A little-known comedian nine months ago, Notaro, 41, stepped onstage at the West Hollywood club Largo in August and delivered a set for the history books.She had material, of course: in 2012, in quick succession, she contracted a life-threatening intestinal disease, mourned her mother’s passing in a freak accident, broke up with her girlfriend, and, when it seemed like the prophecies couldn’t get any fouler, ended up in a doctor’s office at Cedars-Sinai, diagnosed with breast cancer.—her mother’s death, a serious breakup, and breast cancer—into a fearless stand-up set, mesmerizing fans new (Lena Dunham) and old (Louis C. With her career in hyperdrive, she’s trying to find her footing.Has anyone been more up and down this year than Tig Notaro?But less than six months later she’s a cult icon: writing a book, working on a comedy series in New York, and making the rounds on late-night TV.“Everyone has the moment that brings them to the next level,” says Notaro, cocking her head.
“Tig is now in the heads of hundreds of thousands of people who don’t see her as a comic—she’s now their favorite person,” says Ira Glass, host of Louis C.
A lesbian who works the soccer-player “boi” look, with a kind, sweet manner that doesn’t seem completely reconciled with her deep-seated self-image as a rebel, Notaro was raised in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and then outside Houston by a gregarious mother and dry-witted stepfather, an attorney.
(Tig’s a childhood nickname; her given name is Mathilde.) “My mom was a freethinking artist—she was wild and would do anything to get a laugh from me,” says Notaro.
“I liked how she took everything literally: when she got a note to draw the drapes, she’d set up an easel and actually draw the drapes,” she says. The year that John Lennon died (she was nine), she started guitar and decided to become “the fifth Beatle.” She also started smoking and a few years later began failing out of school. Within two weeks, she was on a stage at a coffee shop with her first joke: “My name’s Tig. “We were raised on hydraulics, and a guy in a diaper would come out, with props like a hula hoop or a fire extinguisher, and we’d have to make jokes about it,” says Kyle Dunnigan, Notaro’s current writing partner and castmate on the show.
“She’d go in reverse through a drive-through so I could order from the window: ‘Hi, can I get a milk shake?
’ ” Notaro frequently treed herself climbing in her backyard, despite her daredevil nature, and loved Amelia Bedelia, the zany housekeeper in a hat trimmed with daisies.