Dec 07

Tig Notaro: As Funny As Cancer, Believe It Or Not

Comedy can actually be therapy—for both the comedian and the audience. Even when the stuff of said comedy involves the most difficult of circumstances. Just ask Tig Notaro.

A comedian is simply a different kind of therapist. A comedian is a psychologist and a psychiatrist rolled into one. Except I can’t prescribe medicine. (You still need a doctorate, which is bullshit.) Okay, so I’m not like a psychiatrist. Fine. But I’m still like a psychologist (except I can’t diagnose or treat mental illness). Eugene Mirman, comedian

Maybe at some point you’ve heard or said something along the lines of, “That’s (you’re) as funny as cancer.” Obvious meaning: “Cancer funny? Not so much.”

Cancer is not funny. But, can you be funny about cancer? Possibly—when it’s your own. Is it therapeutic? To others, very possibly; to the comic with cancer, undoubtedly.

When Ross Luippold asks in a recent Huffington Post article, “What kind of comedian publicly announces her breast cancer diagnosis without her tongue firmly in cheek?,” he’s talking about Tig Notaro, whose recent cancer was only one of a string of significant stressors in her life. (She says she is now cancer-free.)

Writing on wbez.org, Al Gini describes those stressors and how Notaro handled that proverbial last straw:

Notaro was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and underwent a double mastectomy, chemo-therapy and radiation treatment. This was not long after she contracted a serious bacterial infection, lived through the sudden, unexpected death of her mother, and suffered a bitter break up with her girlfriend. What did she do with this bad luck and medical agony? She made fun of it, by turning it into a stand-up routine: ‘Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Is everybody having a good time?’

Macabre? Indeed! Shocking? You bet! Cynical? Absolutely! Angry? A little? Funny? Well, yes! After you let it all sink in. Notaro is really not being irreverent. She’s not talking about other people’s cancer, she’s talking about her cancer and trying, through laughter, to take away the fear, dread and stigma of having cancer. Her routine is a bit of ‘gallows humor.’ It’s an attempt to detox her own fears, and perhaps help others to deal with their fears of illness and death.

What’s Tig Notaro like in general—that is, when she’s not using cancer for humor? As described by Joe Berkowitz (www.fastcocreate.com): “Notaro’s delivery is drier than fabric softener sheets made out of sandpaper, a natural extension of her authentic personality.”