On Friday night, comedian Tig Notaro launched into a set at the Largo in Los Angeles that is already morphing into legend — after Ed Helms welcomed her onto the stage, she told the audience, "Thank you, thank you, I have cancer, thank you, I have cancer, really, thank you." When Notaro finished telling her rapt audience all about how, just as she was notching one professional accomplishment after another, she had been diagnosed with cancer in both of her breasts, Louis C.K., Bill Burr, Ed Helms, and pretty much everyone else in attendance echoed the same sentiment: Tig Notaro's set was fucking great.
Comedian Kira Hesser attended the show and blogged very articulately about listening to Notaro's hilariously poignant story unspool onstage. Notaro whisks her audience through a tumultuous time line checkered with professional highs and health problems. She'd been preparing to relocate to New York to work on Amy Schumer's new TV show, and had recently been featured on "This American Life." Over the past three months, however, her body has been under near-constant siege — pneumonia paved the way for a bacterial infection in her digestive tract, for which she was hospitalized. During the ordeal she lost 30 lbs. and, just days after she was released, her mother died suddenly. And she broke up with her girlfriend. And, after all that whole shitty odyssey, she now has cancer in both breasts.
Hesser writes that, through the first half of Notaro's set, it was all the audience could do to keep up — Notaro told her story with "perfect grace and humor," rendering Hesser breathless. Then:
For the second half, for the first time in my life, as far as I can recall, I genuinely laughed and cried at the exact same time, bewildered at the tragedy and the remarkably calm, clever prism through which she assessed her terrible set of circumstances.
Notaro paused at one point to take stock and see if everyone was still along for the ride. She asked if she should drop the tragicomedy and move into lighter territory ("jokes about bees"). She's answered most clearly by an anonymous man: "NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. THIS IS FUCKING INCREDIBLE." Hesser concludes the account by explaining how Notaro's performance blended elements of tragedy and comedy so seamlessly that, to fully appreciate what happened on Friday night, you pretty much had to be there:
If schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, we all shuffled into another corner last night, schadenfreude's cousin; we're not laughing at you, we're crying with you but trying very hard to accept this avalanche of misfortune through the more edible prism of humor.
Bill Burr followed Notaro, explaining later on Twitter that Notaro "just blew my mind." Top-secret guest Louis C.K.'s also poured forth his Twitter adulation for Notaro: "In 27 years doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful stand-up sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo." Everyone who was involved with Friday's show seems to describe it with a reverence that seems more relevant in the eye-witness accounts of some impossible, life-affirming miracle. Getting an audience to laugh at an ordinary set (a relatively rare phenomenon in itself) is a small miracle, but recalibrating the way an entire audience thinks about comedy and what comedy is capable of is means that whatever Tig Notaro had to say on Friday was probably pretty awesome.
the way we weren't [Flame Like Me]