Comedian Tig Notaro Looks Back—And Forward

A year after a groundbreaking stand-up set, Notaro talks to TIME (Plus: download a free audio clip of her work)

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Comedian Tig Notaro onstage at the 2011 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival Comedy Showcase: The Benson Interruption at Esther's Follies on March 19, 2011, in Austin, Texas.

Last summer, comedian Tig Notaro did something unusual: she went on stage at a club in L.A. and told the audience, a group of people who were probably expecting a stand-up set of her deadpan jokes, about what had happened in the last few months of her life. She had nearly been killed by a bacterial infection. Her mother died. Her relationship fell apart. And, not long before she went on stage, she learned she had breast cancer.

The next unusual thing she did was to release the recording of that set as a digital download that would then be one of the most successful comedy albums of 2012. That album, Live (the verb, not the modifier), will be available on CD for the first time on July 16—with a companion piece, a free preview of which is available at the bottom of this post. And, almost a year after it was recorded, Notaro is healthy and doing well.

This week’s issue of TIME takes a look at what comes next for a comedian known for bad luck when everything is finally going great.

(To read Lily Rothman’s profile of comedian Tig Notaro, who made cancer and death funny, subscribe here. Already a subscriber? Click here.)

But, when Notaro stopped by TIME’s offices, that question wasn’t the only thing she talked about.

So the Live set was almost exactly a year ago.

August 3rd.

Does it feel like a year?

It feels about six months. I guess it’s one of those tricky things where it feels both long ago and — yeah, probably six months.

And you’re writing a book about your experiences. How’s it coming along?

Slowly but surely. It’s happening. It’s not just a silly memoir but there’s comedy and there’s the realness of what happened.

Was that the original idea for the book, in your proposal?

There wasn’t a book proposal. They just basically said ‘we’ll take your book.’ There was a bidding war! I woke up from my surgery, my double mastectomy, and had a book deal. My deal went through that day. The auction was going on while I was under the knife.

Were you still woozy when you heard about it?

I was pretty drugged up for several days. I remember that my book deal had gone through and they had gotten the cancer. There were a few points that I remember, that people told me, but in general I was highly drugged.

What’s your take on the state of women in comedy?

I don’t think about it until somebody asks me. People would say when I started doing stand-up, that it’s a guys’ world, and guys are jerks out there, and the road’s tough. And I just didn’t have a problem. I just did stand-up and focused on it and it got better. And I got on the road and people were really friendly—audiences, other comedians, club owners. I don’t want to do it again, but I really don’t have a complaint in the world about being a woman or how I’ve been treated. If people didn’t like me I never blamed it on any particular thing. I just figured they didn’t like me.

(MOREAisha Tyler on the Value of Failure (and Embarrassment))

How would you describe the way Live has transformed your career?

Doors open a lot easier. I have more money. I don’t know. It’s not like I’m driving around a Lamborghini and buying sprawling homes or anything. I’m not an extravagant person. But doors open a lot easier. More money. Doors open easier. Still no Lamborghini. There won’t be a Lamborghini.


Eh, there’ll probably be a Lamborghini. …No.

In terms of your non-professional life —

It barely exists.

Is your health something that’s still a daily-basis issue?

I have doctor’s appointments. I started exercising again. I’ve always eaten pretty well but when I eat I’m aware of what I’m putting into my body.

Are you dating?

Uh-huh. I am dating.

That’s nice.

It is nice. It’s funny because I thought that when I was diagnosed—plus, before that I had had [a bacterial infection called] C. diff and I was 20 pounds less. And I was just a wreck, and I was in a relationship, which ended—I just couldn’t imagine that I would ever be attractive to anybody again. Or that I would be alive, really. It oddly didn’t skip a beat. My health turned around and I’ve had a very busy dating… — I was going to say dating career, but I’m actually not making any money.

And if you were you probably wouldn’t want to tell me.

Yeah. I guess that would put me in a legal-area thing. But I’m not a prostitute. That would be amazing if I finally confessed that that was what was going on. “My career’s taking off but I’ve also been dabbling in prostitution.” But yeah. I have a fun dating life.

And you’re in the movie In a World…, which is coming out August 9.

I collapsed, I think, the day after that wrapped. That began the beginning of the end.

Was that pneumonia?

I had pneumonia and I had C. diff and I didn’t realize it. I collapsed the day after and went to the emergency room.


Yeah, so when I watch that movie, it’s interesting for me because I’m thinking, first of all, You don’t know what C. diff is and that you’re about to lose all this weight and that your mother’s about to die and your relationship’s going to end and that you have cancer. I had no idea. It was so weird to watch. But now I don’t feel that way when I see it. I’m excited.

Is there any medium you’re not working in right now?

I’m not going to sing. I’m not gonna put anyone through that. But working on stand-up, a book, a TV show, movies, one-person show. It’s a lot. I was just thinking back to your dating question. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some whore about the town. I just mean like…

You’re not sitting at home alone.


(To read Lily Rothman’s profile of comedian Tig Notaro, who made cancer and death funny, subscribe here. Already a subscriber? Click here.)

Download a free preview clip of Tig Notaro Live at the Moth: