Although she had a following as a stand-up comic with a distinctively quiet but firm delivery, Tig Notaro didn’t become widely known until she gave a 2012 performance mere hours after being diagnosed with breast cancer. When you combine that circumstance with other events that occurred around the same time — her mother died after a fall; she learned that getting pregnant could be life-threatening — you’d think a documentary about this period and what followed would be grueling. Instead, Tig, now streaming on Netflix, is a disarming, completely absorbing piece of work.
Directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York have an ideal subject in Notaro, who can talk about her life in a straightforward way that is nevertheless frequently very funny in a wry, witty way. We hear chunks of the performance that made her famous — audio from the Los Angeles club Largo — but the film quickly moves on, to show us how the combination of cancer and cancer-comedy changed her life. Of course, the cancer part is pretty serious (she’s in remission as of the end of the film) but it also had a serious effect on her comedy.
As Notaro explains, she couldn’t just become “the cancer comic” — she had to move on, even as that’s what people who came up to her before and after shows most wanted to talk to her about. She had to build up new material the same way she was building up physical strength: slowly and steadily. Tig charts this challenge. The film also follows the budding romance between Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, whom she met while shooting the 2013 indie comedy In A World Their relationship is an essential grace-note in Tig that gives it added poignancy. The film is at once a cancer-survivor memoir, a show-biz documentary, a comedy, a drama, a baby story, a love story. What are you waiting for? Stream already.
Tig is streaming on Netflix now.