I first heard Tig Notaro when I went to see the The American Life live show (Invisible Made Visible) in May earlier this year. Her segment was in Act 2 where she discussed — at great length and with great comedic gusto — her various run-ins with Taylor Dayne. Her act was one of the funniest of the live show and I listened to various other bits by her over the course of the month after I’d seen the show.
I’d heard a few grumblings, maybe a Facebook post or two, about a string of tragic events that happened to her in the last few months, mostly in the context of a show that Louis CK was at a few weeks back. This morning’s This American Life (What Doesn’t Kill You) opened with her in the prologue and as the first act. As the story goes, she had just been diagnosed with cancer in both her breasts and her mother had passed away a few weeks prior. She went on stage and performed a raw, honest, and hilarious set about the recent events in her life. Stories like these are best told through better storytellers, so here’s a bit of Louis CK’s note on the subject:
I stood in the wings behind a leg of curtain, about 8 feet from her, and watched her tell a stunned audience “hi. I have cancer. Just found out today. I’m going to die soon”. What followed was one of the greatest standup performances I ever saw. I can’t really describe it but I was crying and laughing and listening like never in my life.
When listening to the recording, you can clearly hear Louis CK laughing and encouraging her on in the background. What’s incredible, among a million things that are incredible in this story, is the story itself and how she manages to deliver it. If you have heard her standup before, she’s witty and dry and has an incredible sense of timing, and this is nothing like it. It’s raw, it’s emotional, but it’s also dispassionate and unsettling all the while so engaging. Comparing her to her old self is said best by Ira Glass as he describes how she closes the set down.
And hearing her do the bee joke is like hearing her perform a version of herself which she knows doesn’t even exist anymore.
The whole segment — the This American Life act and of course the comedy show — are both absolutely worth listening to (and buying the show off of Louis’ site). It’s such an incredible story of so much misfortune and her strength and honesty through it are striking as they are inspiring.