When I mentioned to a friend that I'd be interviewing comedian Tig Notaro, he said, "Is she the one who has cancer?"
Yes, that's her. She's one of the most popular contributors to This American Life and hosts her own comedy podcast called Professor Blastoff. But Notaro is best known for walking onstage at a Los Angeles comedy club in 2012 and saying, "Good evening, hello! I have cancer, how are you?"
Two years later, she's had a bilateral mastectomy, her cancer is in remission and her comedy career is booming. We spoke to Notaro about moving past cancer, in her life and in her act, as she prepares to bring new stand-up material to the Carolina Theatre.
INDY: After the show when you told the audience you had cancer, 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." The recording of that show was released as a comedy album that sold 100,000 copies in six weeks. Do you ever feel trapped by this storyline?
TIG NOTARO: Very early on in this process, I felt trapped. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure doing stand-up, and did not get on stage for a while after that performance. The album was so successful, and it felt like there was so much attention on me as a comedian, that I felt I had my own big shoes to fill. That was such an unusual set for me to deliver that the shoes were probably unfairly big.
Early on, I felt there was a chance that the notoriety could be an obstacle, but then I realized that being diagnosed with cancer is not what got me this attention. I realized I was doing stand-up, something I have worked long and hard at for years and truly love, which is ultimately what garnered me all of this attention.
I started easing my way back into live shows with my podcast, Professor Blastoff, and doing stand up at open mikes, and have worked really hard at building a new set that I am proud of. So that trapped feeling no longer exists. I feel proud of the album's success and inspired by all of the people who told me that they were inspired by it.
Is there really such a thing as a "comic's comic?" Why do you think everyone calls you one?
I suppose there is such a thing as a comic's comic. I'd call Maria Bamford one, for sure. I haven't put a tremendous amount of thought into why I am referred to as one—maybe it's because I just do whatever I want, and don't really pander to anyone. Whatever the case, I'll take it as a compliment.
What can we expect from your new show?
The topics vary—I touch on everything from bombing at a comedy club in Vegas to stories about me and my friend searching for Santa Claus to even more personal events. There's also just plain and simple ridiculousness.
What do you remember about your very first show?
My first gig was at an open mike at a coffeehouse in Los Angeles that is no longer around.And it went surprisingly well.My next gig, though, did not go as well—I felt so confident from the first time that I actually signed up for a comedy competition the following night. I bombed so bad that I ended up running off the stage before my time was up. My plan is to avoid that situation when I'm in Durham.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Remission statement."