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article imageReview: Finding the comedy in the tragedy in Tig Notaro's story Special

By David Silverberg     Jul 27, 2015 in Entertainment
Watching the documentary Tig, you'll be struck by two things: how to surface from tragedy so deep, it almost kills you; and finding the laughter in things often deemed too uncomfortable to discuss. Welcome to comedian Tig Notaro's life.
Tig, available on Netflix this month, follows the ups and (mainly) downs of Tig Notaro, a Mississippi-born comedian who achieved worldwide fame thanks to a set where she opened with the shocker, "Good evening, I have cancer."
There are few documentaries that can both make you feel all the feelings and have you chuckling within 10 seconds. Tig wonderfully pulls off this unique feat, thanks to director Kristina Goolsby's intimate moments tracking down what makes Notaro tick. Candid honesty shines in almost every Tig scene. It's hard to look away even for a bathroom break, because you wonder if you'll be missing an inspirational quote that will stick with you long after the credits.
To recap what Notaro has been through these past few years: Notaro was diagnosed with c. difficile, a dangerous infection that ate away at her intestines and put her in the hospital for weeks. She came out OK in time for her 41st birthday but soon after, her mother fell, hit her head, and died in a freak accident. As if that pain wasn't tragic enough, Notaro went through a breakup and then doctors found a lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy.
What Notaro then faces is a struggle to both recover physically and emotionally. She wants to return to the comedy stage, too, but struggles with her confidence. Then, she does a heavy set at Largo in L.A., and announces she has cancer, then flirts with jokes about cancer and making audiences uncomfortable. Comedian Louis C.K. was so floored by the set he announced to his rabid fans that they could download the set, and overnight Notaro became a worldwide sensation.
Tig looks at how that set rocketed Notaro to the spotlight, but also pressured her to follow-up with a new set at the Largo a year after she touched that mic. It's incredibly inspiring to see Notaro explain how being on stage makes her feel connected to humanity in a way nothing else has ever done to her. Any artist, or fan of the arts, will appreciate those memorable scenes.
What you also get out of Tig is the oft-overlooked approach to find the funny in the deeply serious. Cancer is no laughing matter, but Notaro is able to spin incredibly intelligent jokes about the disease in a way that has rarely been accomplished.
As Louis C.K. is quoted as saying:
It was an incredible example of what comedy is good at, which is taking people to the scary parts of their mind and making them laugh in those scary places. That's a great gift.
I found myself choked up one moment and laughing aloud the next. Such a bumpy but enjoyable ride kept me riveted to Tig, and I couldn't wait to learn more about the healing power of comedy.
Notaro's brain works in quirky ways. Often, her jokes are quite warped. Due to the access the filmmakers got with Notaro's day-to-day, It's insightful to see how she goes from idea to punchline to draft #2 for each bit.
The comedy-writing process is on full display in Tig, making this doc a must-watch for comedy lovers, as well as cancer survivors and anyone hungry for some sunshine amid the thunderstorms.
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