The first thing you should know about Tig Notaro's debut HBO special Boyish Girl Interrupted, premiering this Saturday, is that she completes the set topless.
The next thing you should know: This isn't the first time.
Notaro is no stranger to "baring it all" onstage. She first pulled the stunt last year during a Largo set in L.A. and then again at the New York City Comedy Festival. Stripping down on stage is a bold act for anyone to pull off in front of a live audience, but even more daring when you have double mastectomy scars running down your chest as Notaro does. Years after being launched into the spotlight for a performance that focused on the worst months of her life (losing her mother, being diagnosed with breast cancer, and undergoing the double mastectomy), Notaro is ready to shed more than just her top. Following the release of two different documentaries (Showtime's Knock, Knock, It's Tig Notaro and Tig on Netflix), she's enjoying a new phase in both her professional and personal life — one that is stable, happy, and not in the least bit "interrupted."
Notaro spoke with BuzzFeed News about her HBO special, the upcoming Amazon series inspired by her life, and the brand new-kitten named "Fluff" that is constantly terrorizing her leg.
This isn't the first time you've taken your top off during a set, right?
The first time was at Largo.
Do you get the same reaction or does the audience see it coming now?
Every time the audience has been really excited and supportive. I don't know if they expect it or not, but I know that there's a question in people's heads when they see me perform.
When you tape a special and a few months pass until you get to see it again, is it like looking back at an old yearbook photo? Do you think Ah, I should have tweaked this or tweaked that?
I feel good about it. I toured around for seven months doing that material and I got it to a place that I felt very good about. When I taped the special I felt ready to go, so I don't have any regrets about it or anything that I wish I could go back and change. Yeah, I feel good!
How would you define being a "Boyish Girl Interrupted" — and do you still consider yourself one?
Well, I've always been a boyish girl. I think that the interruption falls back to the time in my life everything fell apart and I feel like I've recovered very well — I don't feel interrupted at all anymore I guess. But you can't help but be alive and experience things and have interruptions...but I don't identify or feel that.
You're a fantastic storyteller and that's what you've become known for onstage — telling these long and winding stories with carefully placed pauses. What advice would you give to someone for telling a good story at a party? Asking for a friend.
[Laughs] I think that what I see a lot of people do that sets up failure in a story is saying, Oh my gosh, I have the funniest story to tell you. I don't think you need to tell anybody that. You just tell them the funny story. I think the enthusiasm and excitement that comes with all the emotion about the story will convey that rather than telling people they're about to hear a funny story.
In your special you have one joke about ice cream that goes on for about 15 minutes. How much is scripted in your head, and how much is off the cuff?
It's scripted, it's definitely scripted. I mean, it's something that I say night after night for so long that you just fall into the pattern of words and delivery ... I don't do any offstage prep, it's all done onstage. I rarely even write anything down other than a word or so.
Now you're set to star in an upcoming Amazon series [with Louis C.K. and Diablo Cody] that is based on real events in your life. Is it difficult to keep going over and over these close-to-home experiences or is it therapeutic to create something new?
It's not based on, it's inspired by — so it's really a lot of people and situations and everything is made up. It's my character rebuilding my life after everything fell apart and it's almost, in a way, telling the future of my fake life. Situations come up and what do I think would happen? It's very loosely inspired by my life, so it's not a scripted version of the documentary or anything like that. My life falls apart and then I'm rebuilding it — stuff that maybe hasn't even come up in my real life, and it's me guessing how that would go.
You recently said, "Cancer is a big deal, but my body — the aftermath — is not a big deal." Many people can relate to your experiences firsthand. What do you hope audiences are getting out of you telling your own story?
I mean, it's so much beyond just cancer. There's just so many events and cancer was in the spotlight the most in my story. But people don't realize that I actually… a lot of the other stuff was more painful and harder for me. In general, I think keeping moving and I know that, for myself, I've gotten a lot out of putting myself out there and sharing what's going on with me and taking risks in life. I think all that can't help but propel you forward.
The last couple of years have been crazy, both on and off the stage. What are you most proud of?
Oh my gosh, my personal life. Of course, I'm thrilled about my career but I've always been kind of happy about my career. I just think that what I'm building personally is truly — Stephanie and I have a kitten and we are so focused on this little annoying hairball! You know, my face is all around town and on billboards and it's fun and cool, but our focus is on this stupid little animal that won't stop biting our toes.
Does he or she have a name?
Her name is Fluff. She's chasing her tail right now and biting the pillow on the couch. Pretty much, that's her life.
In Tig we see you and your girlfriend, Stephanie Allynne, texting back and forth, but you note that you're a notoriously bad texter. Do you have any texting tips for anybody trying to woo someone for the first time?
It's not that I'm bad at texting, it's just that I don't do it. I got very interested in it when I was interested in Stephanie and we texted nonstop. Once we got together our texts, I mean they are of course kind, but it's all When will you be home? and Can you pick up cat food? So I don't know what my tip would be. What I don't like about texting is when people shorten words and use smiley faces. I'm just like, what am I looking at? What on earth am I looking at?
I think another place where Stephanie and I connected with texting is that we both write out every word. And it's not because we have a lot of time on our hands, it's just — I don't know — I have to write out words fully and so does she. I don't know if there's any advice in there. Probably the best advice is: Don't text me.
That documentary really shows you and Stephanie first getting together. There seems to be a shift, not only in Hollywood but also out in the LGBT community, where some people still have a big coming out of the closet moment while others simply begin dating someone and don't feel the need to address it. Do you think we are moving towards a time where having a "big coming out moment" is less important or are we becoming more open-minded to people being in a relationship regardless of labels?
I think it's all of those things. I hope that it's becoming less of a deal. A lot of people have commented on how I don't come out in the documentary and how it's just part of the story, I don't talk about my sexuality. I think that labels are what put people in the corner in the first place … I lean towards thinking that taking that pressure off of anyone — taking it off of yourself — sexuality and gender kind of stuff, it's an easier ride if you're just living your life and not worrying too much about that. I'm sure plenty of people disagree with me.
So if 10-year-old Tig were standing in front of you right now, what would you say to her?
I would say,You're going to feel like you're on the wrong track for a long time but oddly that is going to be the right track. I think on my track I figured out everything I did not want to do in life and it led me to what I do want to do.
You mentioned earlier you're most proud of your personal life. Now with Stephanie and Fluff, what are you most excited for in the future?
Just to have more time off and building our life, family, and home. That's really — I mean I can't speak for Stephanie — we both love our careers and our lives and stuff. It's exciting to think of having a little more time off to focus on building what we have, which we are both so very lucky to have.