Wednesday, July 29, 2015

You'll Dig TIG

"I have cancer."  Tig Notaro knows all too well that life is a comedy of the absurd.  She opens a remarkable stand-up comedy set with those three words.  Three words that would be chilling to hear from a loved one.  She says them and brilliantly gets laughs with the true tale that reminded me of something show biz legend Judy Garland once said:  "Behind every another damn cloud."  The pencil-thin and whip-smart Notaro was hospitalized with a life-threatening bacteria that had inflamed her intestines.  While she's in the hospital, her mother suffers an accident that later claims her life.  Tig gets out of the hospital and is at her mother's bedside during her final hours.  She described her mother as "hilarious" and reveals that she was the source of Tig's comic sensibilities.  After her beloved mother's death, Tig discovers that she has cancer.  And how was your day?  This is what we discover in the open of Tig, a documentary look at the Grammy-nominated comedian/writer and actress.  The documentary is on Netflix.
I first learned about that raw, riveting and really funny cancer monologue Tig did from Louis C.K. raving about it.  I wasn't that familiar with her before I read Louie's praise.  Then I heard her routine played on NPR's Fresh Air.  Oh my gosh.  Genius.  Then I saw her do dramatic work in a couple of the first four episodes of Amazon's Emmy-winning Transparent.  Very impressive acting chops.

When Rosie O'Donnell and I worked together as VJs on VH1 in the late 80s, she liked my VJ bits and urged me to try stand-up comedy.  I went to see her onstage a couple of times and, frankly, I didn't think stand-up was for me.  She and I shared a small VH1 office that had only one phone (this was before cellphones) and I often heard her argue with club managers about bookings, time slots and travel plans to non-famous clubs in other parts of the country.  I saw the behind the scenes life of stand-up comedians and it is not glamorous.  It's grueling.  Besides, because I'm funny conversationally or in TV segments doesn't mean that I'll be great onstage in a comedy club.  That's a different animal.  We see that in Tig.  We hear how she came to choose comedy as a profession.  We see her travel, get onstage and bomb before she hits material that works.
Tig wants to make a living doing the kind of work she loves.  She wants to have a relationship.  She wants to have kids.  When it seems like this is all a sweet possibility, life pulls the rug right out from under her.  What does she do?  She gets back up.
It's tough to follow a routine as unique and provocative and funny as Tig's routine about her cancer diagnosis.  It's tougher on her than anyone else to follow it.  Eventually, she does find other funny things to talk about.  One of my favorites was a bit she did on Conan O'Brien's show about text messages.  She pulled her sweetheart into the bit.
Tig is a life-affirming documentary.  What gives it even more heart is the fact that she does not come off as a comedian who sucks up all the oxygen in the room and needs to be on every single minute being the jokester.  She's very dear.  We see her comedy and family roots, her joys and heartbreaks.  We see her strength and tenderness. She'd be a great parent -- like Alec Mapa in Baby Daddy, his comedy show about his journey into parenthood with his husband. If you need some inspiration to persevere, to love and and to take giant steps in your life, see Tig.

This week came news that Amazon will star Tig Notaro in a semi-autobiographical comedy series.  Tig will co-write it with Diablo Cody (Juno) and Louis C.K. will be one of the show's executive producers.

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