It took Notaro more than a month to convince herself to release it (mostly because it was so raw and off-the-cuff, like an open-mic performance), but she was eventually swayed by thinking it could help someone. (Part of the proceeds will go to charity.) She dubbed it the typical-seeming title “Live,” but it’s meant to be pronounced as in “to live.”
Notaro was performing that night partly to work out material she had written on her ordeal, having been urged by “This American Life” host Ira Glass, who would later feature her story on the radio program. Just 90 minutes before going on stage, she had thought she would begin by sitting down and laying everything out for the audience. Instead, while showering, she decided such an apologetic opening was “lame” and was seized by maniacal laughter at the thought of beginning as she did: “This is how I’m going to deal with having cancer,” she told herself. She paused, worried that she might offend anyone with cancer, before realizing: “Wait, I have cancer.”
Helms, a friend of Notaro’s who watched the performance from the wings, said he expected her to just perform a typical night of stand-up as a release from what she was going through.
“I should have known better,” Helms said. “She’s such an honest person and just moves through the world with total integrity. She knew deep down she couldn’t just get on a stage and tell jokes the old-fashioned way. It wouldn’t be true to where her head was at.”
“I just really needed to talk about it,” says Notaro, explaining her mindset at the time. “What if my life is slipping away right now? What if this is the last time I can get on stage? … I certainly never thought that was going to be my second album.”
Notaro is now back from the brink. She had a double mastectomy and doctors believe the cancer has been removed with recurrence unlikely. She finds herself a sensation, and has signed a book deal with Ecco Press. Her first album, “Good One,” is among the best-sellers on iTunes. “I’ve never gone viral before,” she says.
“I didn’t expect any of it — the good or the bad — and to the degrees that things have happened!” says Notaro, who’s just begun a previously hired job writing for a Comedy Central show starring the comedian Amy Schumer. “I cannot wait, and I’m so curious, for the time that I have a boring day with nothing going on. I have not had a boring day in seven months.”
It’s an unlikely high-point for Notaro who has for years been a respected and popular stand-up. She grew up in Mississippi before moving with her mom to Houston. Notaro, whose real name is Mathilde, was nicknamed “Tig” by an older brother. Long a fan of Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Paula Poundstone, she first began performing when she arrived in Los Angeles about 15 years ago. Performing at Largo in August — “a live-wire of nerves,” she said — reminded her of that first time.
Her stand-up, while personal, hasn’t typically been confessional or dark. Among her most famous routines is a never-ending bit about repeatedly running into ‘80s pop star Taylor Dayne. Performing on “Conan,” she also stretched absurdity, spending the majority of her set pushing a stool around the stage.
But now, Notaro realizes a shift has occurred in her comedy and that she can’t return to her old material. “Live” ends with her telling one of her jokes — one about a bee on a highway in Los Angeles — but she’s telling it ironically. After talking about cancer and death, the joke is funny for being so foolish by comparison. Continued…
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