Tig Notaro on Taping Her HBO Special at the Wilbur

The veteran comic has been busy fearlessly changing comedy after surviving breast cancer. She landed an HBO special--shooting right here in Boston---to prove it.

tig notaro

Photograph by Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

This is not Tig Notaro’s first time at the comedy rodeo. She’s a comedian of many trades: a podcast host, producer, Transparent actress, Inside Amy Schumer writer, stand-up comic, among the many. But the one that brought her an insane amount of positive attention was when she stood onstage in 2012 at L.A.’s Largo comedy club and announced, “Good evening. I have cancer.”

In that same set at the Largo she turned her mother’s death, a serious break up, and life-threatening infection into a poignant and crazy-brave stand-up bit. She later got a double mastectomy, and last fall, performed topless for a crowd in New York City. And all the grievances, perhaps ironically, set Notaro on the upswing career-wise.

Directly following that show in 2012, filmmakers documented her for a year as Notaro prepared for an anniversary show at the Largo in October 2014. The documentary Tig premiered at Sundance in January (it will be screened again at Outfest this summer). Since then, she landed an HBO comedy special which will be taped right here at the Wilbur on May 31.

“I’m really very excited to do the shows,” she says. “I think the audiences are going to be just perfect. I’m so excited.”

Here, Notaro talks with Boston about choosing to bring her HBO special to town, censorship, and embracing the ever-present cameras when shooting her doc.


First, congratulations on your HBO special. For lack of a better work, this is incredibly special for you.

Thank you!

Aside from putting together material, what are you doing to prepare?

I have been hitting every minor and major market that can take me. I’ve been touring my face off.

Where have you been touring?

Truly all over the country. I’m just now leaving Canada today, and I think I’ve nearly done 60 cities if not more.

Is that just in North America?

I’ve also gone over to Europe.

How did you guys decide on the Wilbur to shoot your HBO special?

I was on tour and I ended up having some medical issues when I was in Philadelphia. I had a cyst that I guess burst on a blood vessel and left me hospitalized in Philadelphia. I had some internal bleeding for a few days, and had to have surgery. The next night on the tour was Boston, and so I had to reschedule that show. So kind of as a way to return to the city that was next in line…I thought it’d be cool to do the special there.

In terms of material, are the jokes fresh? We will see any of your bits you’ve done in the past?

Well, I’m not sure what exactly ‘fresh’ means, but it’s material I’ve been working on for this special. So it’s fresh in that way, but it’s not fresh as in I’ve never done it before. But, like any comedian, they are working on their material for whatever amount of time before they tape the special or the CD. So this is definitely fresh in that way; there’s not a special or a CD for it yet.

Let’s talk about Tig which is screening at Outfest this summer. It must have been really surreal for you to see your life play out on the big screen, especially after the hardships you faced in 2012. Did you feel particularly vulnerable watching it for the first time?

Yeah, but it’s also been a long process making the film; the filmmakers made me an executive producer, so they could have access to my old footage and personal life. I’ve also been watching edits of it over the past year, so it wasn’t like the made a movie, and I went to the festival and saw the film. I think it’s probably a little more vulnerable being filmed, and then by the time it premiered at the festival I felt very comfortable. I went into the premiere at Sundance feeling like if people didn’t like the movie, then we have different taste. I felt good about it. It was really a special feeling to see people respond the way they did. You could hear laughing and crying in the theater. I think the filmmakers did a great job. I’m happy with what they did.

What was the shooting process like for you? Did you ever get to a point where you just wanted to stop?

Definitely. It captured a lot of vulnerable moments that were hard times, and also really exciting times that I would have preferred to have been alone for, or with people close to me. I also kept in mind that I agreed to do this film, and if I withheld those moments, we wouldn’t be delivering the best film possible. I figured I needed to just bite my lip and allow that sort of access in hopes that it would contribute to making something great.

Did you find that you censored yourself during shooting?

No. As far as sharing, I did share every moment. The movie is very personal. I can’t even believe how personal I allowed [it to be]. Yeah, there were moments where I thought, ‘I’m sick of this, I don’t want the cameras here,’ but I decided to just go ahead and do it. As far as censoring, there’s an awareness that you have at times. I guess you can forget about the camera at other times, but I think when it gets very heightened in a positive or negative way in your life, you have a tendency to remember the camera’s there. I didn’t make a point to censor myself, but I’m sure if there wasn’t a camera, I might be a little different. But I don’t think anyone left the movie feeling like the didn’t get a really true peak behind the curtain.

Were you ever hesitant to do the movie in the first place?

No, because I had just gone through such a hard time in my life that I thought that I had been through all that life could possibly give me. So I went into the film kind of thinking, ‘Yeah, sure, make a movie about me. Show me on all the highlights life, and everything great.’ Which is what I thought I was headed into. I naively forgot that life twists and turns in many different ways, and hard things popped up as well. So I had no hesitation going in because I was naive. If I knew what I knew now, I would have more hesitation, more of a guarded way about me. But I’m glad I didn’t know. It all ended up being so positive.

I’ve read so many reviews that rave about your documentary. Indiewire wrote that your “story is a brave and fascinating one” because of your “sheer perseverance.” What was your reaction when you initially read reviews like those?

Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I read them to be honest. I read a couple reviews. Like I said, I feel fine with however people interpret it or feel it.


Tig Notaro performs live at the Wilbur Theatre on Sunday, May 31 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are available at thewilbur.com.