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Josh Reviews Tig

September 8th, 2015

I first heard of comedian Tig Notaro back in 2012.  I was on a list on Louie C.K.’s web-site, after I had purchased the stand-up routine he had made available on his site.  And so I received the mass e-mail sent out announcing that one could now download a new stand-up routine called “Live” (not L-eye-ve is in a live performance, but live as in not to die) by Tig Notaro.  Apparently, in the span of a very short period of time, Tig’s mother had fallen down, hit her head, and died, and then Tig found out that she had cancer in both her breasts and was very likely going to die.  She then went on-stage at Largo and performed a stand-up routine in which she talked about these experiences.  According to Louie, and you can read his full original post here, “I can’t really describe it but I was crying and laughing and listening like never before in my life.”


At the time I was intrigued, though I have to admit I didn’t immediately download Tig’s set.  A recording of a woman talking about finding out she was about to die?  It sounded too grueling to put myself through.  I did though revisit my initial judgment, as word of Tig’s set spread around the internet and I started reading over and over again what a magnificent piece of performance it had been.  I’m glad I came around, because it truly is a phenomenal piece of work, heartfelt and wrenching but also devastatingly funny and cathartic.

Ashley York and Kristina Goolsby’s new Netflix documentary, simply called Tig, chronicles the comedian’s experiences leading up to that fateful night’s performances, and also follows her through the the next year or so of her life.

It’s a lovely film, a wonderful portrait of this unique artist and a fascinating look into the events leading up to her astonishing, wave-producing stand-up performance that night at Largo, and the effect that hour on-stage had on her career and her life.

I was fascinated (and horrified) to learn that the list of difficulties that had befallen Tig in the months before her fateful stand-up set were even more than I had heard, as she had also had to battle through a devastating bacterial infection that had done terrible damage to her digestive tract.  (Tig has thankfully recovered from that, and after a double masectomy she also appears to currently be healthy, with her cancer in remission.)

I was also fascinated and intrigued to learn of the troubles Tig faced after her stand-up performance that made her famous.  While that performance shot her into a new level of success and public prominence, Tig then faced the challenge of trying to create new material that would be able to equal the act that made her famous.  Not surprisingly, the pressure of this became a huge burden for Tig.  The documentary follows her as she attempts to find a new voice for herself, and to create new material that wouldn’t simply be a rehash of what she had done before, but would also feel like a progression from that on-stage break-through.  In these sections of the film, it begins to remind me of Comedian, the documentary that followed Jerry Seinfeld in the year after the end of his show, in which he decided to retire all of his old material and start again from scratch, slowly rebuilding his set through trial and error on stage in comedy club after comedy club.  This section of Tig is fascinating and very entertaining.  (I love the way the film continually returns to a specific joke Tig has about how she felt her needing a double masectomy was her breasts’ way of taking revenge on her after all the jokes she’d made about her being flat-chested.  We get to see how Tig is able to craft and tweak her delivery, to move from a joke that got a few laughs to one that gets thunderous approval.)

The film also has a sweet focus on the start of Tig’s relationship with Stephanie Allynne, alongside whom Tig appeared in Lake Bell’s spectacular film In a World… (a film which I reviewed here and which appeared on my Best of 2013 list — it’s an absolutely dynamite movie, funny and sweet, which I highly recommend you track down if you’ve not yet seen).  I love the idea that these two great actresses from that great movie wound up together!

Tig is a very gentle, tender portrayal of a fascinating artist.  It’s definitely not a “warts-and-all” sort of documentary, as there are very few rough edges left in the film.  We don’t ever see Tig misbehave or be in any way short-tempered or harsh with anyone in the film.  I’m sure Tig is a lovely person, but I do get the feeling that the filmmakers shaved off any instances that wouldn’t portray Tig in a positive light.  I’m OK with that, though I feel it’s worth acknowledging.  This film is the work of people who seem to love Tig, and want to share more of her story with the world.

I quite enjoyed the film, and I’m glad to have seen it.  It cements in my mind that Tig Notaro is a dynamic comedian and artist, and someone who I expect to continue to follow with great interest for a long while to come.

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