Tig Notaro’s newest special, Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted, is a perfect spiritual heir to her now famous 2012 special in which she delivered her set just days after being diagnosed with cancer. Now a cancer survivor, Tig’s cancer, in a way, still drove Boyish Girl, as it did Live. Where she used emotional vulnerability to reclaim power over her diagnosis in 2012, Tig used physical vulnerability to do so in 2015. She removed her shirts and performed half of her set topless, the scars from her double mastectomy glaringly present. Although her new material did not deal as much with her diagnosis, cancer still lorded over the evening: her flat chest a reminder of her survival during every joke about the absurdity of the mundane that is so characteristic of her comedic voice.
For me, while her 2012 special was about trying to cope with her world being shattered, this special was about coping with survival and finding a way to re-enter a world where stupid things are important. In her 2012 special, Tig spoke frankly about the number of life-shattering experiences that had occurred very closely to one another: a painful split with her partner, her mother’s passing, and her cancer diagnosis. In the time between that special and Boyish Girl, life has turned around in many ways—she survived cancer, is engaged, and her career has thrived. This greatly affected the tone of Tig’s special, and allowed her to return to the appreciation of the everyday bizarre that I love her for. Riffs on bargain shopping for burial plots and feverishly stalking a religious right-wing Santa Claus are bits that feel definitively Tig. But they were not, perhaps, what her fans were expecting. After a special filled with pure introspection, a joke ice cream moustache might feel a little empty.
I did not appreciate Boyish Girl fully until I allowed myself to really think about it. Live was so special and personal to me—my own mother died from cancer when I was young, and she fought that battle with an unmatched sense of humor. To listen to someone bare their soul onstage, to go out even when they felt like the world was caving in on them, was powerful—and, to be honest, not something that could be replicated. Tig could probably never repeat a special like that, and because I care about her life and sanity, I hope she never does. Live came from a place of total heartbreak whereas Boyish Girl comes from a place of survival and lessons learned.
The perfect quote from Boyish Girl to sum up Tig Notaro’s comedic style comes from an anecdote about an awkward encounter at the airport. She recalled a female TSA agent feeling her up at a security checkpoint and being incredibly confused about Tig’s sex. Tig did not say anything to clear up the confusion because she “was enjoying the awkwardness so much.”
Tig Notaro loves the awkwardness. She loves the awkwardness of forcing her audience to give her a three-minute standing ovation. She loves the awkwardness of performing without a shirt for thirty minutes, the evidence of her brush with death branded across her chest. She loves the awkwardness of her obscured gender, embracing it by baring her flat chest and flared hips to create intentional mental incongruity. But mostly, the loves the awkwardness of acknowledging that this special maybe wasn’t what everyone wanted. In fact, she even ended it with the Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” While it probably wasn’t her intention, I took it to mean that this special just has to stand on its own.
Like Tig, this special was affected profoundly by her struggle with cancer, but it was also different, a reminder that she’s a person who has been moving on. For those who wanted it to strike the same raw, emotional nerve as her 2012 special? Well, you can’t always get what you want.
Photo via HBO.