Tragedy, Time, and Comedy: Tig Notaro’s “Live”
“With humor, the equation is tragedy plus time equals comedy,” explains comedian Tig Notaro, adding “I am just at tragedy right now.”
So begins “Live,” Notaro’s new special recorded this past May in Los Angeles. The performance occurred after Notaro experienced a string of bad luck; she contracted a fatal bacterial infection, lost a parent, went through a breakup, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although there may not have been time for this news to ripen to humor, Notaro proves that her voice was enough to make any subject – at least momentarily – funny.
Known for her frank disposition and despondent delivery, best exemplified in her 2011 album Good One, Notaro confronts her bad luck onstage with a blend of incredulity, bravery, and nonchalance. These are not the kitschy jokes meant to lighten the mood (like the novelty “cancer greeting cards” she mentions in her set), nor are they armored with anger and irony. Instead she stands defenseless, conversing with the audience in a raw and unfamiliar way, just bringing us along for the ride.
“Here was this small woman standing alone against death and simply reporting where her mind had been and what had happened and employing her gorgeously acute standup voice to her own death.” Louis CK describes in an email to fans. He was set to take the stage after Notaro and was so impressed by her performance, asked her permission to sell the recording exclusively through his website (where it is available now for $5).
To call “Live” a comedy special is really to do the performance a disservice; the quick 30-minute show defies definition. And though there has not been time for this tragedy to ripen to humor, Notaro twists her own equation on its head, demonstrating that all it takes to laugh is honesty and a change in perspective.
Since recording the special, Notaro has undergone a double mastectomy and her prognosis is excellent. She is currently promoting “Live” in a number of interviews that you should check out on NPR’s Fresh Air, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and a bunch of other cool places.
Image from LouisCK.net