Eight years ago this week, Tig Notaro walked onto the stage at the Largo theater in Los Angeles and set the stand-up comedy world on fire by opening with the words, “Good evening, hello, I have cancer!”
Now, she reveals on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, is the first time since then she has been 100 percent healthy.
“This week is my eight-year anniversary of getting my diagnosis,” Notaro tells me. “And since 2012, I’ve had a lot of ongoing medical issues and pain and surgeries and hospitalizations and tumors and cysts and all sorts of stuff.” She has been able to find a lot of humor in that pain, first on stage and then in her deeply personal Amazon series One Mississippi. But it hasn’t been easy.
“Even though I’ve been in remission, this last May my oncologist said that for the first time in eight years, they’re not watching anything, they’re not monitoring anything,” she says. That means it’s also the first time during her five-year marriage to fellow comedian Stephanie Allynne where they’re not waiting on test results or some upcoming surgery. “I had spinal fusion a year ago and I was bolted together because my spine wasn’t healing,” Notaro adds. “And then I just got news yesterday that after going in for scans, my spine is fused. And so I don’t have anything wrong with me for the first time in eight years.”
Of course, there is some irony in the fact that this happy news comes at a time when Notaro can’t get up on stage and share it. But she says the pandemic has only made her value her time at home with her wife and 4-year-old twin boys more than telling jokes to packed theaters.
“I feel like I struggle with moments where I think, gosh, am I not a real comedian?” she wonders. “Because after I had children, I was OK with scaling back. I felt really happy and fulfilled being home.”
Before the shutdown, she had already scaled back, performing semi-regularly at Largo where she would try to “make the best” of limited time in front of a crowd to work out new material. Notaro says she sold her next stand-up special to an unnamed platform the day the lockdown went into effect, but now she has no idea when it will come out.
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“And then here I am in the middle of a pandemic,” she says. “If somebody said tomorrow, it is back, I would be thrilled to be on stage. But yeah, I used to get up numerous times a night and I don’t miss it. I miss stand-up, but I’m also OK with time at home and it’s giving me a chance to do other things.”
First among those other things was developing her new advice podcast Don’t Ask Tig, in which she and guests like Will Ferrell answer listener questions about everything from dealing with people who have divergent political views to staying sane during the quarantine.
“I wasn’t quite sure if it made sense for me to have an advice podcast, but after I really thought about it, I was like, ‘Oh, I actually have been through a good amount of things and I know how to navigate life pretty well,’” Notaro says. “And if you find that I’m giving bad advice, then we can all just point to the title, which is Don’t Ask Tig.”
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Why she loves interviewing celebrities she doesn’t recognize on ‘Under a Rock’
I love silliness. And it was so fun when I was doing my show, Under a Rock with Tig Notaro. It was fun because even though it gives me the opportunity to be silly and nonsensical it’s still authentic, it’s real. I really don’t know who I’m talking to. And it’s also a really nice moment to connect with celebrities that are likely used to being recognized and being asked on a late-night talk show what project is coming up or who used a whoopee cushion, who was the prankster on set. And none of that comes up on my show. It’s not malicious or anything. And people have been so great. They have a great sense of humor about it and don’t take themselves too seriously. The feedback I always get from guests is that they always say, ‘Oh my gosh, every actor should be on this show.’ It’s just a dose of humility.”
On her ‘embarrassing’ cameo on ‘The Office’
“I’ve never told this story publicly. It’s embarrassing. I had never seen The Office. I of course knew what The Office was. I knew a handful of the people personally, so I worked so hard on learning my lines. And then I was brought on set and as I was standing there, I’m looking at an entire conference room of the entire cast. And it came over me that, oh my gosh, I don’t know who to direct my lines at, because I didn’t know which character was which. It didn’t even dawn on me. And then when I stood in there, I was like, ‘Oh no, I don’t know who these people are!’ And I messed up several times. And I’m sure nobody in that room thought that I hadn’t seen The Office. I’m sure they were just like, what is her problem? Why is she directing that line at that actor? And I went home just mortified. So my apologies to everyone on The Office.”
On the status of her ‘First Ladies’ Netflix movie with Jennifer Aniston
“It’s ready to go. Jennifer has The Morning Show with Reese Witherspoon and I know they were partly through the second season of The Morning Show when this all hit. So I am just all for returning when it is safe, 100 percent safe to do so. And I know that Jen—as her close friends like myself call her—is very excited to do the project as am I. And I know Netflix is. I know it’s a big priority for everyone and it’s ready to go. I mean, the script is ready to go, it’s so fun. I can’t even believe that I’m hopefully going to get to star in a movie where she plays the first female president and I’m the first lady.
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On her new career as a plant-based nutritionist
“Believe it or not, I have a new career that’s in the works. In my health journey, I have become very interested in healing myself and the power of a plant-based diet. I started eating that way three years ago and I’ve seen tremendous results. And I thought, what would it take for me to become a certified plant-based nutritionist? That’s been my dream for years. And people like Sarah Silverman, like my next door neighbor, they always contact me to ask, what should they eat? And now I am in a six-week course to become a certified plant-based nutritionist. I am going to start doing consultations. Aside from doing my podcast and hanging out with my family, I am studying. I have a seventh-grade education. I failed three grades, dropped out of high school, got my GED. My cat ate my GED and I still hung it on the wall in my office. And I just want to get that certificate to be a plant-based nutritionist and I’m going to hang it right next to my half-eaten GED.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Monty Python co-founder John Cleese
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