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Tig Notaro Still Isn’t Sure How She Got Here

Tig Notaro has never had to tell the same jokes for so long, but her latest comedy special, Hello Again, arrives March 26 on Prime Video — well over four years after she first started touring the material. “My God, it just would not end,” says Notaro. “I couldn’t wait to be home with my family, see friends, do my ridiculous podcast and just work on new material around Los Angeles. I’m maybe doing one show once a week, and that feels so manageable.”

Such a time loop is especially odd for a woman whose career changed so much over such a short period. Twelve years after her now-famous Largo set, during which Notaro walked onstage and revealed a breast cancer diagnosis, she’s gone from cult comic to household name. She acts (Star Trek Discovery, The Morning Show), rents party buses with famous pals like Allison Janney, co-hosts a popular podcast (Handsome, with Fortune Feimster and Mae Martin) and even launched a production company with her wife, the actor, writer and director Stephanie Allynne — with whom she has twin boys. Attempting to warm herself by an electric fireplace in early March at her former San Fernando Valley home that now houses a podcasting suite in its moody library, Notaro talked about her odd relationship with acting and why she’s still down for the most random stand-up gigs.

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It seems like you’ve become the de facto Hollywood comic. Your social circle includes a lot of big names, so there are jokes about Reese Witherspoon and an A-list party I don’t want to spoil in your latest special. Do you ever worry about that causing conflict? 

No, because I’m not ever saying anything that’s mean. I don’t know if you’re familiar with my Taylor Dayne story. Sometimes people will misinterpret that to think I’m bashing her. But I’m not! It’s more like, “Yeah, she was rude to me, but I don’t care.” It’s amusing. I’ve since met Taylor Dayne, and I really appreciated that there wasn’t a heaviness to it. She was like, “I’ve heard you’ve been telling stories about me. Sounds about right. I probably was a couple of cocktails in.” I love ribbing people, and I love when people rib me. So, I don’t run anything by anyone.

Now that your kids are getting older, does the same go for family? 

Stephanie said something to me once, like, “It’s all of us now. It’s not just you.” And I thought, “Oh, right …” (Laughs.) I hadn’t thought about that. But, again, I consider everyone and how I’m coming across. It always goes back to intention for me. And mean? I don’t get any joy out of that.

Stephanie directed Hello Again. You have a production company together. How do you handle work disagreements? 

It’s so easy. Whenever people find out that we work together, I always hear (adopting a skeptical tone), “Oh, how did that go?” We have a very similar sensibility, but I don’t think it’s in a boring way. I think we just elevate a similar vision to a point that we couldn’t have on our own.

At work on Hello Again.
At work on Hello Again.

You co-directed a film, Am I OK?, which sold to what was then HBO Max just before the Warner Bros. Discovery merger was completed and they started shelving films. What’s the status there?

They got rid of it. Then they came back and said, “We’re releasing it.” They haven’t announced the date, but I know when it is. It will come out on Max. But, for a while, it was all in the hands of the financier, and he was just updating us on trying to sell it. Honestly, I’m still not sure what happened. Stephanie and I were already moving on and busy with other projects, so it just felt like a “Keep us posted!” thing.

At a time when so many projects just get unceremoniously shot in the head, it must be nice to have this actually work out.

We were surprised. But I’ve been out here for 28 years. I’m so used to things going away. I’m so used to being fired. I’m so used to everything taking so long and never really knowing. So I just don’t put much energy into thinking about that. I’m quickly off to the next thing.

I’ve read that you said you don’t have a lot of range as an actor — yet you’re acting a lot these days. How much is that by design? 

I never imagined I was going to act, and I’m very thankful for the work, but it’s a little embarrassing. Friends that I grew up with, they’ll reach out like, “I don’t remember you mentioning that you wanted to act.” Another friend from childhood texted me and goes, “I’m watching The Morning Show with Jon Hamm, Reese Witherspoon and you.” I’m also sitting there thinking, “How the hell did this happen?” It wasn’t my trajectory.

Why do you say it’s embarrassing? 

Because I don’t identify with being an actor. People tell me I just have to accept it, because I am? During panels for the SAG Awards, trying to convince the voters that we’re the ones, they would get to me after Jen [Aniston], Reese, Jon, Holland Taylor, all these incredible actors, and I’d just be sitting there going, “Oh my God. I can’t believe I have to chime in about my ‘technique!’ ”

They should have tapped you for that SAG Awards intro.

How could I have done that with a straight face? “Hi, I’m Tig Notaro and I’m an actor.” (Laughs.)

What did you learn from fronting your own TV series, One Mississippi?

I didn’t understand, when I first got it, that it was my show. I let people call shots. I realized that later and thought, “Why was I asking permission for this? Why was I tiptoeing around that? Why did I let that person push me around?” And I don’t want to make it sound like it was a hostile work environment. I guess it just goes back to the fact that I really don’t connect with that world.

When not acting on a growing number of TV series, Notaro is podcasting with fellow comics Fortune Feimster left and Mae Martin
When not acting on a growing number of TV series, Notaro is podcasting with fellow comics Fortune Feimster (left) and Mae Martin

So you’ve been doing the Hello Again set for over four years at this point — and there’s an extended bit about your time in physical therapy after back surgery, where you do this endless squatting sidestep across the stage. Were you apprehensive about incorporating actual exercise into a touring show? 

My special taping almost didn’t happen because there was a moment we thought I couldn’t do it. When I was touring Europe, [the airline] lost my luggage. It was just making its rounds all around Europe for two and a half weeks. When I went to the airport to try to find it, somebody checked me with their giant suitcase and just launched me. I fractured my wrist and ended up on crutches with my leg in a brace. Three days before I taped, I still couldn’t bend my knee.

Didn’t Allison Janney also break one of your ribs last year? 

Yeah, but this was after. We were in one of those party buses with the stripper poles, and Allison was hanging upside down. She’s in such unbelievable good shape. At one point, she just picked me up from behind. Somebody posted the video to their social media, and you can just see the moment my rib breaks.

Well, you pulled off the taping.

The outfit I was wearing for my special wasn’t what I’d planned, because my suitcase was still on its own tour without me. When I fell, it was at the Manchester Airport, and I never actually picked up the luggage before the ambulance came and got me. It ended up in a storage unit. It was the biggest circus.

Broken bones aside, you seem well. And we’re 12 years out from the string of tragedies — your breast cancer diagnosis, contracting C. diff, your mother’s sudden death — that you talked about onstage. It catapulted your career, but it also brought this label of you having “bad luck.” Being in a different place now, what’s your relationship with that time and label? 

I’ve talked to my therapist about it because it feels like a curse or something. She says that everybody has their thing. I guess mine is my body. I try hard to not focus on that, not put a lot of attention on my health, but it’s a full-time job taking care of my body — staying up on my health to the point where I’m probably annoying. But I’m 52. I’m 15 years older than my wife and my kids will be eight in June. I want to be around for as long as I can.

Who in your peer group makes you laugh the most?

I love Aparna Nancherla, my podcast co-hosts Fortune and Mae. Chris Fairbanks is one of the funniest people alive. We were almost legally married because our roommate situation went on for ten years. And there’s nobody like Maria Bamford. When I see her, I just think, “What am I doing? Why did I think I could do comedy?”

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to get into comedy right now?

Get up onstage every time you can, every night of the week. You have to make sure you are playing to every vibe — safe spaces, though, you don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way. I’ve done everything. There was a preacher in Southern California who booked me on a tour of churches. I was like, “I’m not religious. And I’m gay.” He thought I was hilarious and told me I could say whatever I want. But I’ve done it all — open mics at a taco stand, a laundromat. I’m still not too proud to do any kind of show. I did a vegan benefit in someone’s living room two nights ago.

Did you even know the host? 

No! I drove about a half-hour before I looked at my itinerary and realized it was just some house. I called my wife and said, “If you don’t see me again, here’s the address.”

This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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