Go Home Cancer, You Are Drunk
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Actor, stand-up comic and ‘national treasure’ Robin William once said, “Comedy is acting out optimism.” Comedy is more than an art; it is a defence mechanism for coping with ongoing struggles. It is inspired by the spree of daily events, and is sometimes portrayed as a disguised version of the tragedy. Here’s the story of a person for whom a calamity named cancer helped shape a career in comedy.
Popularly known as Tig Notaro, Mathilde O’Callaghan Notaro was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in March 1971. Notaro moved to Denver, Colorado, started working in the music industry, and became a band manager under the umbrella of Tignation Promotions. This led her to Los Angeles, where she attempted stand up for the first time ever. She tried her hand at observational comedy, and post that, nothing could stop her. Not even cancer. She acted in various films and documentaries, became a writer and producer, did uncountable albums, audio-books, singles, and wrote a memoir I’m Just A Person, winning fame and recognition. The deadpan comic’s much-admired album, Live, was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards (2014). The special, Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted, was nominated at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special (2016). Last year, the same album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.
The brave heart’s life has seen a lot of hardships and breakdowns, but never did she break down. Known as a comic’scomic, Notaro was raised in Mississippi by an artistic and free-spirited mother who would feed the children all three meals at once. For the feisty comedian, the year 2012 witnessed a series of tragic events. In March that year, she had a fatal encounter with a rare infection called C. diff. Soon after her recovery, her mother breathed her last in an accident. On July 30, 2012, she was diagnosed with stage two bilateral breast cancer.
“ALL I KNOW IS THAT I’M GOING TO DO WHATEVER MAKES ME FEEL COMFORTABLE, AND I’M GOING TO DO WHATEVER I WANT TO DO AND HOPE THAT THE ESSENCE OF ME AND WHAT PEOPLE LIKED ABOUT ME, IN THE BEGINNING, WILL COME THROUGH.”Tig Notaro – Stand-up comedian
Post her diagnosis, she was on stage at Los Angeles’ Largo theatre. She heroically revealed the news of her ailment and personal struggles. “Hello, I have cancer – It was right in the moment of – everything in my life was falling apart,” Notaro says, about that night. “And when I went on stage, I was in the middle of that crisis and it was captured on audio.”
Her fellow comedian Louis C K offered to post the audio on his website. He wanted the country to hear Notaro’s powerful words, which would touch lives and prove as a source of motivation. Two months later, she permitted him to post the audio entitled Live, which topped all the charts.“I was so keenly aware that not everybody gets to be lifted up by the world when you’re in utter turmoil,” reveals Notaro, who underwent a double mastectomy with no reconstructive surgery. She decided on curbing chemotherapy and continued her hormone blocking treatment. She experienced some shame and sadness about the way she looked after her surgery. To overcome that, she did something revolutionary. At the New York Comedy Festival, she took off her shirt and performed topless.
According to the New York Times, she showed the audience her scars and then, through the force of her showmanship, made people forget that they were there. It was a powerful, even inspiring, statement about survival and recovery. “I’m always going to do whatever I think is funniest,” says Notaro. “If something’s dark, I’ll do it. If it’s a sock puppet, if it’s a stool, I’ll do it. There’s no preconceived idea of who I think I might be now.”
Notaro says that since her cancer diagnosis, she has been more inclined to personal comedy than observational comedy; now her work reflects on her childhood and her life. “I have allowed myself, by taking my own advice, to write longer jokes,” she says. “All I know is that I’m going to do whatever makes me feel comfortable, and I’m going to do whatever I want to do and hope that the essence of me and what people liked about me, in the beginning, will come through.”
Post her cancer diagnosis, her doctors warned her about the potentially life-threatening risks of IVF. Notaro always wanted to be a mother, and raise children. The One Mississippi fame actress married Stephanie Allynne in 2015. Their union took her one step closer to her dream and they eventually had twin boys, who were conceived with Stephanie’s eggs via surrogacy.
“There was a point where I thought I’d be dead,” says Notaro. “The scary beauty of life is that cancer can be around the corner just as a Grammy nomination can be. Now, every day I’m aware and lucky that I’m alive and that I have my little family.” Cancer did interrupt the boyish girl, but she punched it hard. You can watch her autobiography entitled Tig on Netflix. She might call herself just a person, but she is indeed an inspiration.