Tig Notaro talks about the cancer comedy that earned her a Grammy nomination ahead of her Boulder Theater show.
Tig Notaro has one of those fabled “good problems.”
The Los Angeles comedian attracted a new and much larger audience in 2012 after a career-defining set that found her discussing her cancer diagnosis and other life-altering events.
Not exactly the stuff of your average comedy show, but after mega-comic Louis C.K. praised her raw, bracing performance and the Secretly Canadian label released it as an album, the set quickly grew into legend and went on to top many of critics’ year-end lists. (The album also was nominated for a Grammy this week.)
But Notaro was worried her new audience would want to hear only her most famous material — not the low-key, story-driven jokes that form the foundation of her stand-up act.
“I was getting ready to do my first hour-long show in a theater in Iowa City after all of that press,” said Notaro, who headlines the Boulder Theater on Dec. 13. “And I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s probably all these pear-shaped housewives that have been through breast cancer and such a new [to me] mix of people in the audience.’ It was really hitting me, and I started to get stressed about it.
“Then I thought, ‘I don’t want to lose people along the way, but if people are coming to hear cancer comedy or intense, hard-hitting truths, there’s nothing I can do about that. I just have to have the confidence that I’m a good enough comedian that even if they came with these expectations, I can shift their gears.”
As a former Denver-based music promoter, Notaro, 42, knows well the pitfalls of one-hit wonders — and the fans who are interested only in an artist’s most popular work. But she felt all the more liberated after she received a rapturous welcome from the Iowa City crowd at that April show.
“My head was so spinning from my life, and people were asking me what I was going to say next, or what my comedy’s going to be like, and I really didn’t know,” she said. “I was still emotionally rebounding, so their guess was as good as mine. But after I went on stage I found that I was the same person that I ever was — just without [breasts].”
As she has shown on Comedy Central’s “The Sarah Silverman Program” and as a writer-performer on the first season of “Inside Amy Schumer,” Notaro’s slow-burn humor doesn’t need to invoke her ruinous, four-month stretch of breakups, pneumonia, death and cancer to find its mark.
She’s been so busy with writing, touring and festival appearances the past few months that she even turned down a second season of “Schumer.”
“I’m trying to pull back a little bit on the crunch so I don’t run myself into the ground,” she said. “I needed to work out new material over the past year so I decided to go to a few festivals, but really I’m just working at home, developing a couple of TV shows and writing a book, so my life is just writing right now.”
Notaro’s also busy with her weekly podcast “Professor Blastoff,” with comedian and writing partner Kyle Dunnigan and comic-writer David Hunstberger, but plans to mount a proper tour of major markets in 2014.
“I’ve been popping out to do these Boulder-type shows,” she said, “but I’ve been really trying to relax and lay low for the moment.”
No doubt Notaro has, by any definition, earned it.
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John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and critic for The Denver Post. Follow him @johnwenzel.