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Comedian garners laughs from personal battle

The cover of Tig Notaro’s album LIVE. She recently underwent a battle with breast cancer. (Courtesy of Tig Notaro’s website)

Tig Notaro, a comedian who recently underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer, released an amazing stand-up album, LIVE, at the beginning of the month.

I don’t want this to turn into a story telling you about the lady comedian with cancer who was brilliant in the face of adversity and deserves to be best friends with Oprah. Tig’s story is far more extraordinary. It goes beyond the morning news segment designed to make you tear up over your coffee.

I first heard of Tig when she was featured in a segment on the live show WBEZ’s This American Life this past May. While I haven’t had the chance to fully listen to her other comedy album Good One, I highly recommend her the track off of it called, “Taylor Dane”. In ten minutes, she told the tale of her sightings of pop musician Taylor Dayne in Los Angeles. Her jokes completely stand alone on audio but her comedic timing is magnified when you are able to watch her on stage.

A few months after the This American Life taping, Tig had a doctor’s visit and was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. She already had a gig booked at the comedy club Largo in Los Angeles soon after the diagnosis. In her shoes, I would have gone home, wrapped myself in a Snuggie and buried my emotions in a box of Triscuits. Instead, Tig had a brief conversation with Louis CK (who was also on the lineup that night) backstage and then went out and announced her news. In response to the crowd’s shock, she said, “Guys, relax. I have cancer.”

The thirty minutes that follow are some of the most profound reflections on mortality in comedy that I have ever heard. Louis CK even tweeted, “In 27 years doing this, I’ve seen a handful of truly great, masterful stand-up sets, One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo.”

She focuses not only on the shock of being diagnosed with cancer, but also on her recent battle with a deadly bacterial infection, a bad breakup and the passing of her mother.

The thing is, you’re smiling almost the whole time. You laugh with her. You cry for her (she doesn’t cry during the set). You experience the same surreal mindset that Tig is going through as she walks you through her shock in being diagnosed with cancer. You just sit there and stare at your bedroom ceiling and feel like you’re listening to a friend’s morbid, mortal musings.

As Tig describes in the album booklet, she named the album of this recent show, “ “LIVE”” as in “to keep not dying”- not “live as in “I saw her live performance.”  I’ve listened to the album twice in a row and her set has stuck with me through every waking moment since. I can’t say that it has pushed me into becoming forcefully grateful (you know, that feeling you used to get after a good monologue back when you still liked Glee). Instead, I’ve become more resilient to impossible tasks like reading homework or walking up the hill to Founders. This is not because I need to honor Tig in everything I do. If a comedic idol can go through hell and talk about it on stage, then why can’t I hone a skill towards that level of perfection?

The album is available for $5 download on Louis CK’s website, with four of those dollars going to Tig. She will then donate a portion to charity. It is 30 minutes of genius. So delay your New Girl viewing party for another night, put on some sweatpants, grab a fluffy thing to cuddle with and listen to Tig. I promise that you will be more fulfilled and happy by the end.