Last August, Tig Notaro got on stage at the L.A. comedy club Largo and addressed the crowd.
"Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?"
Notaro had just been diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, and knew she couldn't do her typical set, which often illuminates the absurd in everyday thoughts or mundane actions, like when she famously pushed a stool around during a Conan O'Brien standup set.
The news came at the tail-end of a four-month period in which she lost her mother, fought off an intestinal disease that withered 20 pounds from her body and ended a relationship.
"Oh, it's fine. Here's what happened. It's very personal. Found a lump. Guys, relax. Everything's fine. I have cancer."
That set was special not just because of her delivery but the empathy from the audience. At one point, Notaro said to an audience member in apparent distress, "It's OK. It's going to be OK. It might not be OK. But I'm just saying, it's OK. You're going to be OK."
Louis C.K. happened to be the special guest that night, and was so moved by her performance, he decided to put the recording on his website for a $5 donation, which catapulted Notaro into another realm of exposure.
"I didn't have a plan or an idea," Notaro says over the phone, driving through Texas on her Professor Blastoff podcast tour. "It was kind of, it was a feeling, and everything snapped. I had a show booked, and I didn't know if I could do standup again. My life had fallen apart so much, and so negatively, for four months, and I didn't see this going much better. So I thought I had to get on stage. And on stage, I was very aware it was a special moment."
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After a double mastectomy, she is now in remission. Over the last year, she hasn't been doing as much standup, though she is working on new material, including a book about those four months. Notaro's also been busy with Professor Blastoff, the weekly podcast she hosts with fellow comedians David Huntsberger and Kyle Dunnigan, which comes to Sons of Hermann Hall tonight for a live taping.
The podcast follows a typical format, in that there's an intro, some banter, then a guest. But Professor Blastoff veers from the usual comedy podcast content of comedians talking about comedy, and instead explores loftier topics like science, religion and metaphysics, sort of like a less buttoned-up version of Radiolab. One show might find them discussing global warming or polyamory, another atheism or evolution. These discussions are helped along by both comedians and actual experts, which gives the show a nice balance of rambling humor and intimate discourse. Notaro puts it another way:
"We just thought of it as kind of like a silly NPR show, or if the class clowns were never told to be quiet. Maybe you learn one thing on the show. There's a lot of ridiculousness."
Parade of Flesh presents Professor Blastoff on Tuesday, April 30, at Sons on Hermann Hall. Tickets cost $13-$16.