Tig Notaro has had a tumultuous few years. In a period of just four months in 2012, she was diagnosed with an intestinal disease and breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, dealt with her mother’s death and ended a relationship. Just three years later, she is killing it: she is the star of two separate documentaries on Netflix and Showtime, will be the subject of a Diablo Cody-penned comedy, is engaged, just adopted a new kitten and has an HBO special—Boyish Girl Interrupted—airing on Saturday, August 22. That’s a lot.
The special, which is the first hour-long one she’s released, was recorded in Boston, which seems like a weird decision, given that Boston is not a traditional comedy-friendly city and that Notaro is actually from Mississippi. But she explains the decision in a way that both mocks the desperately boring city and tells people who have a problem with it to get lost.
“Why did I film my special in Boston?” she asks. “I wanted to show you my rug.”
The rest of her set is fairly slow and rhythmic—Notaro’s stand-up isn’t the kind of hyper laugh-a-minute kind of joke making that you see from some of her contemporaries. She is just cool, and I am pretty sure she knows it, and allows her stories to take on a kind of slow-burn, simmering quality. They are good stories, about a real-life Santa Claus, and bargain burial plots and eating ice cream, and people will wait for their inevitably gratifying conclusion.
“I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer,” she says at one point. “But I have not told anyone yet.”
Of course, the buzziest element of the special takes place around the three-quarter mark. She finishes telling a story about going through the TSA post-mastectomy and the confusion that causes with a particularly poorly-trained employee. She pauses and threatens to take off her shirt. And then, obviously, she does.
In an interview with the New York Times, Notaro explained that she decided to do it right after her mastectomy:
I was so upset by my surgery. After a double mastectomy, it’s like a truck ran into your chest. It was swollen and bruised and stitched, and I had no nipples. And my friend was over at my house, and I was like, god, I have this thought that keeps coming up. What if I got so comfortable that I just did a set topless? Then when I went on tour, I kept thinking, I could just take my shirt off and watch people’s heads explode. And so I took it off at Largo, and everyone went nuts. Men, women, everybody.
And she does it. And it’s cool, and then you forget about it. Which is even cooler.
She has said that she is moving on from her cancer, and that the pain lessens every day. Still, at least in this particular set, her material about the ordeal is still (unfortunately or not) the best—or at least the most remarkable.
My favorite bit of hers is compressed down to a little diamond of a joke in the special. She talks about how she always joked about how small her boobs were, and one day, they decided they had had enough.
“Maybe my boobs overheard me and were just like, ‘You know what, we’re sick of this. Let’s kill her,’” she says in he signature deadpan, obviously to much applause.
“I’m always thrown off by the clapping.”
Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted airs Saturday, August 22 at 10:00 p.m. EST. Watch the trailer below.
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Image courtesy of HBO.