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Tig Notaro explains why she spoke out about the SNL clown sketch

The comedian updated EW on her current projects, including what’s next for ‘One Mississippi’

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Bob Chamberlin

Over the past few years, Tig Notaro has released groundbreaking stand-up specials (such as 2012’s Live, recorded shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer) and overseen the first season of her Amazon comedy series, One Mississippi. But when her name appeared in the news last month, it was for a decidedly less fun reason. A sketch aired during the April 8 episode of Saturday Night Live with Louis C.K. as host bore a striking resemblance to Notaro’s short film Clown Service. In a statement to EW, Notaro called the sketch “extremely disappointing,” but neither C.K. nor SNL issued a statement on the incident.

A few weeks later, EW caught up with Notaro to talk about the origins of Clown Service, what’s next for One Mississippi, and her new tour.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the original genesis of Clown Service? What was the inspiration?
I was falling in love with the woman who would eventually become my first girlfriend, but it wasn’t clear that we would end up dating, so I drove my heartache from Denver to Texas to crash on an old childhood friend’s couch in Dallas who was away at college. One day, my friend decided to not go to class and to spend the day with pitiful me. I told her that I felt like the only thing that would make me happy would be if a clown came over to her place to entertain me. My friend died laughing at the thought and told me that if I could actually get a clown to come over, she’d pay for it.

What do you like about taking Clown Service on tour? How does it interact with the rest of your act?
Clown Service was promoted on my podcast, Professor Blastoff, forever as I was trying to raise money for the film’s Kickstarter account, so many of my fans and listeners took such pride in funding the film. In 2012, right when the film was fully funded, my life fell apart with health and personal issues. The film’s production was delayed because of all that was going on. Coming through everything, it felt so amazing to hit every town possible on my tour with Clown Service as my opener — I saw it as a surprise gift to my fans. People who paid anywhere from $5 to $500 or more were able to sit down and watch it in person and enjoy it with a huge group of other people that had also possibly invested in it. Screening Clown Service always felt like a room full of friends finally getting to have the party they were trying to throw for years.

What can you tease about your new stand-up material on this tour?
My new stand-up is anywhere from personal stories to utter ridiculousness. I would say it’s the most fun and free I’ve felt on stage in years. It’s a live performance from someone happy, healthy, newly a parent and one million times in touch with my love of stand-up comedy.

Have you heard from Louis C.K. since the SNL sketch aired?
No. 

We got a statement about the sketch from you but not from Louis C.K. or SNL. Why did you want to speak out?
Well, I spoke out because a writer-director that worked on the sketch undoubtedly knew about Clown Service when I was making it. I also found it so hard to ignore the amount of people contacting me about the sketch Louis did because it looked so similar to my film. Clown Service had premiered in New York and then screened at numerous film festivals around the country, it screened at Largo in Los Angeles for over a year and I had toured with it in every major market across the U.S. It was not a secret. I think my fans felt very protective of me as well as the film that they had emotionally and financially invested in. Knowing I still had tour dates ahead, I didn’t want it to seem weird screening this in the final markets on my tour. This is a film I wrote and registered nearly 20 years ago and then it was ultimately produced in 2015. It is a film that has meant a lot to me and many other people.

You’re currently working on season 2 of One Mississippi. Are there any big lessons you learned from the first season that you’re applying to the new material? What can you tease about what’s similar or different from season 1?
Well, season 2 is somehow more honest while being more fictional than season 1 was. There are still nuggets of truth from my life that we have used, but there are also elements from the lives of the other writers woven in. It really makes for such an exciting experience for me personally because I’m not stuck telling the same story that maybe people have already seen in my documentary or read in my book. Each day I was more and more willing to explore where these characters could possibly go, even if the real people they are based on might not be necessarily moving in the directions we are sending them. It makes it fun to see the “what if” side of life.

Anything else you can tease about your tour and upcoming projects? What else is on the horizon?
My wife, Stephanie Allynne, and I have a few top secret things a’brewin’ that possibly you’ll learn about one day soon. I’ve been preparing for my next stand-up special, which I’m aiming to film this fall after my tour. I think I have another book in me at some point. But mainly, as I mentioned earlier, I have health, happiness, and the most adorable little family at home – those three things truly matter the most to me and I will always continue to try to maintain all of that goodness on the horizon.