Tig Notaro Is Done Talking About Cancer

We chat with the comedian and actor about the new season of 'One Mississippi,' motherhood, and her comedy career.

by Sam Fragoso
Sep 8 2017, 8:44pm

These days, Tig Notaro finds herself in the midst of change. When we speak on the phone, I immediately ask for a life update. It's been two years since we last sat down, and she's quick to share. "I'm married with two babies," she says. "Ready for the new season of my show to come out. Still touring here and there. Getting prepared for my next comedy special." The list is endless, and exciting.

With twins, time is especially precious for Notaro and her partner (actress/writer Stephanie Allynne). Together the couple poured their hearts and souls into One Mississippi, a semi-autobiographical Amazon original series about Notaro stumbling into love and loss in the deep South. However, the newest episodes of One Mississippi double as both a second season and a second act for the beloved comedian. Notaro ascended to new heights after an uncommonly raw set at Largo in which Notaro detailed her experiences with cancer. To date, it's still one of the most powerful and vulnerable pieces of stand-up comedy we've seen.

And yet, Notaro knew she didn't want to only be known for 30 minutes of performance—a single-issue comic. She is more than just an uplifting story. She's funny. The latest batch of One Mississippi is proof. Devoid of didacticism, the program confronts hot-button topics like consent, white supremacy, and sexual fluidity.

In our brief phone call, Notaro was eager to discuss her new life as a mother, her future as comedian, and why, after her medical issues, she's feeling more thankful than ever.

VICE: What's something that has surprised you about motherhood?
Notaro: How hard it is to keep them clean. They look like they don't have any opportunity to have shelter or a bath. They're just constantly getting into things. You're constantly trying to keep them looking like somebody cares for them. Our car was parked in the driveway, and I thought it would be OK, but the car is dirty so they were dragging their hands down the car. And then it was nap time.

Do you think parenthood has given your life new meaning?
Oh, for sure. I apologize that I'm full of clichés, but I can't remember life before Stephanie or the babies. I don't even understand what I was doing with my time.

What were you doing?
Just waiting for them to come around. It doesn't make sense to me. It makes me feel sad and lonesome when I think about not having these three people in my life.

Is comedy less of a priority now that you're building this new family?
It's not my number one focus, but it's one of my favorite things. People warned me over the years, "Oh, you'll get stick of stand-up. You'll be so desperate to get your own sitcom." It's not something that once I hit other milestones I'm looking to get rid of. But having the life that I have, being happy and healthy, I certainly have a different lens. I think you'd be an extraordinarily odd person if your lens didn't change.

The latest season of One Mississippi seems like one of the first shows to take place in a post-Trump world. What was the headspace of the writers' room going into the show this year?
It's a writers' room entirely made up of women. It's really interesting because as time has gone on, we thought that in January what we were bringing up and discussing was timely. Now that we're inching up on our premiere date, there are so many things going on that might seem like we just hurried up and filmed the show within the last three weeks. It feels even more timely.

There's also definitely a consideration for all viewpoints, no matter how troubling they may be. The writing doesn't blow certain ideas, or people, off.
We're trying to show the complexities surrounding politics and the ones you love. Certain realities read their head once you get into things. What does it mean when you voted the way that you have? What does it mean if you don't vote? What does it mean on the other side of voting for different parties, and what are you saying about yourself and acceptance? You love your family and friends, and you have to make your way through that messiness. And then you still have to sit down and have dinner. You still have to work or socialize. This most recent election has challenged people more than ever.

Has it been harder for you to love and accept people?
I think that I love people. I accept them. I think it's hard sometimes to accept what they're accepting. They might feel the same about me.

In a past interview, when it came to the topic of stand-up, you said: "People ask about my stand-up, 'Are you going to close the chapter on the close association you have with cancer and people knowing you with that?' And I say, 'If it feels right to let it go.'" Does it feel right to let it go now?
It's not the focus of my material, that's for sure. I didn't have any material about cancer in my new special, and then I remembered this funny aspect of when I was getting sick. Those four really rough months that I had when everything was falling apart.

Jenny Slate was moving from New York to Los Angeles, and she asked me to go get tea. It was right at the beginning of me feeling sick. It was a very casual thing of, "Hey, I'm moving to town. Do you want to get tea?" Someone trying to connect as they're moving to a different city. Every time she called to try to make this tea between us happen, I kept getting worse and worse. And she's not one of my best friends. She was just a casual acquaintance. Then she got looped into this spiraling hell that I was in, and had to keep checking in on me when she really just wanted to have tea. Every time I answered I was in the hospital, burying my mother, taking her off life support. It just turned into this circus of feeling bad to break the news to Jenny each time I talked to her.

Given all that has happened, and continues to happen, did you think this was how your life was going to look at this age?
There was a point where I thought I'd be dead—I also didn't think I would potentially be dead at 40. That's part of the acceptance I've come to have with life and what's around each corner. It's fun, and it's scary. It's also something that I, in making peace with, which is the unknown, I'm still not quite use to having found Stephanie. I really hate to sound like such a sap, but I didn't expect it. Every day I'm aware and lucky that I'm alive and that I have my little family. I just had my five-year checkup with my oncologist and now officially in remission. I'm a thankful person.

Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy, a weekly podcast of conversations with filmmakers, writers, musicians, journalists, and, once, his mother. His work has appeared in NPR, Vanity Fair , and Playboy. He lives in Los Angeles.

Tig Notaro
One Mississippi
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