Comedian Tig Notaro’s “Truly Great” Cancer Stand-up Set Now Available on Louis C.K.‘s Website

Until a cou­ple months ago, it was kind of an open secret that Tig Notaro is one of the smartest, fun­ni­est female comics work­ing today. Notaro had a fierce­ly loy­al fan­base, a No. 1 pod­cast with writ­ing part­ner Kyle Dun­ni­gan (Pro­fes­sor Blastoff) and made reg­u­lar appear­ances on some of the usu­al com­e­dy cir­cuits, live and tele­vised (Com­e­dy Cen­tral Presents, The Sarah Sil­ver­man Pro­gram). She was doing pret­ty well, but had nowhere near the pro­file of, say, Louis C.K. Then some­thing extra­or­di­nary hap­pened. First, her life fell apart, and then her career blast­ed off: What changed? She got can­cer. Just the lat­est twist, a brush with death, in the life of a “mas­ter of the art of coun­ter­in­tu­itive com­e­dy.”

The can­cer, of course, was bad. But the four months lead­ing up to her diag­no­sis includ­ed a series of improb­a­bly awful events that could send the aver­age per­son into a depres­sive coma: she con­tract­ed pneu­mo­nia, then a near-fatal bac­te­r­i­al infec­tion, then her moth­er died sud­den­ly, then she went through an emo­tion­al breakup. All fol­lowed by… can­cer. So what’s the upside? Well, she is can­cer free now and appar­ent­ly doing well after a dou­ble mas­tec­to­my. But what made an impact pro­fes­sion­al­ly was the way she han­dled the com­pound­ing of per­son­al crises: she kept show­ing up, mak­ing great com­e­dy. And last August, instead of can­cel­ing an appear­ance at the L.A. club Largo, Notaro went onstage on the day she was diag­nosed with stage 2 breast can­cer, and deliv­ered a poignant, dead­pan mono­logue: “Hel­lo, I have can­cer. How are you?”

Louis C.K., who was there that night, tweet­ed that Notaro’s act was among the “tru­ly great, mas­ter­ful standup sets” he had seen in his 27 years in the busi­ness. Lat­er on his web­site C.K. wrote:

I was cry­ing and laugh­ing and lis­ten­ing like nev­er in my life. Here was this small woman stand­ing alone against death and sim­ply report­ing where her mind had been and what had hap­pened and employ­ing her gor­geous­ly acute stand-up voice to her own death.

C.K.’s noto­ri­ety sent Notaro trend­ing all over the inter­net, but the per­for­mance wasn’t made pub­lic, which only increased inter­est. Now, the uncut record­ing of that night has been released as her sec­ond com­e­dy album, Live, and it’s avail­able on C.K.’s web­site for the small price of $5.00. You can hear a short pre­view of the set above.

These days, Notaro’s first album Good One is No. 2 (in com­e­dy) on iTunes, she has a book deal, and is begin­ning a reg­u­lar gig on Com­e­dy Cen­tral. Reporters come call­ing fre­quent­ly. Notaro spoke to NPR’s Fresh Air a cou­ple days ago and told her sto­ry of that night. C.K. fol­lowed up in the same pro­gram with his ver­sion of events. Notaro’s inter­view is clas­sic her—she’s a nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed sto­ry­teller who seems to rise above mis­for­tune with envi­able poise and wit.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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