Most stand-up comedy is loud, angry, about penises, or a combination of the three. The best stand-up, however, is none of those things. Tig Notaro is a purveyor of the best kind of stand-up comedy. Notaro’s comedy has been a hit with critics and comedy colleges for years, but with the upcoming release of her new record, Good One, is sure to introduce her to a wider audience. You may recognize Tig from The Sarah Silverman Program (she was the cop), Last Comic Standing, a guest-spot in last season’s Community, or her podcast Professor Blastoff about topics both broad and philosophical (it’s really weird, check it out!) Notaro also just finished a summer of playing some of comedy’s hippest gigs–both SXSW and Bonnaroo–and we had an email chat while she was on her way to Ireland. Good One! is online today! Go download it!
AHG: Why’d you tape the record on your birthday? Do you not really care about birthdays? Was it a way to throw a combination birthday/record celebration party? Any standout gifts from that particular birthday?
Tig Notaro: I was on tour with Sarah Silverman on my birthday week and we happened to be driving thru Bloomington, IN (where my label is based.) I still hadn’t recorded my CD that was way overdue, so my label suggested they put together a show for me after I opened for Sarah, to get me recorded and the CD production going. I obviously agreed, Sarah opened for me this time and I ended up turning in my CD recording (which in a way ended up feeling like a birthday present.) Oh, AND birthdays barely matter to me.
AHG: So you’re on Secretly Canadian, David Cross and Eugene Mirman are on Sub Pop and Neil Hamburger is on Drag City. Why are comedians releasing albums on indie record labels!? How does a music label treat stand-up? Does that “independent spirit” of Indie music cross over into how Secretly Canadian makes a comedy record?
TN: Absolutely! SC feels as Indie as you get, but without having a hobo in charge. That particular set up would be a little too indie for my taste. My CD was recorded in an old house that bands usually use, but my session was slam packed with a live audience. Pretty amazing concept, if you ask me. Secretly Canadian is the only label I’ve ever been on, so as far as I can tell they are totally treating me and stand up as equally as important as their music releases. It feels like my good friends are putting out my CD, and being on an Indie rock label, I think will help me stick out a tad more. We shall see.
AHG: Before I forget, how’s Tig Has Friends going?! What made you want a talk show? Was it a cool dumb-luck opportunity, or have you always wanted to try the format?
TN: I never wanted a talk show. It was just a regular live show I did in LA and sarah silverman had the idea to try to sell it for TV, so she’s executive producing it with me. So yeah, dumb luck.
AHG: Is it out of the pilot stage? Besides having both Tig and friends, what makes Tig Has Friends different from other talk shows?
TN: We finished the pilot and are now just waiting to find out if its picked up or not. If the show goes to series, each week I’d have either a TV cast, a movie cast, band, comedians, etc., (it’s a themed show, in that all guests have to be the same somehow) and I interview everyone in a ridiculous way — nothing about their latest project or who they’re dating. Then my guests also provide the variety by doing a hidden talent of some sort (sing, do a back flip, balance spoons on their faces, etc.) then I go into the audience and do a Q & A where the audience gets to ask the questions that I didn’t care about. For the pilot we had cast members from Mad Men. They were great!
AHG: Have you been working on Good One’s material for a while? How’d you pick what was going to be on the CD?
TN: Its pretty similar to any given live show. I always mix in new stuff, some standards and there’s always a little bit of improvisational elements added in. That way I’m happy, the guy that came to hear his favorite joke is happy, and I don’t get bored because no two shows are alike.
AHG: I read someone describe your comedy style as “one that attacks a joke from every angle” Do you agree with that? Are you trying to squeeze funny blood from a proverbial comedy rock?
TN: I’ve heard that from different people here and there. Basically, my mind goes a little cartoon-y and I love details like crazy, so that makes it hard to stop sometimes.
AHG: If I was describing your comedy, I might say “Wry Steven Wright observations mixed with a sardonic, Todd Barry deadpan” Were you ever consciously going for that subdued–or “quiet” maybe?–style, or is that more just a reflection of your personality?
TN: Just a reflection, I suppose. I mean, I can certainly be loud or obnoxious here and there in life, but it doesn’t seem to follow me on stage very often. I will say that my shows always build. By the end of the night, I’m rarely still talking as low as a preschool teacher. I just realized after that last sentence that anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with me, probably lost all interest.
AHG: Who are you comedy influences outside of stand-up?
TN: My mother certainly influenced me and my comedic sensibility. She’s a wilder version of me. She would tell me as a little kid to tell everyone that had a problem with me, to go to hell. I’m thankful for that. I also love the singer Chrissie Hynde and her whole attitude in general. My mother and Chrissie make zero apologies, so that influences elements of my thoughts in and out of comedy. I mean, I’m certainly not one of those annoying, insincere Bill Hicks wanna be’s, taking myself too seriously, but I try to just do what I want, how I want and when people don’t like it, tell them to go to hell in my own friendly way.
AHG: On WTF you mentioned that the American south has its own type of wit. Can you elaborate on that?
TN: No. To be honest, I’m typing this interview on my blackberry while traveling in Dublin and to answer that would be way too involved. Just know that its a place worth visiting with people worth meeting. So essentially, that question can go to hell.
Good question, but to hell with it.
AHG: So, in that joke about trying to get a milkshake at 3AM: you’re making the “throat-slit-you’re-dead” motion right? Do you have to think about how you’re conveying stuff when you only have audio?
TN: Correct. I am making the slit throat motion. I think if I put out a mime album, that might be tricky, but the physical things I do on the CD wont lose listeners. The rest of the story or joke makes the whole visual fall in place.
AHG: Well, I heard a rumor that you have a 12 minute bit where you push a stool with your pelvis–is that true? I spent WAY too much time googling combinations of “Tig + stool + pushing + pelvis” with terrible/ellicit/scatological results. Does this bit exist?!
TN: Partly true. I use my hands, not my pelvis. Someone was clearly trying to make the bit way sexier than it is. As for the length of the bit, it ranges from a couple minutes to maybe six. I’m more than happy to go longer, but its all contingent upon the reaction of the audience. Before I push the stool, I explain why I’m doing it, so I’d rather the readers see it live and hear why I’m doing it, rather than read why I’m doing it. I will say its a very divisive bit.
AHG: I read you worked for Sam Raimi for a while. Did it involve more zombies, less zombies, or the typical amount of zombies found in other jobs?
TN: I was just an assistant at his production company. I really had a great time and he, along with my other co-workers were tremendously supportive of my career, which at the time was just open mics. I reached a point of going crazy and just wanting to do comedy non-stop, so I was probably the main zombie most of the time around the office. I was terrible at my job. Anyone can tell you.
AHG: On Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast you talked about doing open mics at laundry mats and pizza parlors. What’s the weirdest open mic you’ve ever participated in?
TN: Probably the open mic I set up at the top of Runyon Canyon, which is a popular hiking trail in Hollywood. I hiked there regularly and noticed several other comedians went there to hike, so I jokingly said I was going to start an open mic at the top of the canyon. Then I did. Hikers would stop and listen and then keep moving after a while. It was pretty ridiculous. We used an orange traffic cone like a megaphone as the mic. I called it an open-meg.
AHG: Have you seen any open-mic sets that just really erked you? Recently, I saw a guy sing a parody country song about his girlfriend breaking up with him called, “You Put the Cunt in Country” Not only was the song awful, but the guy didn’t have enough material planned for a full five minutes, so he just played THE SAME SHITTY SONG TWICE IN A ROW! Did you ever see that guy?
TN: Never saw the guy, but if Secretly Canadian reads this, I wouldn’t be surprised if they signed him too. Seems right up their alley. As far as being erked, I’d have to say I don’t feel that way with open mics (or megs) because its pretty much always bad or new comedians with the occasional mentally ill person that just needs to talk in public. I’m getting all nostalgic as I type… I get more erked by stupid dumbed down comedy by professionals. But even then, I really don’t care what anyone else is doing.