A Tig Notaro primer: 8 iconic works you need to know beyond “Hello, I have cancer"

The comedian's new HBO special, "Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted," debuts tonight

Published August 22, 2015 7:30PM (EDT)

  (AP/Victoria Will)
(AP/Victoria Will)

While Tig Notaro exploded onto the scene with her instantly iconic “cancer set” at Los Angeles’ Largo theater in 2012 — which she famously began by saying “Hello, I have cancer,” before speaking openly about her illness and her mother’s recent death — there’s a lot more to the comedian than one (admittedly legendary) performance.

A longtime comics' comic with an adoring cult following, Notaro was a rising star on the indie comedy scene for years before an unlikely set of tragic circumstances — and her singular response to them — catapulted her into the spotlight. As we prepare for her HBO comedy special “Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted" to air tonight at 10 p.m., here are some other highlights from her impressive career:

The Tig Series

Tig’s interview series, ‘The Tig Series," gives Zach Galifianakis’ ‘Between Two Ferns’ a run for its money when it comes to bizarre talk show formats — like in this 2009 interview with (who else?) Zach Galifianakis, which she conducts with her face a foot away from his.

"Good One"

Notaro released her first live stand-up album in 2011, featuring many bits that have become classics among her fans: For example, the eminently quotable "no moleste” routine about a “do not disturb” sign in her Mexican hotel room.

"Professor Blastoff"

Notaro’s podcast, hosted alongside David Huntsberger and Kyle Dunnigan, ran for 217 episodes from 2011 to 2015, during which the hosts picked a guest expert's brain on all manner of scientific, creative and philosophical topics.

Here’s Tig talking about her cancer diagnosis in 2012:

And here’s one of their most-talked-about episodes, a famously awkward interview with pickup artist Rick Jeffries:

Her stand-up sets on "Conan"

Late night appearences were many people's first introduction to Notaro's absurdist brand of comedy, like her much-discussed 2011 Conan appearance, during which she dragged a stool around the stage for almost five minutes.

That same year, she also busted out another of her classic stand-up bits — a clever meta gag centered around an impression of a person doing impressions.

"This American Life"

Notaro is a frequent "This American Life" contributor, but easily her most popular story was one she performed live in 2012, when she talked about her encounters with ‘80s pop singer Taylor Dayne. (The story also makes frequent appearances in Tig’s standup sets and was featured on "Good One")

The "cancer set"

Even those unfamiliar with Notaro’s other work will likely know her for her 2012 set at Largo, where she walked onstage and announced "Thank you, thanks, I have cancer. Thank you, I have cancer. Really, thank you." What followed was a raw, hilarious and intimate excavation of the recent hardships in Tig’s life, including her stage 2 cancer diagnosis, her mother’s recent death and her recovery from a rare bacterial infection. The day after the set, Louis CK tweeted: "In 27 years doing this, I’ve seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo.”

The "topless set"

In yet another legendary set at the New York Comedy Festival in 2014, Notaro revealed she had recently had a successful double mastectomy — and then tore off her shirt to reveal her scars, performing her jokes shirtless before an awestruck crowd (she had previously performed a similar topless set at Largo a month before) Here’s Tig discussing the set on "Conan":

"Knock Knock, it’s Tig Notaro"

This charming 2015 Showtime documentary followed Notaro as she travels across the country and performs intimate stand-up performances for her fans inside their homes — as well as their basements, barns, backyards and anywhere else they would have her.


This deeply personal 2015 Netflix documentary explores Notaro's battle with cancer and gives an intimate look at how she got through the toughest year of her life, as well as how she rebounded from her misfortune with a new perspective and a nascent romance with her "In a World" co-star Stephanie Allynne. As BuzzFeed's Ira Madison III writes in his rave review of the film: "the beauty of 'Tig' is that it’s not just a story about a comedian — it’s a story about a woman and how she learns to love again, finding inner strength against insurmountable odds."

By Anna Silman

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