Interview: Tig Notaro talks about her show-biz career, and curating The Bentzen Ball in D.C.

When the D.C. Comedy Festival decided it wasn't returning in 2009, the folks at Brightest Young Things — who know a thing or two about throwing a party — asked comedian Tig Notaro — who knows a thing or two about funny people — to help them fill the comedy void in our nation's capital. They're putting on the inaugural Bentzen Ball this weekend, Oct. 22-25, in Washington, D.C.

Tignotaro I sat down at my computer and typed out some questions, and Tig Notaro took whatever position she takes when she types on a computer (I'm going to imagine she's straddling this motorcycle), and the power of the Internets brought our fingers and thoughts together for an interview. Ready, set, read!

Do you think D.C. needs comedy more and/or differently from other parts of the country?

I can't imagine any place where someone would say, "Nope, no more comedy needed here folks, thanks though. Move it along." I guess DC strikes me as even more prime of an area though due to the increased interest in the city itself and politics in general since Obama took office. Comedians obviously have something to say, and DC is the perfect city to speak their minds in, regardless of the topic. Who isn't up for a debate in that town? Politics, comedy or otherwise.

How would you compare putting together the Bentzen Ball with your previous installments of Tig Notaro and Friends?

Tig and Friends never takes place in DC or with 60 comedians. It's just me and maybe 3 comedian friends at Largo in LA. There's no rounding up sponsorship, never thousands of dollars on the line, you know, that sort of thing. A few slight differences. Spreadsheets and whatnot.

How did you feel about being spotlighted by Bob Read and Mark Ross online in their very first "Laugh Squad" post online for The Jay Leno Show? Is that better than being on The Jay Leno Show itself? Do you feel like Bob and Mark could have/should have given you more of a showcase via Last Comic Standing? What's your philosophy toward achieving true success as a comedian, and knowing when you've achieved it?

I appreciated that Bob and Ross spotlighted me on the website the night of Leno's premiere. I imagine it was nice exposure to some extent. The morning after though, my life changed like crazy. I immediately started riding around in a stretch Hummer with all the windows rolled down. I think its important to keep up appearances. As for Last Comic Standing, I'm more than fine with the exposure they gave me. I never wanted anything more from the show than what I got. I didn't want to win or be solely known as "from Last Comic Standing." When people do know me from that, I'm always shocked. I was at a hot dog stand in Santa Barbara once with Natasha Leggero (I'll explain later) and got recognized from the show. It was a very glamorous time. In that moment, Natasha got a glimpse into how good things could be one day. I think Natasha was pretty impressed. Just as I imagine the guy that recognized me from Last Comic Standing was quite impressed to find me at that hot dog stand. I think that's when I knew I had achieved true success as a comedian. It felt like everything had finally come full circle. I'm not going to lie, it felt pretty darn good to have that guy see me step into my Hummer and drive off from that Santa Barbara hot dog stand.

You've mentioned in other interviews wanting to make the festival as much for the comedians as for the fans. You've performed at a number of other comedy fests. What have you learned from those in terms of things to include and things to avoid when planning and programming your own fest?

I have done a million festivals and I have taken note of ways that I would do things differently. Basically the main thing important to me is to have the area contained so every venue is walking distance for comedians and the audience. I also think it's really important to offer up-and-comers a chance to perform with the people they admire and might not get a chance to work with typically at this point in their career. I also always think about what I'm missing seeing in the cities I'm visiting, because I don't know where to go for anything. I mean, it's cool to explore a city with your comedian friends, but at The Bentzen Ball, we're going to tell comedians cool places to go and give options of what to do. We have scheduled private tours of the White House, the Capitol building, a Segway tour of the city, a champagne brunch for the comedians hosted by a local restaurant, an afterparty at a different bar each night, a trip to the Walter Reed Army Hospital to meet the soldiers and do a show for them, and a gigantic list of other activities. I want to make it one of the coolest experiences for everyone to have together all the while getting a pretty good feel for the area over the 4-5 days they're in town. Everyone is really excited.

You worked with Kristen Stewart in The Runaways movie, which is due out next year, right? Did that give you a different perspective on the current craze over the Twilight movies, and how has it (if it has) been reflected in your stand-up? And from the acting side, did that (combined with working on Sarah Silverman's show) give you an itch to pursue that part of your career in show biz? Or with your musical background, has it made you want to pursue that? Or have you decided to become the 21st century version of a Renaissance woman?

Working with Kristen made me want to be 19 and making several million a film. I think if I focus and put in the time and effort, I can do it. I wasn't familiar with Twilight until my manager explained the phenomenon that had been going on around me, after I got the part. I thought I had basically gotten a role in some low-budget student film about Joan Jett. I knew of Kristen though, because her mom worked on Sarah's show as our script supervisor and I would just hear things on set like, "oh, Jules' daughter got a part in Into the Wild, or this movie or this thing or whatever." I just thought, "Oh, that's great. Way to go kid-o." I had no idea that Kristen was a huge movie star. I figured she and I were about on the same level careerwise. Shooting The Runaways hasn't reflected in my stand up at all, except for the fact that I now insist on being introduced as "Tinsel Town movie star, Tig Notaro" before I get on stage. I've really enjoyed acting, if that's even what I've been doing. It's crazy the opportunities I've been given. I'd love to do more, but would TOTALLY understand if someone finally pulled the plug on this whole "Tig's an actor now" thing.

Your bio page said you were given the boot as Chelsea Handler's sidekick on her pilot for E! Considering your replacement…um, right? (This is where, if we were talking in person, I'd pause and look at you, hoping you have something, anything to say about that says about comedy and show business!)

I was totally given the boot on Chelsea's pilot. It wasn't this one show now, it was the one before. I think it lasted one season, but I'm not sure. I'm not really sure of anything, really. All I know is I was at Whole Foods one day minding my Tig business and as I was picking out a brussel sprout or something, I heard Chelsea yell at me across the produce department that she and her producers were coming to see me do stand up the following night at the Improv because she wanted them to cast me as a sidekick on her show. I said something like, "Wow. Great. Thanks" then continued on to the canned goods aisle. Sure enough, Chelsea and her producers came to my show, told me they wanted to use me, we had some meetings, dinners, shot the pilot and then I got cut out and replaced. I never really heard from Chelsea again after that. I find it all sort of amusing, actually. All I can figure is they must have thought I was too sexy for the show or something. As for her sidekick now, yeah, I don't know. I'd say something snarky if I really knew more and had a snarky opinion, but I haven't followed the show. If it's not Grease, Star Wars or the newspaper, I'm probably not familiar. I'm like a time capsule with no information. But as for Chelsea, I've heard through the grapevine that her career has suffered tremendously since ditching me.

What's the one show on the Bentzen Ball schedule that you want to make sure doesn't get overlooked just because it doesn't have "famous" comedians on it?

The Sarah Silverman festival finale on Sunday. Oh, and I think the local comedian showcase shouldn't be missed either. Nobody "famous" on either of those shows, which is nice.

Are you related at all to humor author Laurie Notaro? My career path crossed with hers at The Arizona Republic in Phoenix. So I'm naturally curious. Of course, my name is McCarthy and there are many of us roaming the world (funny and unfunny alike).

I think she's my mother, but I'm not entirely sure. Would you mind finding out?

Sure thing, Tig! In the meantime, here's a new video of Tig interviewing Mary Lynn Rajskub, who will be performing at the Bentzen Ball. Enjoy!

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →

13 thoughts on “Interview: Tig Notaro talks about her show-biz career, and curating The Bentzen Ball in D.C.

  1. Aw, Tig,
    Thanks for showing some love for the local comic show going down on Thursday night. We’ll do you proud, honest. <3
    Don't forget to swing by the free show we're throwing each night down at Ben's Chili Bowl. It'll be the opposite of emasculating.

  2. It’s odd how the fact that tig notaro is a vicious douchebag who has stalked and slandered a very talented comedian is not of interest to these shabby publications. They even will delete comments. This tig trash obviously has some charles manson jim jones thing going. Why don’t you look her up in the appeals court and see the real story. tig notaro is as disgusting and dangerous as it gets.

  3. Sociopaths like Mathilde Notaro are good at ingratiating themselves to those in power.

  4. Please note: the above comments are the product of a mentally disturbed individual who Notaro had to get a restraining order to keep at bay. All of these negative comments come from one individual who stalks Notaro online, now that she is legally prohibited from doing so in meatspace 🙁

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