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There are few people who deserve the term “badass” as much as Tig Notaro. She’s a stool-pushing, swamp-rocking, Taylor Dayne-knowing standup comedian. She’s the kind of eccentric genius confident enough to stand still in front of a camera for an hour, just so your party could be a little cooler. But it took smirking in the face of cancer to finally push her badassery into the stuff of legend.
By any and all accounts, Notaro had a shitty year. Within a few months, she survived pneumonia, the sudden death of her mother, a rough break-up, and an intestine-eating bacteria called Clostridium difficile. And then, the cherry on top of the sundae, was the cancer diagnosis in both breasts. Instead of giving up, she went onstage at L.A.’s Largo, and did what only truly great artists do in the face of such terrible odds: turned it into relatable, heartbreaking, hilarious material.
That set was lauded by Louis C.K. (among others) as one of “a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets” he’d seen, an mythic comedy moment despite being seen by only a few hundred people. After being urged by friends, Notaro released a recording to the public. From the cover (depicting Notaro post double-mastectomy), to the line she opens with (“Thank you, I have cancer, thank you”), to the seemingly straightforward title (as in an encouragement to keep on living, not that it isn’t also recorded in front of an audience), Live brazenly pushes through everything that should stop it, and finds humor and power in the pain.
In a brief 30 minutes, Notaro relates the events of her year in a “this can’t get worse, can it?” deadpan, the audience audibly gasping and groaning. Besides being full of wonderfully written moments (including a reference that post-diagnosis, she needed to switch her online dating profile to “serious inquiries only”), the live audience’s inclusion in the experience is palpable. At times, the strength that she has outstrips even the strangers sitting and listening. As one woman lets out a pained sigh to the news of Notaro’s mother’s death, she insistently tells him that it’s going to be okay. “I can’t believe you’re taking this so hard,” she smiles, scathingly self-aware and powerful.
The drama builds in the room until it boils over, Notaro feeling the pressure of the murmured “no”s and moans, asking whether she should stop. The audience reaction, then, is just as perfectly honest and bold: “This is f—— amazing! It’s beautiful! Do not stop,” a man shouts, expressing the entire room’s sentiment (and likely that of every listener to this album).
Whether receiving a breezy questionnaire regarding the time her mother spent on life support before dying or a friend’s suggestion about “funny cancer greeting cards,” Notaro consistently makes things that shouldn’t be funny, both because of the dark subject matter and the fact that no one in this situation should be this strong, entirely hilarious. When asked by a nurse for her secret to a flat stomach: “Oh, I’m dying.” In the end, though, it’s as if Notaro’s constant reminders that it’s going to be okay, her sheer force of positive existence panned out, as she recently told Conan O’Brien that she’s been diagnosed cancer free after a major surgery.
Rare is the piece of art (and even rarer the comedy album) that covers this much emotional ground, getting to the point that its sometimes unclear whether the tears are due to laughing so hard or just from the seemingly hopeless pain of it all. Besides being joyously engaging, Notaro’s resounding strength makes this album something that lifts the soul of the listener as much as it entertains. Plus, you’ll feel good about the purchase, as Notaro is donating part of the proceeds to breast cancer research charities and receiving a document of an awe-inspiring achievement, one that encourages everyone to try to live as boldly as its author.
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