Time Out Chicago

Dry spell

Comic Tig Notaro charms with her slow, subtle wit. By Jason A. Heidemann

THE BIG TIG Keep your eye on Notaro. She’s going places.
Despite the fact that Tig Notaro has stitched together an applaudable career—she plays Officer Tig on The Sarah Silverman Program and Joan Jett’s mom in the upcoming biopic The Runaways, curates comedy fests and tours the country with her relaxed, bone-dry wit—it’s dropping out of high school after freshman year that makes her mother gush. “I failed eighth grade two times, then they moved me up to ninth grade because I think they were concerned I would blow my head off or something,” Notaro says via phone from her home in Venice Beach. “My mother always bragged that I dropped out.”

The Notaro clan dances to the beat of its own drum. Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi, a Gulf Coast beach town hit hard by Katrina, Notaro, 38, says her artistic mother would feed her kids three meals at once so she could spend the rest of her day painting donkeys on the house. When Notaro (who was nicknamed Tig by her brother) was five, the family relocated to suburban Houston. After dropping out of high school, Notaro hightailed it to Denver via Austin, where she managed and promoted bands. With the encouragement of some of her Texas cohorts, she moved to L.A. in 1998.

Once there, Notaro landed an assistant’s job on Xena: Warrior Princess. She also discovered comedy. “I got up on stage at a coffee shop,” she says. “Somebody had canceled. They put me on, and I became absolutely obsessed.” In those days, Notaro performed bits about her Mississippi upbringing, dropping out of school and growing up thinking she was retarded.

Notaro delivers jokes with the droll wit and deadpan affect of a Steven Wright and Bebe Neuwirth love child. In a bit called “Little Titties,” she casually laments an inappropriate comment made by a passing stranger about her chest, and in “No Moleste,” she frets over sexual predators at a luxury Mexican resort.

In 2006, Notaro hit the road with fellow comic Martha Kelly as part of the Crackpot Comedy Tour, a traveling night of house concerts that took place in fans’ basements, living rooms and garages and is slated for a potential 2010 DVD release.

The following year, Notaro landed the breakthrough role of Officer Tig, a part she says she scored thanks to her connections with an actor on the show, namely Sarah Silverman. “She and I have been friends for years, and I always tell people it was the longest audition process,” Notaro says. “It was years of lunches and hikes and trips together.” On the Comedy Central series, whose third season premieres in February, Notaro nails the part of a tough gay cop whom Silverman falls for in her quest to become a lesbian.

And in Have Tig at Your Party, Notaro aims to make herself the stand-up equivalent of the burning-fire DVD: She stands around making wisecracks for an hour as if she’s a party guest. The comic came up with the idea when she missed Chelsea Handler’s annual birthday bash. “I thought it would be funny if I filmed myself in my hotel room just acting like I was at the party,” says Notaro, who may or may not release the DVD in 2010. “I’ve always kind of hesitated to put out a CD or DVD,” she says. “As time goes on, it’s hard to capture myself and be excited about it.”

Tig Notaro plays the Lakeshore Friday 11 and Saturday 12.