Tig Notaro revels in awkwardness. On Conan the comedian once pushed a stool across the stage -- and back again -- for an impossibly long 101 seconds. In "No Moleste," she riffs on the translation of the "Do Not Disturb" sign on her Mexican hotel room. The Mississippi-born Notaro dropped out of high school in ninth grade and has built an impressive career, appearing on The Sarah Silverman Program, The Office and Community and her own Comedy Central Presents Tig. She's a favorite on the late-night circuit, This American Life and The Moth.
In 2012, at age 39, she experienced enough tragedy to flatten most people. Notaro was hospitalized with pneumonia that morphed into a serious bacterial infection, and then her mother died. She split up with her girlfriend, and doctors diagnosed Stage 2 cancer in both breasts. Notaro opened her set at LA's Largo with the line: "Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer." After seeing it, Louis C.K. tweeted: "In 27 years doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo." In another famous Tig moment, a catcall at a New York club inspired her to take off her shirt and continue her act.
The wiry Notaro wears sweaters or hoodies, delivers jokes deadpan, and is never afraid to take a long breath or pause on stage. The 2014 Grammy nominee is about to film a live HBO special and is deep into writing her memoir, due out from HarperCollins next year. Tig, a documentary about her life, premiered at Sundance in January. Her Showtime special, "Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro," airs April 17. Her publicist told Isthmus she was "in writing mode" and would only communicate via email in advance of her upcoming Madison appearance at the Overture Center's Capitol Theater. "Noogie Night" is a benefit for Gilda's Club Madison, the local affiliate of the national organization founded by survivors of Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.
Was Gilda an influence for you?
Huge influence. And mainly what is so special to me, though, is the fact that she was by far one of my mother's favorite comedians. My mother was hilarious and absolutely loved good comedy. We would watch Gilda together all the time on SNL when I was a kid. I bought my mother Gilda's book one year, and then when my mother passed away I came across that book when I was going through her things and on the inside of the cover she had written "From Tig Christmas ’95."
After getting catcalled at a show in New York, you performed topless for about 20 minutes. What was that experience like?
I guess I was technically catcalled, but it was anything but offensive. The press made it out as though I was being harassed and then took my shirt off in response to shut them up. It was way more playful than that. It was also extraordinarily exhilarating. The audience went nuts cheering and then 30 seconds later it was immediately no different than any other standup show.
You blew a lot of people's minds when you performed a show after getting a breast cancer diagnosis and shortly after your mother's death. How do you merge comedy and tragedy like that?
There was so much tragedy in my life during such a short period of time that everything just became absurd, and, being a comedian, it was only natural that I'd try to make light of things.
Your publicist says you're in "writing mode." What does that mean for you? Do you enjoy writing or "having written"?
There are plenty of days when that mode does not kick in. I'm slowly but surely editing my book, so I guess that's writing. And "having written" is probably my favorite with books and "writing" is my favorite with standup because I do it all on stage.
How did you get the inspiration for "Stool Movement?" Are you going to ask Overture to provide a stool?
I was doing a show one night in Seattle, and I just happened to move the stool, not for any comedic effect or a punchline, and it happened to make a noise that caused the audience to laugh. They would go from laughing to being annoyed that I was still doing it to laughing again. Overture better supply the stool. You never know....
Your name has been floated on lists of women who could replace The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. What do you make of that?
I'm eagerly awaiting Jon's call.
You're often described as "androgynous." Is it fun or stressful to be a boundary pusher in a society that loves to categorize?
I'm really not meaning to push any gender boundaries, I'm just always wearing what I think makes me look most handsome.
You're from the South. What did you grow up thinking about the Midwest? That Midwesterners are strictly corn-fed.
Last year around this time, we were experiencing polar vortices -- like 40-below temps. Do you have the right gear for Wisconsin?
Yes, I packed my seven-piece bikini, so I should be all set.
Tig Notaro: Noogie Night at Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Saturday, Feb. 28, 8 pm