The GQ+A: Tig Notaro
In early August, comedian Tig Notaro walked onto the stage at the Largo in Los Angeles and began her stand-up set with: “Hello! How are you? I have cancer.” She went on to detail the incredibly shitty events of her past four months— the unexpected death of her mother, a hard breakup, a bout of pneumonia, a bizarre bacterial infection, and the most recent, Stage II breast cancer. Somehow, it was very funny. It was also truly inspiring, which is a rare feeling to emerge from a comedy club. GQ spoke with Notaro this week about the now-famous set, and her life since; we’re happy to report that her luck is on an upswing.
GQ: Were you surprised at how fast your set at the Largo blew up online?
Tig Notaro: Oh, yeah. I’m not on Twitter and I don’t follow blogs or anything—I was so confused at how people heard about it. After the show I e-mailed Ira Glass saying, “Hey, I think I might have something you can use.” The next day I turned my phone on—I was so confused. I literally thought my peers would find out over the next year or two and would slowly say, “Hey, I heard you had cancer a while ago. Are you okay?” I feel like I woke up on August 4th and somebody had set up my house for Christmas, and my whole family was out there opening presents.
GQ: It was also interesting because Interneters are used to getting something right away, but the actual set wasn’t available for a while.
Tig Notaro: Well, originally I wasn’t planning on releasing it. I was just kind of doing the material to see what was usable for Ira for This American Life. Then, when Louis C.K. called and said he wanted to release it as an album from his site, I was like, “There’s no way I’m releasing that. That was not worked-out material.” Then I thought about how it could possibly help people to hear about the horrendousness I had been through and the help I had gotten. I figured, if I could help somebody—even if it meant swallowing my perfectionist ways—I should.
GQ: When you walked out and said: “Hello, how are you, I have cancer,”what was going through your head?
Tig Notaro: I thought that I was going to lose the audience completely. I was just expecting a train wreck of an evening, but they were laughing and listening, and you know, oddly enough, crying at times.
GQ: At some point early on in the set, you outline the tragedy/comedy equation: tragedy + enough time = comedy. But this is coming about four days after diagnosis.
Tig Notaro: Well, I was diagnosed the week before, but the day before I went onstage was when the doctor told me that it was stage-2 cancer. So I was still pretty rattled and upset about that.
GQ: So you were firmly in the tragedy stage.
Tig Notaro: Oh, firmly.
GQ: Were you ever mad at the universe or fate or God, or whatever?
Tig Notaro: No. No. Not in the slightest.
GQ: How did you manage that?
Tig Notaro: I’ve had an embarrassingly amazing life. Not that I was prepared to die, but I just thought of all the people that have suffered for their entire life—and then die. I’ve traveled the world, and been in love, and my career has exceeded my expectations. I didn’t feel angry, because I have nothing to be angry about—it just happened. Anger just didn’t make sense to me.
GQ: You talk a little bit about how God giveth and God taketh away in this set. Are you religious?
Tig Notaro: No. That was just—you know, your mind naturally goes to all of those places. You think: am I just relying on myself? On others? On higher powers? What’s really there? Is there a God? But no, I’m not religious.
GQ: There’s a funny bit where you’d create an online dating profile with the tagline: ‘very serious inquiries only.’ Obviously that’s not what a lot of people find alluring, but I do imagine it might weed out some of the bullshit of dating.
Tig Notaro: Yes, it does.
GQ: Have you had luck?
Tig Notaro: I have had luck. I actually was already having luck right when my relationship ended.
Tig Notaro: I’m telling you: my life is so bizarre. I had nothing but bad, nose-diving news, and then it all just kind of did this crazy turn and upswing.