Tig Notaro tells the story behind her 'I have cancer' performance
In this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly (AKA the Creepy Nun Cover), there’s an in-depth conversation with writer, podcaster, and stand-up comic Tig Notaro, who recently grabbed headlines after announcing her cancer diagnosis during a set at Los Angeles comedy venue Largo.
Notaro has had a crazy year: Since March, she has survived an extremely dangerous intestinal infection, endured the death of her mother, got out of a long-term relationship, and got diagnosed with invasive stage two breast cancer. She has continued working through it, taking a job writing for fellow stand-up Amy Schumer’s in-production Comedy Central show and continuing her podcast Professor Blastoff. At the beginning of August, Notaro’s 30 minutes of stand-up at Largo received rave reviews from the likes of Louis CK and Ed Helms. She told EW the story of how she ended up on stage that night.
“I had done This American Life back in May, and [host] Ira [Glass] called me a couple of days after, saying that segment was very popular and he wanted me back on the show immediately, and I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll work on something.’ So I wrote up, like, 10 pages of what had been going on, and I met with him about it, and he looked at me and said, ‘This is so depressing.’ And I said, ‘I know, this is my life! I don’t know what to do!’… There were no jokes in the 10 pages I showed him. It was just a list of horrible things that had happened. So I just started writing like crazy, and the day before the [Largo] show I had another doctor’s appointment, and that’s when the doctor told me it was stage 2 and it was an invasive cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. So I was devastated all over again. And right then I got a text from [Mark] Flanagan, the owner of Largo, saying, ‘Are you gonna do the show?’ And I just wrote, ‘Yeah.’ But I was [thinking], ‘What am I doing?'”
Were you surprised at the response you got?
“Flanagan records audio of most of the shows there, so when I got off stage and went home that night, I emailed Ira and said, ‘I think I got something you could maybe use [for This American Life].’ Then I went to bed, and when I woke up, there were 10 million emails, messages, texts, book-deal offers. I was like, ‘What in the hell is going on? How did everybody find out I have cancer?’ Obviously I knew the 300 people in that room would know, and I was very aware that word would get out, but I thought it would be a slow trickle.” [This American Life has not yet scheduled an airdate for Notaro’s segment.]
For the rest of the interview, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. And for more on Notaro, check back next week for updates about Schumer’s show, the status of Professor Blastoff, and more on her incredible stand-up set.