Even for a standup comedian, Tig Notaro has shared a lot about her personal life over the years.
From famously discussing her breast cancer diagnosis onstage, to addressing her grief after the painful loss of her mother, open honesty has become something of signature to her standup.
Paired with her soft-spoken nature and charming Southern cadence, she’s made her fans feel like they’ve come to know her quite intimately, just from watching her performances.
“I used to not take it seriously when people would thank me as though I was a first responder,” Notaro said about helping people heal through laughter. “Even before the pandemic, people would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is such a public service that you’re offering.’ And I’d just kind of laugh it off, and even though I’m not talking directly with the audience, I can feel the energy during the show, and after the show, they just feel so thankful and appreciative. It makes me aware that even though my job is silly, and it’s fun, I do understand and believe now.
“I mean, I’ve known that people need to laugh, but like, I really, really get it now.”
The 2015 Netflix documentary, Tig, chronicled her struggles to get pregnant with her wife, actress Stephanie Allyne, while her Amazon original series, One Mississippi, created a semi-autobiographical depiction of her return to her home state to reconnect with her family after her mother’s death.
Yet since the birth of her twin sons via surrogacy in 2016, and now with the added pressures of the pandemic, Notaro has found herself much more carefully crafting her comedy.
“I think in one way it’s made me more protective about what I say about my kids, and that didn’t even come on my own,” she said. “It was Stephanie mentioning, ‘It’s not just me and you anymore, there’s other people to consider.’ And it’s not that I feel that I can’t say what I want to say. It’s a welcome adjustment of, ‘Yeah, I guess I don’t need to share everything. It’s just a matter of finding the happy medium of sharing my life, but not every single thing, but then in other ways a lot, and then in other ways pulling back. It’s a dance.”
On her latest HBO special, Drawn, released last year, Notaro uses animation to speak her truth, becoming the first standup to have a completely animated comedy special.
“I feel like my brain works in a very animated way, and it might not be an obvious or known thing about me, but I think when people know me well, I think people would for sure describe me as somebody who goes off real far in that direction a lot of times,” Notaro said.
An animated special worked surprisingly well during the pandemic, as Notaro couldn’t get back out on the road and tour the way she had, and instead pivoted her career in new and unexpected ways.
Already having broken into acting with One Mississippi and elsewhere, Notaro became a series regular on Star Trek: Discovery. That led her to become an unexpected action star, when she joined the cast of Zach Snyder’s zombie hit for Netflix, Army of the Dead.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be in something like that, but I had such a great time,” Notaro said, of working closely with Snyder on a small, scaled down set for her scenes in the film. “I remember my stepfather said, ‘Tig, I saw the zombie movie you were in. You were excellent, and that’s all I’ll say about that.’”
While Notaro and Allynne have plans to work with Netflix on their own film, The First Ladies, with Jennifer Aniston set to star as the president of the United States and Notaro as the first lady, the couple used their time during the pandemic to work on another movie, Am I OK?, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
“Stephanie and I connected to it in general as a coming out story, but also Stephanie came out at a time that I guess would be considered later in life, which is similar to Dakota Johnson’s character in the film,” Notaro said of the movie, which has been picked up by HBO Max for a future release.
While at home, Notaro kept busy, launching two podcasts during lockdown, “Tig and Cheryl: True Story,” where she and actress/comedian Cheryl Hines very loosely discuss a documentary every week, and “Don’t Ask Tig,” an advice show with celebrity guests joining her in answering listener questions.
“At first I was just thinking maybe this is a little too odd or ridiculous for me to be giving advice, and there’s certainly a good chunk of that nonsense,” she said. “But I remember somebody saying to me, ‘You actually do give good advice. You’ve been through a lot, so you have a lot of experience and perspective.’ And I just thought, ‘Oh, right.’ I guess I was just selling myself short.
“I do try to give people good advice, but then I also allow myself, when that cartoon brain of mine kicks in, I allow it to go where it wants.”
Tig Notaro – Hello Again Tour
Kalamazoo State Theatre, 404 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo
March 12, 6 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. show, $39. 50 – 59.50
kazoostate.com, (269) 345-6500