. In so many ways, living out in LA, people will say to me, “Do you like the people out there? Aren’t the people horrible?” No, I don’t feel that way because no matter where I’ve gone,I’ve found the same people,” she reflects on her travels around the country, “Usually you’re drawn to the same people.” This open mindedness, which is subtly hinted through her comedy, is perhaps most attributed to a mother she describes as “so live and let live… very carefree,” and certainly influenced her to believe that “you get much more out of people when you don???t challenge them in a right or wrong way.”
Such open mindedness is also apparent when she engages in crowd work. “I do a lot of interaction with the audience. I certainly have [set] jokes that I do. It’s the same [open mindedness],I guess, when I talk to people in the audience… I’m not looking to have a set up so I can knock them down. I really wanna have a dialogue.If they say something weird to me and interrupt my set, usually what they say is unbelievable. I’m not trying to talk to this person to be a jerk.” Conducting what appears more like an open forum rather than a comedy show, Tig is not really offended, so much as curious when people interrupt her onstage, wondering what compels them to say some of the things they do. “I take it as a compliment when people feel they can talk to me onstage. This woman in Orlando raised her hand, literally,and said “I thought you were from Mississippi”. I said “Well, can’t I move? Yeah, I’m from Mississippi, but you know, you can leave Orlando.?”
Notaro points out that there’s a bug flying around her room and then recounts a less rosy moment with an audience, “I was doing this joke called Wheelchair Becky. (from jokes.com by Comedy Central – “It’s just so hard for me to accept the fact that Mattel would OK the name of this product to help teach tolerance and open minds. Like, maybe some more dolls are gonna come out, like Black Byron, Chinese Charlie, Faggy Frank, Big ‘Ol Dykey Darlene. These are not Barbie’s friends. She would never hang out with these people. She’s a snob.”) Basically the idea is that Mattel put that out to show that people in wheelchairs are like anyone else. My joke is- well, then just call the doll Becky. Some people got up during the set and walked out. I asked them, “Where are you headed?” and they said “Maybe you’ll think twice before you make fun of people.” One of the woman pointed at somebody she was with and was like, “He just got over cancer…” I was so baffled, so confused. Everybody was baffled! I don’t know where they read in that I was saying, “Haha you have cancer.” Nowhere. I don’t know where it came about. So, they left and started yelling with the owner of the bar, it turned into a brawl and the cops came. I was still on stage this whole time. A fist fight broke out… This is all during my set. I had to stay focused and talk to audience while people were pinning each other down and screaming. And one of the guys that left, the police broke his leg while they were holding him down.”
She expresses more a genuine curiosity about the misunderstanding, rather than insult. It’s the same curious nature and intrigue in human behavior that aides her exploration of people’s mental processes. She discusses one joke in particular where she’s walking along a sidewalk and a man thinks aloud to her, “Ah them a’little titties… Thoughtchoo was a man.” “I’d always wanted to write a joke about how when boring people or crazy people say something to you- that’s what they filter through their mind to say to you; that that needed to be shared. In their head, they’re like “I can’t wait to share this”… What are they not sharing? Is that the interesting stuff? So that concept merged when that guy said that to me on the sidewalk.” With a look of bewilderment she adds, “…and it’s interesting to me when they choose between the two. So when that guy said that, it applied to that concept and that joke totally worked.”
Another thing that sets Tig apart is her effort to steer clear of being vulgar. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate and enjoy dirty or vulgar humor ’cause I certainly do! I don’t know [why it's not my] style. I always think I wouldn’t be a fan of myself. Here and there, you’ll hear me something that’s not like something that grandmother would like to hear – we do have the same grandmother, right?” she asks. And, it’s that sardonic question, a realization born after a beat of her first statement that best exemplifies her unique brand of humor.
Her writing partner and friend Kyle Dunnigan describes Tig as, “The funniest person [he's] ever met,” adding, “I’m very much not alone on this.” She has a history of collaborating with Dunnigan on informal music endeavors as well, which she describes as very ridiculous. “I wanted to be in a band,” she recalls, “and do that whole thing. I thought I was going to be in the Beatles when I was nine. I got my first guitar and I was practicing because I really wanted to be the fifth Beatle and, little did I know,they’d already broken up before I was born… and that John Lennon died the year I got a guitar. So, I had no chance of getting into the Beatles but I still was practicing so hard. But, that did not work out. Then I got into music business working for record labels and got out of that and into stand-up.”
Despite hard times on the road,she maintains that she really can’t complain about the experience. Anytime she thinks she’s getting the short end of the stick, or if she’s having a hard time, she immediately pictures herself in a cubicle, working at the bottom level of a corporation. This puts her back on track and gives her the understanding that things are really good.
And they are. There’s the nonstop touring she hopes will never end, her guest spots on sitcoms like The Sarah Silverman Program and most recently playing Rhoda on a new ABC sitcom titled “In the Motherhood,” starring dream team Cheryl Hines and Megan Mullally. She cites the fancy wardrobe as an exciting difference between the two experiences, describing how trying on the nicest, fitted clothes made possible by a major network budget has made her ask herself, “Why do In ot dress in 3 piece suits every day?”
The characters she plays, however, won’t be as different. “When Sarah had me on her show, she said, “Your character is Tig first off. Second, you’re a cop,”" and her role as Rhoda (she can’t say the name without laughing) seems to be treated much the same way. “I love it, it’s flattering that stuff is based on me. I don’t wanna have training or lie to myself or anyone and take myself too seriously. But I enjoy it. I wanna get better so that I’m more prepared and better at it. But I don’t think you’ll ever see me doing anything where I’ll be up for an Oscar or something.”
It isn’t difficult to see why the roles she plays on television aren’t a huge stre- well, aren’t a stretch at all. She’s a well-rounded, naturally humorous character already- quirky without being obnoxious, dry without being boring, mocking but likable. She’s mastered silence in a way that enables her to milk laughter from a crowd. Sarah Silverman agrees, “She’s funny without even saying a word. She just has that thing and it’s hilarious.”
In 2006, Tig and fellow comedian Martha Kelly began the Crackpot Comedy Tour, an experience she would like to get back on it’s feet. It was “amazing and so much fun, I can’t even explain it. We did backyards, driveways, rooftops, barns, living rooms, basements, garages… People that are fans of your comedy are booking you and you’re going directly to their house and they’re inviting their friends, so you’re kinda hitting your exact target demographic.” On its future she says, “I think the only way I’m gonna do the next one is if we film it. Right now it’s in a limbo stage because Wayne McClammy, who directed “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” was attached to direct it for a pilot or a DVD feature, but after [the success of the "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" video] he blew up in the comedy world, so we’re kinda waiting for a good time to do that. But we wanna film it.”
“I certainly never had the overnight success story by any stretch of the imagination… I’m not trying too win this town, I’m not trying to be a powerhouse that’s bossing everyone around and owning everything in town,” she comments while shooting invisible bullets from her index fingers as her hands form double guns, “No, I don’t wanna own the Wild West. I just wanna have a good successful career at a gradual climb. I just wanna do a little more, a little better every time.”
Tig can be seen on Showtime’s Live Nude Comedy in early 2009, not being vulgar, and in some lovely three piece suits on ABC’s “In the Motherhood.” She frequently orchestrates and participates in live shows at the Largo Theatre in Los Angeles and then there’s the stand up tours she takes a moment to profess her love to during our interview. “[I'll be] touring until I die… and I have six months to live… so uh.”
For more on Tig, visit TigNotaro.com.
Annabelle Quezada is a writer from California.