Tig Notaro / Kevin Shustack Le National, Montreal QC, May 19
Published May 20, 2015Local comic Kevin Shustack has been on the comedy circuit since he was 10 years old, and has kept his passion and momentum afloat throughout the years to transition into a established comic with mainstream appeal, including a stint as a writer for This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Though the uninitiated may have surmised that his stiff stage presence and initially lethargic delivery were a result of jitters, his content proved that it was all a part of the act.
Consisting mostly of one-liners but with a couple of extended curveballs thrown in the mix, Shustack's set was born from the school of Steven Wright, with calculated pacing, wording, and delivery that had clearly been meticulously engineered. Shustack's material was constantly playing off of audience expectations, setting up mundane situations before quickly peeling back the curtain to reveal the true, absurd premise beneath, repeating the formula time and time again, yet with such precision and variance that the jokes continued to land. With a solid comedic presence already developed at 23, Shustack is definitely one to watch.
Even in this age of viral fame, few comedians have leapt to instant stardom as Tig Notaro. In August 2012, Notaro delivered a set that discussed her mother's passing and her then-recent breast cancer diagnosis; thanks to cosigns from comics including Sarah Silverman and Louis CK, Notaro's now-famous Largo set became an immediate classic that catapulted her into the mainstream. Her new routine touches on the aftermath of the aforementioned events with aplomb and grace, and demonstrated the ways in which Notaro can transform tragedy into a series of punch lines that keep the laughs coming.
Given that Notaro's been in the comedy game for 20 years, the medium itself became a ripe target for jokes, effortlessly weaving in meta-references to the fact that she was delivering a comedy set; her opening bit was about her lack of an opening bit and how she couldn't just launch into what was technically the first part of the set, a technique that could have alienated the crowd but, given their reaction, only endeared them to her charmingly bizarre labyrinth of jokes.
And endear she did. Comics early into their careers attempt to strap on bulletproof vests in the form of "the bomb story," detailing failed gigs with hopes that it would make the audience more sympathetic; Notaro's bomb story — a hysterical romp through a Las Vegas casino residency — balanced so-absurd-it-must-be-true anecdotes with delicate pauses to mimic the hazy, windowless feel of the casino itself. She never let you feel bad for her, stretching out any negative with an energy that revealed self-assuredness. Notaro joked several times that she was a physical comic in reference to her restrained physicality, but that statement belied her true mastery of the space; though not manic and over-the-top like a typical physical comic, Notaro owned every inch of the stage, maximizing her space through slow, deliberate movements.
From interacting with the audience — including a great bit about the mechanics of snort-laughs — to stealth puns, Notaro's love of her craft was sweet; her enthusiasm and pride after having delivered a run of pig puns was infectious, and she is clearly someone who puts her heart into her act and was undoubtedly rootable. After inciting the audience for an extended sing-along of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," her glee after having done so was palpable. As she insisted several times, Notaro was on the audience's side; though she said it, it didn't make it any less true. This is the key to Notaro's success, in that she constantly shone light on things to take away any intimidating power they may have, from her double mastectomy to her inability to write an opening bit.
Though the set's denouement began with her clearly outlining the proper procedure for a standing ovation, her standing-O was deserved; Notaro didn't create a set as much as an atmosphere, a world in which nuances and raw observations deserved to be blown up, analyzed, and laughed at. If her Largo set thrust the spotlight on her, her new set confirmed that it's going to be shining on her for a long time.