Too Soon? Tig Notaro on Writing, Cancer and Blasting Off on Tour

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Tig Notaro says she's well. "I'm happy and well," she told me. That's really, really good to hear. It's also pretty remarkable, given that the comedian, writer and actor only a few months ago had surgery after one of the most harrowing four-month periods one could imagine: starting with pneumonia, then hospitalization for a life-threatening C. difficile infection, then the sudden death of her mother, then a break-up from her girlfriend.

Tig Nataro

Oh, and then, just free at no additional charge: She found a lump. A lump that turned out to be stage two breast cancer requiring a double mastectomy.

Tig performed a raw, much-lauded stand-up comedy set the day after receiving the diagnosis, and she went through treatment before she began work as a writer on the Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer.

So with 2012 so precarious, grief-filled, grueling and life-threatening, Tig Notaro is taking some time off in 2013, right?

Nope. She's hitting the road with a live tour of her podcast "Professor Blastoff," which will lead her and co-hosts Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger to 13 cities in April and May.

On top of that, she's moving through the traumatic after-effects of her last year by writing.

"I'm writing a book," Tig told me in a recent interview. "Writing is very hard and intense. It’s therapeutic and cathartic, but it knocks me over emotionally. It's about the four months my life fell apart, and getting my life back together. There's comedy and intensity." 

It feels soon, so soon, for this much work, let alone for work that is emotionally demanding. The co-dependent fangirl in me wants to see a show, sure, but I also feel compelled to take her hand and ask her if, I don't know, a nap on a beach might be a better idea.

Fans are lucky she feels up to taking it all on. Tig masterfully named something precious and human about horrifying life turns when she performed her too-soon set the day after diagnosis, so writing an immediate take on what she's endured in the last year makes sense in its own way and promises to be a compelling read.

"People might think you go through hard things and then they are over, but there’s a lot of slowly easing back into life," Tig said.

For the Professor Blastoff tour, she'll be hitting the road with her podcast co-hosts to record live, audience-attended shows. The format for the live shows will be a lot like the recorded podcasts: a mix of comedy, discussion and interviews (sometimes with experts, sometimes with other comedians) focused around topics.

"Professor Blastoff is kind of like if the class clowns were never told to be quiet," Tig said. She was drawn to the show for the change to create on the fly with Kyle and David, both of whom she's written with and performed with before.

"When we'd get together we would talk about these things, philosophy and religion. For the podcast, I just have to show up, and we record it."

Each of the live shows on the tour will include some stand-up, discussion and interviews. A Q & A segment will involve the audience. Tig describes her developing fanbase as an amalgam of science nerds, the cancer community and general comedy audiences.

"Maybe you'll learn one thing from each show," she said. "Maybe."

I don't know about that. I think audiences probably will learn more than one thing at each tour stop or podcast listen. The Professor Blastoff crew is pretty smart. And moreover, listening to Tig is an object lesson in creative bravery. Coming out with the story of her last year during a stand-up set was a huge risk that's impossible to turn back from creatively, creating an imperative for immediacy.

When talking specifically about her memoir during a Professor Blastoff show on "Writing" she compared a linear storytelling structure with one that created more immediacy, Tig said:

I thought there was a compelling moment that happened in the middle of those four months, that I wanted the book to start with, and it took me really letting go of my linear way and thought to say "You know, I'm going to start with that crazy moment."

The gallows humor point of the post-diagnosis set that resonated so deeply was that there's often no turning back, despite our deep human desire to say we're fine, despite the fact no one else will get it, despite the pressure to put on that we are the same as we were before everything changed. It might be that the only way to encapsulate that truth is to speak too soon, to go towards that crazy moment in a non-linear way, and it's sad/funny that waiting only finally becomes intolerable to us when we are faced with death, illness or loss.

It's an amazing talent to make us able to see that, let alone laugh, so Tig is someone to watch. We're so lucky she's well.

See Tig Notaro at one of these live Professor Blastoff shows, or at one of her stand-up shows this spring:

Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ – April 27th  

Scottish Rite Theatre – Austin, TX – April 29th 

Sons of Hermann Hall – Dallas, TX – April 30th 

BottleTree – Birmingham, AL – May 2nd 

529 – Atlanta, GA – May 3rd

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue - Washington, DC – May 5th 

Johnny Brenda's - Philadelphia, PA – May 6th 

The Bell House - Brooklyn, NY – May 7th

The Sinclair - Boston, MA – May 8th

Abbey Pub - Chicago, IL – May 11th

Cedar Cultural Center - Minneapolis, MN – May 12th

The Vera Project - Seattle, WA – May 15th 

Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR – May16th



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