Tig Notaro – Hello Again: the work of a subtle and expert tease

Tig Notaro
Tig Notaro - Kate Lacey

Storied American standup Tig Notaro has had her own sitcom and regular guest appearances on the radio show This American Life, and is perhaps most famous for a show she performed immediately after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and a follow-up that was performed partly topless, following a double mastectomy. She’s accustomed to dealing with weighty topics and breaking heavy news to her audience, and she has developed the perfect comedic voice for exactly that kind of comedy. Dry, cooly disaffected, almost monotone, but with an unmistakable underlying warmth.

She likes to refer to herself only a little ironically as “your friend Tig”, and that’s clearly how her audience thinks of her. They might have been be relieved that there’s initially nothing substantial to talk about in her new show – this is as casual and effortless a catch-up as she’s ever put together, stringing together endlessly charming anecdotes on how her kids seem to prefer her wife, how a burly fireman caused her to experience feelings of latent heterosexuality, and even a couple of stories that are based on comical mishearings. “Utter humiliation on a daily basis” is her description of parenthood, but it could apply to most other corners of her life as well.

If the show has a theme, it’s probably that: the small indignities of existence that build obscurely to the greater indignities of dying and death. Both are regular spectres for Notaro, due to her often poor health, and Hello Again peaks as complications related to invasive back surgery leave her life hanging in the balance once again.

So it feels like a conscious de-escalation after the interval when she sits at a piano and begins a starry showbiz anecdote set at a party with Oprah and Bruno Mars. With this story as a frame, she does crowd work for the entire second half. Unable to sing or play a note, she nevertheless holds the audience in a sense of expectation for almost 30 minutes, as over and over again we’re explicitly told that she is under no circumstances about to burst into beautiful song, yet we can’t help but anticipate it anyway. This is the work of a subtle and expert tease.

When the punchline finally lands it’s to uproar, and in some ways acts a refutation of those earlier indignities. In this final tale, she’s defiantly invulnerable to humiliation while she massacres Adele in front of some of the most famous singers in the world. It’s a serious reclamation of fun and frivolity.

Touring England and Ireland until Oct 26;