Amid Devastation, Tig Notaro Searched For A Sense Of Humor Days after the comedian was diagnosed with breast cancer, she performed at the Largo nightclub in Los Angeles. Her stand-up routine, which became an album titled Live, was an instant hit.
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Amid Devastation, Tig Notaro Searched For A Sense Of Humor

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Amid Devastation, Tig Notaro Searched For A Sense Of Humor

Amid Devastation, Tig Notaro Searched For A Sense Of Humor

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Like all great comedians, Tig Notaro started out small at open mics in coffee shops and one-nighters in Holiday Inn lounges.

TIG NOTARO: I remember this saloon in Montana. I was standing in a corner with a dusty disco ball above my head. And I think there was a man with a look of Santa Claus on his day off sitting at the bar while I told (laughter) - while I told him what I thought was funny. And based on his response, I don't think he agreed.

RATH: Her comedy took her out of the saloons and onto larger stages in front of devoted fans. Now she's the subject of a new Netflix documentary titled "Tig" out this week. In the film, Notaro searches for a sense of humor amid devastating news.

NOTARO: In 2012, I had had pneumonia, and then I contracted this potentially deadly disease called C. diff and was hospitalized. And when I finally got out of the hospital, my mother tripped and hit her head in a freak accident and died. And then I went through a breakup after her funeral, and then I was diagnosed with cancer.

RATH: Days after her diagnosis, Notaro was scheduled to perform a stand-up routine at the Largo theater in Los Angeles. She wanted to cancel, but she went onstage anyway. That show became legendary. It was her big break.

NOTARO: Had invited my friends Ed Helms and Louis C.K. and Mary Lynn Rajskub and Bill Burr to all perform. And they didn't think it was anything other than a typical show. And I went out on stage and talked about everything I was going through.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NOTARO: I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer. How are you?

When I hear it played back, I can hear the nerves in my voice and my voice is very shaky. I was very fragile and vulnerable at that time. And I also was not wanting to hurt anybody's feelings. I just didn't like that moment where people didn't know yet that I had cancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NOTARO: It's going to be OK. It might not be OK, but I'm just saying.

(LAUGHTER)

NOTARO: I guess halfway through the show, I had this feeling of I think this might be a really special moment, and I think that it's going OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NOTARO: You know what it is? I'm a drama queen.

(LAUGHTER)

NOTARO: I almost died from C. diff or my mother just died or I just went through a breakup or I have cancer. I'm like God, I sound so dramatic.

(LAUGHTER)

NOTARO: Tig, relax. And I'm like oh wait, this is really happening.

I would've felt dishonest or inauthentic, I think, if I was on stage just talking about - just observing life in general from afar. That wasn't where I was. I was very ill. My pants were falling off of me. I was so skeletal at the time. And the people there were really tremendous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NOTARO: Anyway, thanks so much for coming. You guys are amazing.

(APPLAUSE)

NOTARO: There (laughter)...

That ended up becoming an album, which ended up becoming number one around the world and nominated for a Grammy. And it definitely was a big break. It was a weird break. As much as it was big, it was a weird one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOTARO: You don't know what's around the corner, and it could be a cancer diagnosis or a breakup, a Grammy nomination, you know, falling in love. Whether it's good or bad in my personal life, my career, I feel OK. Nothing's going to make or break me.

RATH: Comedian Tig Notaro. The Netflix documentary "Tig" is out now. We want to hear about your big break. Send us an email - mybigbreak@npr.org.

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