That’s what happened to lesbian comedian Tig Notaro on August 3, 2012 at a set in Los Angeles. She had been relatively successful up until then, but her career wasn’t completely on her mind that night as she was in the middle of a four-month period of hell, having contracted pneumonia, gotten a life-threatening bacterial infection, her mother passed away, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, and her girlfriend dumped her.
She turned that pain into art, greeting the crowd by saying, “Good evening, hello! I have cancer, how are you?” She laid it all out there for the crowd, leading comedian Louis C.K. to later tweet that it was one of the “truly great, masterful” stand-up sets he had ever witnessed.
Notaro later received a Grammy nomination for a recording of that set, and her career took off. But most importantly, she’s currently in remission, and she’s even fallen in love.
We checked in with Notaro as she’s in the middle of a nationwide tour, with visits lined up at the 40 Watt Club in Athens Wednesday, Oct. 8 and to Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 9.
How much has your life and career changed since your August 3, 2012 set?
Well, as a person, the biggest change would be that I have become much more open. Prior to that performance, I was relatively guarded about my personal life, and did not feel comfortable sharing many details. But after that performance, I saw just how much positivity had come from being more of an open person and sharing my life experiences with people. As a comic, I continue to do what excites me and what feels true to me as a person.
Do you have any regrets about being so open about what all was happening to you in those four months, or has it been all good?
Not at all. I feel really fortunate that being so open seems to have inspired and helped others out there in the world going through a deadly diagnosis or just a rotten day at the office.
Was there pressure to follow up that set after getting so much acclaim, or was that not even on your radar screen considering everything else that was going on with you?
I don’t feel pressure to top that set. The huge response and CD sales was all so unexpected that I can’t even concern myself with what will follow.
What kind of topics do you cover on the current tour “Boyish Girl Interrupted”?
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.
You have a story arc coming up on Amazon’s “Transparent.” Tell me about the role.
The creator, Jill Soloway, is someone who has been a friend of mine for a little while, so I had the luxury of knowing her in the casting process. My part is very small–like if you blink you’ll miss it–small. But it was still so fun to shoot. I am so incredibly excited to see the entire series, I truly think its going to change people in the very best way.
So how’s your health? How’s life nowadays, Tig?
I do not have a single complaint in any facet of my life. I feel quite fortunate. I’d feel even more fortunate if you Georgians would come on out to my shows and say hello to my face.