Tig Notaro Is Cancer-Free and Wants to Tell Jokes in Your Living Room

By Aaron Frank Mon., Jul. 15 2013 at 10:30 AM

The last year and a half has literally been the best of times and the worst of times for comedienne Tig Notaro. Last summer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, lost her mother and broke up with her girlfriend all within the span of four months. Fortunately, the combination of these tragic occurrences culminated in a wealth of creative energy, which was exhibited on stage last August in a legendary stand-up set at Largo in Los Angeles.

Louis CK called the set "one of the greatest stand-up performances I ever saw" and released it as an album on his website soon after to an overwhelmingly positive response. By years end, Tig Notaro's Live was voted the #1 stand-up album of the year by The A.V. Club, topping releases from veterans like Jim Gaffigan and even CK himself.

Live will finally see a physical release this week -- marked by Notaro doing a Q&A tonight at the Grammy Museum -- but her recent surge in popularity has afforded her a number of other opportunities, including two documentaries, a book deal and a writing gig on Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer. Before starting on her just-announced tour documentary for Showtime next month, Notaro will celebrate the one-year anniversary of her storied performance with a headlining date at Largo. We recently spoke with her about her current projects, her entry into stand-up comedy and getting thrown off set for making her co-stars laugh.

What was it like working on the first season of Inside Amy Schumer? Will you be back next year?

No, I kind of don't have time to anymore. I couldn't make it work, so I'm just gonna be doing my own stuff. It was a great experience though. It was my first "go to an office everyday" type job.

Can you tell us about your new tour documentary for Showtime that was just announced?

Well I'm doing this thing where I go to my fan's homes and I'm doing a tour in living rooms, backyards, barns, basements and rooftops. I start filming that at the beginning of next month, but I don't know when it airs.

The executive producer is gathering the information, and then I'm going to review the tapes that come in. I think they're gonna select some and then show them to me and I'll pick where we go. I'm looking forward to it. Just the cooler, the weirder the place, the sooner I think I'll be there.

Have you done anything like this before? It seems like the logistics might be sort of complicated.

I've done it as a tour in the past and it's so much fun. When I did it on the road, somebody books me to go to their house and it's up to them to invite their friends. Then it's a suggested donation of 20 dollars at the door.

I read that one of the things that inspired you to try stand-up was seeing so many open mics and shows advertised in L.A. Weekly.

Well, I was coming from Denver at the time. Denver, they just have the club and the open mic in a Mexican restaurant. It was kind of daunting, but people are shocked that I started stand-up in L.A. They're like "God, you're so brave. I made sure I got things together in my town before I went out there."

To me, that sounds horrible to just have no options to do stand-up and then try to get it together to go to L.A., rather than just starting at laundromats and coffee shops and bars, which are the options in L.A.. As soon as I decided I wanted to actually start doing it two weeks into being there, I just had so many options. But when you're getting started, that's all you need -- a laundromat with a microphone.

Prior to trying stand-up comedy, though, you were managing bands in Denver. Did you always picture yourself working in the music business?

I was just managing some local bands in Denver, anywhere from rock to the singer-songwriter type thing. I play guitar and I thought that I would maybe be playing in bands, but then I kind of had stage fright. I always wanted to be around music, though, so I just started working on the business side of things. I thought I was really into it, but I always wanted to do stand-up, so once I started doing stand-up I couldn't even pretend like I cared about anything other than that.

That crossover between comedy and music seems to be more and more prevalent these days.

Yeah, it's weird because my record label [Secretly Canadian] is an indie-rock label and then my booking agent is now strictly booking comedy, but before he only booked indie rock bands. So no matter what I do, it just seems like I'm still in the music world. I do all of these comedy and music festivals so there's constant crossover. But it's nice because when my albums come out, there are reviews in magazines like Rolling Stone and stuff. I think the association with music kind of gets me into some weird doors.

You've appeared on a lot of great TV shows like Community, The Office and The Sarah Silverman Program. What's been your favorite acting experience so far?

I loved doing Sarah's show, but I was on a stupid stupid sitcom called In The Motherhood. It was just so dumb, and it was one of those bittersweet things where you're on primetime TV and making more money than cable, but it's just so embarrassing. I remember putting an episode in my DVD player and just going, "Oh no. Oh no." But it was really fun to do because I was friends with so many of the cast members.

Cheryl Hines was on the show and she and I are friends and we had this moment where it was really a problem how much we were laughing. The director had to ask her to please leave the set, because she couldn't pull herself together and she kept blaming it on me. So that was kind of a weird curveball that was a lot of fun.

I understand you're working on a book now as well. Is it going to be a memoir?

It is. It's about my life falling apart in this four-month period. I'm just sort of writing about that and spinning off from there and explaining who my mother was and my childhood, but it's sort of rooted in that four-month period of time.

What's the process been like so far? Are you enjoying it?

It's a whole different thing. Writing a book is so much different than stand-up or anything I've ever done. It's such a slower process, but it's good. It's been therapeutic for me and I'm enjoying it.

There's also a documentary being made about me and they made me an executive producer, but it's not the same as the Showtime project. They're just following my life a year after everything falling apart.

You sound pretty healthy at the moment. Are you in remission now?

I'm in remission. It's been I guess 9 months. I opted not to do chemo. They felt like they got all of the cancer and so I said I didn't want to do chemo and decided to do this other type of treatment. I just didn't want to do more damage to my body.

Do you have any advice for people that might be going through a similar experience?

Go to Largo and do a show. I don't know. All I remember is just breathing in and out and telling myself to stay alive, kind of really basic one foot in front of the other and move forward slowly but surely. I really had so many things piled on top of the other that I couldn't even isolate one moment and say this is how I got out of this particular thing because it was all happening at the same time. All I could do was just move forward slowly and just breathe in and out. I don't know how I got through it. I really don't.

Do you think you would've handled it differently had you been considerably younger or older?

For sure. It was so hard to lose my mother at 41 that I don't know how I would've done it. When I hear about people losing their mother when they're in their teen years, I really don't know how people do it. And if I was diagnosed with cancer on top of that and had other issues threatening my life, if I were younger I really don't know. I think I would've lost it.

The tough thing about a situation like that is you never know when it's going to be completely over.

My situation could've been different and lasted longer if I had done chemo. They were originally suggesting chemo and radiation and everything, but I feel good about the decisions I've made and they feel like I'm in good shape.

Tig Notaro appears at the Grammy Museum tonight at 8 p.m. for a live Q&A. Tickets are $20. Notaro also performs at Largo on Aug. 3 for Tig Has Friends, featuring special guests. Tickets are $25.