Published Sep 26, 2016Tig Notaro has been a warrior for most of her adult life, whether it's fighting for visibility — or even gender specificity — in a male-dominated comedy world, fighting for her life against cancer, and fighting to be heard and understood in her standup comedy. It's in these battles that she's always found hilarity, from the simple pleasures of confusing people with her androgynous look or testing the limits of their comedy patience with her laconic, deadpan delivery.
In that tension, Notaro has always found success: she won against cancer; she's told her stories in both standup specials (Boyish Girl Interrupted) and on her own semi-autobiographical TV show (One Mississippi); and she's headlining at the JFL42 festival this year to several thousand adoring Tig Notaro fans. Yet it turns out, if you take a bit of the fight out of Notaro, you take a bit of the bite out of her comedy.
In a room full of people who are already on board, Notaro had no hills to climb and no preconceptions to deconstruct. That didn't suddenly rob her of her finely honed comedy timing, nor did it render any current material — which only touched on being a new mother to twins — more safe or less Tiggy, as it were.
As a comic, she remains much more interested in the stupid choices she'll make (being "bamboozled" was a running theme) and repeatedly makes herself look naïve or stupid over the course of a story, including a particularly graphic and bloody wisdom teeth adventure. That's much more interesting to Notaro than "I'm so tired from babies" or "I've learned so much since babies."
In every story — no matter how she casts herself in it — Notaro's audience, at least this night, was on board and on her side, and for a comedian who's built a career on holding the other end of a tug-of-war rope, being met with no resistance is a little off-putting to her.
It's unfamiliar enough that she spent the final 15 minutes of her show fucking with us, just to see how far she could take a gag in which she announced a surprise, chided that we weren't excited enough to deserve a surprise, teased that the surprise would come anyway, backed away, then introduced early '90s lesbian folk duo Indigo Girls as special guests, only to explain that she was indeed fucking with us and they weren't there, then pulliing the routine again to see if she could get away with it. She could, and she did — repeatedly.
At a certain point — perhaps past absurdity, perhaps only sliding into its DMs — she started commenting on the fact that we remained on board with her "they're right back there, I don't know why they won't come out" game far past the point of sense. It's just one way that Tig Notaro is dealing with the fact that she now has a legion of supporters and not just fans. She's gonna have to find new ways to get us to pick up the other end of that tug-of-war rope.