Directors: Kristina Goolsby & Ashley York
Writer: Jennifer Arnold
Cinematographer: Huy Truong
Composer: Ryan Miller
Tig Notaro was a relatively known and respected comedienne who had spent a good chunk of her adult life making the rounds in comedy clubs and appearing on the odd television show or comedic film. Like a majority of people, though, I had no idea who she was and had never heard her name. Then, in 2012, Tig performed a set in Los Angeles about having just been diagnosed with cancer and suddenly she entered the zeitgeist. I remember hearing about her and the groundbreaking event. I still didn’t really know who she was, but I became vaguely familiar with her story. In the couple of years since, she has popped up on NPR’s This American Life and Inside Amy Schumer, so I could recognize her. Especially her segment on NPR, in which she told the story of running into singer Taylor Dayne on multiple occasions, made a good impression – it was really really funny.
Last year a documentary about the comedienne was released, which chronicles Tig’s life from that now famous set to the one she performed on the one year anniversary of her star making night and everything that occurred over the course of that year. We are given a brief description of Tig’s childhood and her family life. We also discover that in the few weeks leading up to her cancer diagnosis, Tig experienced several personal tragedies. She had a separate and unrelated health scare, went through a breakup, as well as losing her mother. When things seemingly couldn’t get any worse, Tig was diagnosed with breast cancer. Any other person would have completely fallen apart, but faced with such a horrific series of events forced her hand to deal with the situation in the only way she knew how: on a stage and through a comedic lens. Members of the audience immediately knew they were witnessing something special, unprecedented, a once in a lifetime experience. The fact that it gained attention is all the more shocking because there is no video of this performance. Louis C.K. tweeted about it, as did others who saw it happen, but the vast majority of those discussing it had not been present, and were only commenting by word of mouth.
And so, at the lowest possible moment a person could be going through, also turned out to be Tig Notaro’s turning point career-wise, she was more in demand than ever before, and was also facing the very real possibility of dying. The year that followed saw Notaro undergo surgery and treatment, find love, and attempt to conceive a child. People looking for a collection of standup scenes will be disappointed, this is not that type of film. It’s instead a look behind the clown makeup and the laughs, it’s the detailing of someone struggling to get back down after life literally tried to knock them down and wipe them out. Tig is a compelling subject, which helps carry the film and keep it moving, even when things stall once in a while or get a bit repetitive. It’s not the best documentary I have seen, and the direction is not always well executed, but the story is inspiring and the happy-ish ending is very human and an appropriate metaphor for life itself: unpredictable, melancholic, tragicomic, and open ended.