Jul 20

“Tig”: Documenting On Film a Resilient Comic Force

I’m the luckiest unlucky person. Tig Notaro

A few years ago, before Tig Notaro went through a slew of major life challenges (see previous post), she wasn’t that well known as a standup comic. But how she ultimately handled those challenges is what’s eventually set her apart as a performer and strongly boosted her appeal.

Jada Yuan, Vulture, sets up the new documentary Tig that premiered on Netflix last week:

In an ironic twist of fate, comedian Tig Notaro’s life started looking up from the moment she got onstage at the Largo comedy club in Los Angeles in October 2012 and announced, ‘Good evening, I have cancer.’ Before that funny-poignant set — highly praised by Louis C.K. and other comics — Notaro, 43, had endured a life-threatening infection, the sudden death of her mother, a breakup, and a diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer, requiring a double mastectomy. Filmmakers Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York talked Notaro into letting them follow her around for a year as she got back on her feet and prepared for an anniversary stand-up show at the Largo in October 2014. Along the way, Notaro tried to have a baby on her own, found love, and perfected a joke about her breasts getting so sick of her referring to her flat-chestedness that they tried to kill her.

Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times, differs on the doc’s time span—she says two years—and adds that “the movie offers an intimate portrayal of a woman whose career is exploding while everything else seems to be imploding. Known for deadpan delivery, Notaro takes viewers on a bluntly honest journey through her travails. She may not shed any tears, but the stuff she’s talking about feels scary and raw and important.”

The love of her life is Stephanie Allynne, an actress who Notaro met on the set of an earlier movie. “But Allynne,” states Kaufman, “made it clear she was straight. So it was difficult — even for the filmmakers — to see Notaro setting herself up for what seemed like more heartbreak.”

Long story short, Allynne eventually eschewed previous ideas about her own sexual orientation—and she and Tig are now engaged to be married. Also, Tig’s no longer alone in her pursuit of having kids.

Jason Zinoman, New York Times:

What begins as a moody portrait of tragedy turns into a narrative that resembles a lovely, if somewhat mundane, romantic comedy. The structure is similar to her recent show (a version of which will appear on HBO in August), in which she took off her shirt to show the audience her scars, only to continue telling jokes topless and let her routine retake the focus. Like Ms. Notaro’s act, ‘Tig’ chronicles her struggle with cancer, then shows her triumph over it by returning to something that looks normal. It’s the smile at the end of a deadpan punch line.

Check out the trailer here:

According to Yuan, next year Notaro will also be publishing a memoir. As is so often the case, the writing process, she says, has been “therapeutic.”

Jun 06

Ophira Eisenberg, A Comic, Relates Her Traumatic Car Accident

Thanks to a link from Craig and Judy Kellem’s Hollywoodscript.com Newsletter, I recently learned of comic Ophira Eisenberg.

In a recent New York Times article, “Telling Tales With a Tear and a Smile,” writer Jason Zinoman states:

What distinguishes Ms. Eisenberg is how thoughtfully she adjusts to the form she’s working in while retaining the essence of her bleakly stylish humor. In her stand-up she cheerily describes suicidal tendencies or finding her husband’s ex-girlfriend’s severed head. (‘Oh my God, she’s prettier than me.’) When she was single, she says, she put on her JDate profile that her hobbies include ‘depression and making you guess why I’m angry.’ This same mordant intensity appears in her storytelling, but in a slower cadence with more gravitas.

Zinoman then points us not to one of her standup routines but to Ophira Eisenberg in storytelling mode. She tells her audience a true story about surviving a terrible car accident when she was a young child. In sharing this experience, “…she shows how a story can use humor but not be shackled to it, how it can be emotional without pandering, and how difficult ideas can be articulated entertainingly.”

Eisenberg has told this difficult story for “The Moth,” which is “an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. It is a celebration of both the raconteur, who breathes fire into true tales of ordinary life, and the storytelling novice, who has lived through something extraordinary and yearns to share it.” The clip below runs over 11 minutes and is worth your investment:

In case you opted not to watch the clip, I’ll summarize. The gist is that when Ophira was eight years old she was in a car accident caused by an 18-year-old who ran a red light. Her mom was driving Ophira, her brother, and her best friend Adrienne.

Ophira spent months in the hospital. Adrienne’s mom was one of her visitors. “And I would always ask her like ‘Why aren’t you bringing Adrienne? I want to see Adrienne.’ But, somehow, she would just change the subject and I would go with it.”

Adrienne’s mother and Ophira’s decided one day it was time to tell her the truth. “‘We think that you’re healthy enough to hear this now. But remember when you described being unconscious? It felt like you were sleeping for a really, really long time? Well, Adrienne never woke up.’ I heard what they were saying but I don’t think I got it. I mean, I don’t think my 8-year-old brain could comprehend that. I didn’t cry ’cause I
didn’t know what that meant. I just knew that I should stop asking for Adrienne.”

Eventually, at the age of 16, she found a letter Adrienne’s father had written to Ophira’s mother. “I had
never thought of what my mother went through because she never showed me her pain or vulnerability
for one second. I can’t imagine the blame she felt, the guilt, the responsibility of taking care of
someone’s else’s child and then it all going horribly wrong. But she showed nothing but love.”

“…And my dad really was a pillar of strength…I wasn’t really the strong one. They were the strong ones because they had carefully led me to this place where I could live like an absolutely normal sixteen-year-old kid and Adrienne was never going to be sixteen. It hit me hard staring at the handwriting of her mourning father and I couldn’t run off to my Barbie Dream House. And for the first time I sat down at that dining room table and I cried.”



Jun 05

Mike Birbiglia: “Sleepwalk with Me”

Comic Mike Birbiglia has stated that some years ago his therapist “suggested keeping a journal of all the crazy things” in his life in order to “keep things in perspective.”

So he did. And he decided to share it. One such sampling from 2005 he titles “Yo therapist so crazy”:

I actually had an awkward thing happen where my therapist came to one of my shows and this other comedian saw her and said to me, ‘that woman looks crazy.’ And it really hurt my feelings. It was like someone had made fun of my mom. It was like he told a ‘yo’ mama’ joke but about my therapist:

‘Yo therapist so crazy, she interpretin’ her own dreams!’

‘Yo therapist so cheap, she already spent yo co-pay!’

Standup routines were then created out of these entries and were subsequently recorded.

Birbiglia, who’s transitioned from standup routines to storytelling, had a big hit with his more recent one-man theatrical show “Sleepwalk With Me,” which led later to a book called Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories. States Booklist: “…(T)he lengthy title story, of his struggle with a sleep disorder, is as fascinating as it is hilarious.”

Mike Birbiglia explains his sleep disorder in an interview (NPR):

I was diagnosed a few years ago with what’s called REM behavior disorder, where people have a dopamine deficiency. Dopamine is the chemical that is released from your brain into your body when you fall asleep that paralyzes your body so you don’t act out your dreams. And people who have this [disorder] are typically running away from some type of demon or wild animal — and people who have this, in rare instances, have actually killed people while remaining asleep.

Reportedly, his condition has now become pretty well controlled with the use of medication and some “behavioral changes.”

The whole enterprise of Sleepwalk With Me-related products has now culminated in the making of a feature film which won the NEXT Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival this year and which will come to movie theaters this fall.

Below is the trailer to his upcoming film:

Update upon the movie’s release. Leah Rozen, thewrap.com: “Birbiglia is…a milquetoast Everyman, more than a little confused by life but still hoping for the best. As he slowly sorts out his personal life, his medical woes and his career, he and this modest comedy win you over as surely as he does the on-screen audiences hearing his stand-up routines.”