Laughter from the depths of despair

Tig Notaro’s new audio release is stunning.

by Spencer Doar

What: Tig Notaro Live

Where: available for sale at

Cost: $5, a portion of which goes to breast cancer charities


Comedian Tig Notaro wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter in her new 30-minute set — she has breast cancer.

“Tig Notaro Live” starts with Ed Helms providing one of the kindest introductions you may ever hear, calling Notaro “extremely nice, extremely funny, extremely warmhearted and wonderful.” That could stand alone as a review of her act, with an emphasis on the “extremely.”

Notaro’s life was going swimmingly — professional opportunities were blossoming, and she was about to go to New York to work with Amy Schumer on her new project. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then her mother died. Then she went through a breakup. Then she had the balls to go on stage in front of a bunch of strangers and bare it all — the pain, the frustration, the anger and the humor of her dire situation.

Notaro begins with the formula for comedy: Tragedy plus time equals comedy. Lacking the second part of the equation, Notaro manages to throw it on its rear end by killing during a set that focuses only on tragedies when little to no time had passed.

The strength of her observations comes from minutiae detailed — dealing with friends who no longer feel like their bad days can be expressed to someone with cancer, her mammograms, buying Triscuits at the grocery store and the sheer difficulties of dealing with more hurt and pain in one moment than some people experience in a decade.

At certain points in her live set, Notaro finds herself having to assure the audience that it’s OK, only to amusingly point out that she may in fact not be okay but that the audience will likely be okay. It is in those moments when an initial grimace of understanding quickly gives way to a smile and laugh — things you would not think possible given the subject matter.

It is worth noting that since the recording of the show in August, Notaro has undergone a double mastectomy (something she calls her “forced transition” into mannishness) and is doing well. Her doctors are optimistic about her chances.

The album represents a beacon of hope and hilarity in the face of death and helps break down the barrier that stands between the joke and the terminal illness.

Soft-spoken, her demeanor adds to the potency of her story. Notaro’s honesty and brazen disregard for the stigma surrounding cancer ends up being somehow endearing as well as providing a laugh a minute (probably even more than that).

To say that this album is well worth the $5 cost is almost degrading. “Live” is uplifting, riveting and LOL-worthy to a degree that may be unparalleled in contemporary comedy. Louis CK called it “one of the greatest stand-up performances I ever saw.”