Tig Notaro. Via Shutterstock.
2021 could well go down in history as the year of Tig Notaro.
The crooked, dry comedienne has previously earned accolades for her hilarious work in the romantic comedy Together Together (as a psychotherapist) and the horror action Army of the Dead (as a zombie helicopter pilot). Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, in which Notaro plays a recurring role as a sarcastic engineer, will also debut later this year. She also hosts the Don’t Ask Tig and Tig & Cheryl: True Story podcasts. Now Notaro is going sketchy, debuting a new fully animated comedy special for HBO Max. Tig Notaro: Drawn is coming July 24.
At 50, Notaro hasn’t exactly walked an easy road. As a lesbian, she started working in show business as a music manager in the 1990s. She first tried stand-up comedy in the late 1990s, which led her to a career. brand new career. After landing spots on several Comedy Central specials, his career seemed on the rise. In 2012, however, she learned she had breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy, she returned to the comedy scene, delivering an incendiary setting mocking her battle with the disease. A recording of the stand-up earned him a Grammy nomination and galvanized his career in a whole new way.
Now healthy, married to actress Stephanie Allynne and a mother of two, Notaro has become living proof of the healing power of laughter. We marked a few minutes with her to discuss her new comedy special and the secret to finding laughter in tragedy. Tig Notaro: Drawn arrives on HBO Max on July 24.
Why the decision to make the show animated? Is it due to COVID?
Well, the material is about four years old, with the exception of the track Dolly Parton. [Director Greg Franklin] combed through 48 hours of shows. I had spoken to him in passing about the Dolly Parton thing which is a little new. When he heard that he was like I would love to animate that. Which seems so perfect to me. I always felt like it had to be an animated short or something. I always thought it was so funny. So this was added.
The other thing is about four years old. I felt attached to the material and thought of releasing it as an album, rather than a special stand-up. I have newer material that I want to record in a live recording. So I thought about my stand-up – different jokes have been animated for different websites and shows, so why not make one from start to finish? Greg was going to be hosting some of my material over a decade ago, so I just felt like reconnecting with him.
Fantastic. And the series uses different styles of animation for different stories. What contribution did you make to Greg, your director, in terms of feeling about the play?
We spoke to different studios and networks, and still in discussion, he came we have to do a bunch of different styles. So it seemed like part of the conversation, and something everyone wanted to see. My feeling was that I wanted to go back and tie it all together at the start and finish on stage. And I wanted it to be consistent – I wanted my Tig on stage to be the most consistent, realistic version. And I wanted the connection with the audience to always make it feel like it’s a live performance.
The other pressing question I have – and forgive me, because it’s ridiculous.
I like the ridiculous.
OK. I have to say, I loved the story of the wisdom teeth, bloody and horrible as it is. It’s hysterical. Did the blonde who seemed to ignore the fact that you were bleeding ever apologized?
The woman sunbathing in the yard was a new neighbor. And I had just moved to Los Angeles before that happened. It’s an old story that I dug up a few years ago and I was wondering if it would translate on stage. People seem to really like it, so I’m glad I dug it up.
It’s a terrible story. But anyone who has had their wisdom teeth removed can identify themselves.
I am happy. And it helped me get an HBO special.
You walk a very fine line in your work – I am thinking of Aunt Myrtle’s story – between cynicism and sarcasm. When do you feel like a joke is going too far? How do you know when it’s too sharp?
Well I mean I feel like I’m not a mean person. I think there was no part of me when this was happening that was laughing. I wasn’t making fun of a lonely old woman.
I am relieved.
It was more than when my friend and I went through this, we got in the car exhausted with no sleep, and had to drive from West Texas to California – we had a moment of did it really happen? And we both burst into hysterical laughter. We couldn’t believe this series of events happened. I feel like with anything, that’s what your intentions are. We weren’t rude or mean. We were right there in our own hell. It was a natural time when humor helps you get through a moment in life. An audience also lets me know when I’m getting overly sensitive when sharing something. But I don’t think my intentions are terrible.
I trust this. But your comedy has such a dark element – these stories you tell are hysterical, but if you had to live them out they would be terrible. How to turn tragedy into comedy?
I’m not looking for it. It’s just an added sense that I have as a comedian, or someone with a good sense of humor. You don’t have to be a comedian to have a good sense of humor about things. I think, like the track Jenny Slate, at the time I wasn’t laughing. I love Jenny, but I kept thinking oh my god she’s gonna think I’m doing my best to get some tea with her. These are outrageous excuses. It was the same as the old bat—did it really happen? Did I just have a four month text message exchange with Jenny Slate? I couldn’t believe this really happened.
I still can’t, it’s crazy.
Same thing with just going out with Stéphanie. Thank goodness she was with me in Philadelphia. But it’s funny to be in the early stages of a relationship, breathless, in so much pain, vulnerable and in a diaper… Nothing could be funnier than proposing to her at this point. Even though I didn’t propose, it crossed my mind because it was so outrageous. And I knew she loved me because she laughed and took pictures with me. If she didn’t like me, she would stay away. And laughing with someone is very intimate.
You’ve been through a lot in the past 10 years, even though your career is hotter than ever between your stand-up and Star Trek. You were also in Together together, one of my favorite movies this year.
You how could you forget Army of the dead?
Yes, and you are in Army of the dead, named as the best part of the movie. And it was necessary to intervene at the last minute. Does going through a tragedy, difficult times improve your motivation?
Well it is…
It will be nine years since this all started. I have had different setbacks and complications in my life. But I feel very motivated to maintain the joy and health. I know what it’s like to be happy. I know what it’s like to be healthy and healthy. I feel so grateful for what I have. Honestly, things like the surprise of making an action movie at 50 made me realize that I can do more than I think I can. I didn’t think I was in an action movie at 50, or even living. I feel so lucky to have Stephanie and our children and the ability to do what I love to do. I just want to maintain this. I want to see the rest. My life has proven time and time again that there is so much to do, things that I don’t even know will happen.
Tig Notaro: Drawn arrives on HBO Max on July 24.