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With HBO Special, Tig Notaro Finds The Perfect Outlet For A Topless Set

"As a stand-up, getting your special on HBO -- that’s what you’re hoping for."

Where isn't Tig Notaro these days? Look at 2015 alone: She kicked off the year with a national tour that ran through May. One pitstop included the Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary "Tig" premiered in January, six months before it hit Netflix. In March, she recorded an episode of the podcast "Comedy Bang! Bang!" at South by Southwest, where a different documentary -- "Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro" -- premiered a month ahead of its Showtime launch. Last month, Amazon announced that Notaro's life experiences will become a scripted comedy co-written with Diablo Cody and produced by Louis C.K. She's on Twitter now, too -- or people are on Twitter on her behalf, at least. This Saturday, her stand-up special, "Boyish Girl Interrupted," will air on HBO, buoyed by a teaser that features the likes of Jack Black, Margaret Cho and Sarah Silverman. Oh, and there's a memoir on the horizon.

In other words, there is nowhere that Tig Notaro isn't these days. She's also on the phone with The Huffington Post, or she was a few days ago, discussing the new special and everything else that has proliferated in the comedian's life since her instantly famous cancer routine from 2012. Along the way, she talked about her new kitten, performing an empowering topless set and returning for Season 2 of "Transparent."

You have documentaries on Netflix and Showtime, a show in development at Amazon and now a stand-up special on HBO. You're running out of subscription services to dominate.

I know, but it seems like actually a smart thing for these networks to do because if you become a fan of me on one, then you'll probably buy a subscription to the other place. That’s what I keep hearing from people. It’s like, “Well, I don’t even have HBO. I’m going to have to get it now.” I’m spreading the love around.

In other words, you're bringing in all the dollars for them?

Yeah, I’m sure I’m their main income at this point.

You and "Game of Thrones."

Exactly.

These services don't release ratings. Do they at least give you a sense of how your work has performed?

You know, it’s really just been a sense of excitement and enthusiasm, and that’s kind of where they’re left. There are no numbers and they don’t give us numbers. They just say, “We are thrilled with how things are going.” And I can tell. When I adopted my kitten, I thought the crowd of people coming out going, "Oh my God!" was about how cute the kitten is, but they had all seen the documentary.

Were you just out with the kitten one day?

Well, I had dropped off Stephanie, my fiancée, to get our wedding invitations, and I was going to park and go in to meet her. I saw these kittens in cages for adoption, and I just wandered over and looked at them. I picked up one and decided, well, we’re getting this kitten. And as I was holding the kitten, people were like, “Oh my gosh!” I was like, “Yeah, he’s cute.” But they said, “I saw your documentary! Oh my gosh!” That kind of thing, where I thought, “Oh, I thought this was about the kitten.” There’s definitely a vibe where I can feel a shift, but I don’t get any numbers. There’s probably freedom to not knowing.

Did HBO approach you about doing this special?

No, it actually happened when I did a show at Town Hall. Another network was interested and wanted to do my special, so they were there seeing me that night. And then the next day, my manager said, “Oh, HBO was at your show and they’re putting in an offer for you, as well.” I really thought that we weren’t going to go with HBO because we had already started talks with the other network, and then HBO just really came in and made it very clear that they were willing to get behind this in a huge way. As a stand-up, getting your special on HBO -- that’s what you’re hoping for.

Did you grow up watching HBO stand-up specials?

Oh yeah, for sure. That was my childhood and it definitely didn’t seem like something possible. Maybe it’s having a low self-esteem in some areas, even though I don’t have a problem with self-hatred or something. I’m not hard on myself, but I think I just thought, “Oh, that’s for gigantic people, legendary comedians.” I didn’t think I would get an HBO special.

You were on tour when you filmed the special, which includes a topless set that shows off the scars from your double mastectomy. Were you already incorporating that routine into the tour, or was it something special you broke out for TV?

I had done it twice. I did it once in LA in October and once in New York in November, and then I continued touring, getting ready for my special and then I made the decision that I was going to do this for the special. And then I did it in May for the taping.

You contributed to HBO's nudity quota, so I'm sure they were thrilled.

Exactly. They were very excited about it.

One of the best jokes, about your breasts deciding to kill you because you'd made so many jokes about them, harks back to the Netflix documentary, where we saw it evolve with other punchlines. How do you decide something is the final punchline? Is it ever?

Well, I think it’s the final punchline. There was just a feeling of, "Eh, there’s something missing." When I was saying my boobs were saying, “Come on, let’s get out of here,” people would laugh, but I felt like I wasn’t getting that heightened response that I normally get when I do have the puchline I’m happy with. And then when it hit me to say, “Let’s kill her,” I was like, “Oh, I think that’s it." Then, when I did it onstage, I could just feel that level of response where it’s like, "Oh, okay, I just finished that joke." But when I say “finished the joke,” it’s not necessarily finished. I could come up with something onstage the following night. You never know. I don’t know if you’re familiar with my Taylor Dayne story …

Yes! I love that story.

Oh, thank you. It used to be about 20 minutes, and changing a joke doesn’t necessarily mean adding something to it. It could mean changing one word, adding several lines or taking out an entire chunk and saying, “Oh, this doesn’t even need to be there -- why have I been saying this whole part?” Because you’ll experience something in life and you’ll think, "Well, that’s part of the story, so I have to add that in." But then when you’re onstage and you’re actually telling it and you hear it so many times, you start to go, “Oh, even though that part happened in the story, it actually doesn’t help the story for me to tell it, so I could take that out.”

How do you decide how much material you'll allow yourself to retread versus how many minutes of fresh stuff you need to incorporate?

For me, I kind of let go and move on when it’s not fun anymore. It’s so nice that people love the Taylor Dayne story, but it’s not fun for me to tell anymore. Maybe in five years it will excite me and I will do it again. There are a lot of comedians who write their material, they tour it around, they do a special or an album, and then they discard all the material and they’re very serious about it. If it’s been on TV or anything, they don’t ever do it again. And I just feel a little more open or playful about it. If something makes me laugh still, I might pull it out again. I’m not that rigid, but I do know that I want to keep writing and I want to stay fresh and I want to grow. It’s striking a balance. I try to stay aware, and my manager does stay on me about that, too, when I do late-night appearances. He’ll be like, “Just make sure to pick and choose what you want to reveal because when you do a special, you don’t want it to be treaded upon over and over.” And I’m considered a regular contributor to “This American Life,” so a lot of stories will go on the radio show. You have to pick and choose and also be like, “Look, I just did this right here and I want to do it again” or “I don’t want to do any of that stuff ever again.” I just want to do what feels right.

You've received a great deal of cultural validation since your first cancer set blew up in 2012, but I don't think I've ever seen you perform as physical of an act as you do in the HBO special. You're out in the audience, you're moving around the stage, you have gags that are very full-bodied. Do you feel more confident owning a stage, or is it unique to this particular material?

I think it’s all of that. There’s been so many different ways that I’ve changed and grown as a comedian, and I started out doing shorter jokes and one-liners. I was very stiff and I didn’t smile. Then I realized, “Oh, I actually want to smile. Why would I hold myself back from that?” And then I would start smiling, and then I wanted to do a long story. It’s a matter of just saying "yes" to myself when I want to change. It’s thinking about taking my own advice. It’s really crucial, I think, because the core of who I am and my sensibility comes through in physicality or confessional comedy or one-liners or stories, so letting go of who I think I am or who people think I am is exciting for me and exciting for the audience to see me do something different, possibly. Maybe people will be like, “Get back to the middle of the stage and don’t move!” But I don’t think so.

Will you take over the Twitter account that Funny or Die created for you?

I don’t even have the password to it. I mean, I’m sure I could get it, obviously. But I haven’t asked for it.

I don’t sense that there’s a burning desire to do so.

That’s correct.

You've said you have an expanded arc in Season 2 of "Transparent." What can you say about that? 

You know, I don’t even know where it’s headed. I think I’m in half the season, but it’s still not a gigantic part. My character has become friends with Rob Huebel’s character over our wives cheating on us, so that’s where it is right now, just palling around with Rob. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say or not say, but I love the show so much. I can’t believe I’ve stumbled into that.

You also have a memoir coming out. Given the number of platforms you've found lately, what are you able to say in book form that you can't elsewhere?

My stand-up album, “Live,” is just a 30-minute skeleton of very broad strokes of what I was going through, and then the documentary, I feel like, is filling in that skeleton a little more, but the book is really raking through the tiny moments that you can’t possibly get in the documentary or the album. It’s also a lot of information about my childhood and my family and who my mother was and where I am now with life, so it’s all very different. It’s different ways of telling the same story with different levels of depth to them all.

One final plea: In the special, you tell a story about you and a friend having a fit over someone who looks like Santa Claus. You say there's video footage. Can you please release that?

[Laughs] People always ask for that. You said you’ve heard the Taylor Dayne story -- there’s footage of that that the same friend and I took, and I think we have it somewhere. So maybe one day that footage will come out of Taylor Dayne and Santa Claus.

 

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