I was first introduced stand-up comic Tig Notaro in her 2015 HBO special “A Boyish Girl Interrupted.”
During her 55 minutes on stage, Notaro revealed she’d had bilateral breast cancer, which resulted in a double mastectomy. What was impressive about the revelation is that Notaro made it funny.
She first speculates that perhaps because she’d always complained about being flat-chested, her breasts had banded together to kill her.
In conjunction with that speculation, Notaro removes her shirt, revealing a chest crisscrossed with scars, as she’d never opted for reconstructive surgery.
I have always enjoyed, and admired, humor blended with pathos, as seen in the work of Allie Brosh or Jenny Lawson.
However, before watching Notaro, I’d never seen that kind of humor onstage.
I admired her performance and her willingness to share such vulnerable parts of herself, while still maintaining her humor.
Recently, I discovered that the bulk of the “Boyish Girl” special was also part of Notaro’s 2016 memoir “I’m Just a Person.”
The book is not a retread of the special. Instead, it adds detail and substance as it chronicles the worst year in Notaro’s life: 2012.
In the space of a year, Notaro is put on antibiotics to treat pneumonia, which results in developing C-Diff, an intestinal disorder.
Because of the C-Diff, Notaro loses 20 pounds and ends up in the hospital for over a week.
Shortly after being discharged from the hospital, Notaro’s stepfather calls with the news that her mother fell, hit her head and slipped into a coma, with zero chance of recovering.
After burying her mother, Notaro then discovers she has bilateral breast cancer and undergoes a double mastectomy.
By any objective standard, the events Notaro experienced in 2012 could have easily led to a major depression or, at the very least, a reliance on anti-anxiety medication. Instead, Notaro finds the humor amidst such a horrendous year.
The opening chapter, “Over My Mother’s Dead Body,” establishes the tone of “I’m Just a Person.”
It blends the despair of her mother dying with the absurdity of a cabbie being upset that she doesn’t remember the address of where she’s going and him later stopping at a convenience store, when it’s 3 in the morning.
Notaro, convinced the cabbie’s about to kill her, contemplates why he’d need snack food before doing so.
In many respects, “I’m Just a Person” is an homage to her mother, Mathilde Cusack.
Notaro portrays her as a free spirit who took pride in her daughter’s accomplishments, no matter how dubious they may have been.
For example, after Notaro drops out of high school, her mother “…was soon bragging that [Tig] had dropped out … and was off doing [her] own thing.” (p. 37) Notaro wonders about the “doing [her] own thing,” as she had little going on at the time except “…shooting pool, playing guitar and selling po’ boys.” (p. 37)
I recommend not only “I’m Just a Person” but any of Notaro’s stand-up specials, and most particularly, her “A Boyish Girl” and her Netflix documentary “Tig.”
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)