- Associated Press - Sunday, October 14, 2012

A frightfully nervous Tig Notaro stood just offstage at the Los Angeles club Largo while Ed Helms introduced her.

The audience of 300 and Miss Notaro’s fellow performers that August night had no idea what she was about to do. They had no idea she was going to address the trauma and pain that had been the past few months of her life, or relay the bad news she had received just days earlier. They had no idea she was about to perform the bravest set they had ever seen.

“Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?”

With those words — said cavalierly in the normal stand-up greeting manner — Miss Notaro launched into a 30-minute performance that immediately became legendary in comedy circles. It now is available as an unlikely live album via a $5 digital release by comedian Louis C.K. In just a week, it has sold more than 60,000 copies.

Miss Notaro, 41, a stand-up veteran of 15 years, was in the midst of a string of misfortunes: She had been hospitalized and debilitated by an intestinal disease, her mother had died in a tragic accident, she went through a breakup and, days earlier, she learned that she had breast cancer.

“It’s weird because with humor, the equation is tragedy plus time equal comedy,” Miss Notaro told a stunned crowd. “I am just at tragedy right now.”

But Miss Notaro’s performance wasn’t a weepy lament. It was matter-of-fact storytelling, filled with heartbreakingly funny observations. It was taking comedy straight into darkness and grief, in the rawest catharsis.

“It felt amazing,” Miss Notaro said in a recent interview, days after moving from Los Angeles to New York. “When I was onstage I felt, ‘Wow, I think something really special is happening.’”

The audience — at turns confused, amazed, gasping, saddened, hysterical — cheered her on, some through tears. Among those there that night was Louis C.K., who insisted that Miss Notaro release the largely unrehearsed show as a comedy album. He put it on his website and called it “one of the greatest stand-up performances I ever saw.”

“Here was this small woman standing alone against death and simply reporting where her mind had been and what had happened and employing her gorgeously acute stand-up voice to her own death,” Louis C.K. wrote on his website. “She proved that everything is funny. And has to be.”

It took Miss Notaro more than a month to persuade herself to release it (mostly because it was so raw and off-the-cuff, like an open-mic performance), but she eventually was swayed by thinking it could help someone. (Part of the proceeds will go to charity.) She dubbed it the typical-seeming title “Live,” but it is meant to be pronounced as in “to live.”

Miss Notaro was performing that night partly to work out material she had written about her ordeal, having been urged by “This American Life” host Ira Glass, who later would feature her story on the radio program. Just 90 minutes before going onstage, she thought she would begin by sitting down and laying out everything for the audience. Instead, while showering, she decided that such an apologetic opening was “lame” and was seized by maniacal laughter at the thought of beginning as she did: “This is how I’m going to deal with having cancer,” she told herself. She paused, worried that she might offend anyone with cancer, before realizing: “Wait, I have cancer.”

“I just really needed to talk about it,” Miss Notaro said, explaining her mindset at the time. “What if my life is slipping away right now? What if this is the last time I can get onstage? I certainly never thought that was going to be my second album.”

Miss Notaro is now back from the brink. She had a double mastectomy, and doctors believe the cancer has been removed with recurrence unlikely. She finds herself a sensation, and has signed a book deal with Ecco Press. Her first album, “Good One,” is among the best-sellers on iTunes. “I’ve never gone viral before,” she said.

“I didn’t expect any of it — the good or the bad — and to the degrees that things have happened,” said Miss Notaro, who has just begun a previously hired job writing for a Comedy Central show starring comedian Amy Schumer. “I cannot wait, and I’m so curious, for the time that I have a boring day with nothing going on. I have not had a boring day in seven months.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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