Tig Notaro: “Boyish Girl Interrupted” (HBO)

If you’ve followed any comedy at all over the past few years, then you undoubtedly know or have heard about Tig Notaro and what these years have been like for her. There’s a documentary about that (on Netflix) and you could see her reference it amid jokes and a unique road trip tour with Jon Dore (on Showtime). Just look at all of the famous funny people offering testimonials to Tig in this tease for HBO (and also for Twitter, where they took turns, one person each day Tweeting on her behalf because she refuses to Tweet @TigNotaro):

But what about the jokes? How are the jokes? How is Tig now?

Notaro cuts right to the bone in her new HBO special, Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted, produced by Funny or Die. Or, rather, she unbuttons her shirt in a visceral visual display. Nothing left to hide. Not that she ever hid anything. At least not since she first walked onstage at Largo in Los Angeles and declared “Hello, I have cancer. How are you?” About this going topless business: It’s not a parlor trick. She had only ripped off her shirt twice before onstage. First at Largo last year; then again making headlines in November at Town Hall during the New York Comedy Festival. And now here in 2015 in Boston for her HBO taping.

Why Boston? Notaro asks and answers the question several ways in the first couple of minutes.

“Why am I shooting my special in Boston? No more stupid questions, please!”

She’ll ask for, nay demand, her own standing ovation. But at first, Notaro needs no big build-up or introduction. Just walking onstage is enough to announce her presence. The audience, knowing much more about her than most people know about most comedians (a statement that was much more true about everyone five years ago, before the podcast boom).

Still, Notaro reminds us and you that in the larger scheme of the world, she remains far from a household name or a sure thing with the mainstream — joking about how she bombed 14 straight shows, two per night for a week straight in Las Vegas. What to do between shows each night? “Could I please leave and find something else to do?” The venue called her agent to call her to tell her that. “That call came from inside the club!”

She’s as quickly able to laugh at herself on these foibles as she has been on the more intimate hurdles she has faced. Notaro often exudes a playful absurdity. Perhaps you’ve seen her push a stool across the soundstage at Conan, or push an impression of a clown horn until you break down in tears of hilarious laughter.

As to her misadventure in Vegas, Notaro decides to drown her sorrows in ice cream. Perhaps that can represent her “one tiny victory” of the week. As she licks an imaginary ice cream cone, she stops to acknowledge how foolish she looks for not using the microphone as her makeshift cone.

Foolish, yes. And yet, Notaro also proves herself at 44 remarkably adept at projecting the innocent face and personality of a young child.

Which comes in handy when she regales us with a story about when she and her friend crossed paths with a Santa Claus lookalike, and caught the close encounter on camera. Really want to see that video footage. It could be our generation’s “Bigfoot” film. Video or it didn’t happen, Tig!

If Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro‘s signature noise infatuation was the clown horn, then Boyish Girl Interrupted has fallen in love with the pig snort of a laugh. Even if we’re not treated in this hour to a specific pig snorter for Notaro to face up close and personal.

Halfway through, Notaro does address her breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy, wryly wondering if her previously small but existent breasts had decided to retaliate against her after years of mockery. “You know what? We’re sick of this. Let’s kill her.”

Deciding not to pursue breast reconstruction has given her more opportunities for humor, though, most specifically when confronted by a TSA screener confused about Notaro’s gender. “I knew exactly what was happening, and all I needed to do was speak, and she would know I was female, but I just did not want to help her out. At all. I was enjoying the awkwardness so much. I just loved standing there, like…”

And that’s how she playfully segues into disrobing, teasing the audience as she takes off her jacket, then unbuttons her white shirt.

Notaro performs the final 20 minutes of her 55-minute set topless (spoiler alert: her set is Instagram safe, because no nipples are shown), joking about a typical subject for comedians with her fear of flying on a small plane, and the nonsense that must have prompted public pools to put up signs to prevent diarrhea. Her nonchalance is deliberate, not addressing her nudity. But her vocal delivery becomes even more deliberate, her voice growing stronger, more assured and direct. Eliminating the pauses she normally loves to live within, so the audience can focus more on her material and not on her body.

Tig Notaro might not get everything she wants, but she most certainly gets everything she needs. So when she finally takes a dramatic pause, only to warn the audience that they must maintain her alleged streak of consecutive standing ovations, it’s the safest bet in town that this audience will pull through for her.

And they do.

Because she earned it.

Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, with replays later and available on HBO GO, HBO NOW and On Demand.

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.

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