Film Review: Tig by Directors Ashley York and Kristina Goolsby

A documentary about comedian Tig Notaro's humor through tragedy
Cover of Tig Notaro's documentary

Credit: IMDB

First, Tig Notaro went to the hospital for a rare gastrointestinal illness. Then her mother died. Then she got breast cancer. Then she went through a breakup.

Just one of these events is enough to make anyone question their existence on this planet, but comedian Tig Notaro went through it all within a matter of a few months. Watching her describe this year of her life is like watching a real-life reenactment of Voltaire’s Candide. Like the main character of this classic work of fiction, nothing at all seems to go right in Tig Notaro’s life, yet she manages to work through the pain with a smile on her face.

It’s evident in Tig that this is the only possible way someone could cope with this much heartache in such a short period of time. Notaro made a living off of making people laugh, and so it should be no surprise to her fans that she would carry her sense of humor through her cancer diagnosis.

Her opening line, “I have cancer,” didn’t register with some audience members at first. They thought she was being sarcastic.

Yet people were shocked by Notaro’s frank comedy following her diagnosis. Days after she had been given the grim news from her doctor, she got on stage to perform one of the most powerful comedy acts anyone has ever witnessed. Her opening line, “I have cancer,” didn’t register with some audience members at first. They thought she was being sarcastic.

Before this stand up act, Notaro had no idea how people would react to her new material. Would they think it was too serious to laugh? Would they be uncomfortable? Is it too soon? What she discovered is that people have a hunger for this form of comedy. It’s real, raw and gut-wrenching, and absolutely necessary.

You go into this documentary expecting to feel crushingly depressed, yet you walk away from it with an oddly renewed appreciation for life, and for humour.

A famous saying goes “comedy is tragedy plus time.” This is Tig in a nutshell. You go into this documentary expecting to feel crushingly depressed, yet you walk away from it with an oddly renewed appreciation for life, and for humour. Notaro makes it okay to laugh in the face of hardship, even as we cry at the same time.

Tig Notaro

Credit: TigNation.com

This documentary isn’t all laughs though. There are moments, especially as Notaro navigates the possibility of becoming a mother after her cancer treatment, that are somber and devastating. That’s what makes this documentary so powerful. Viewers experience the highs of Notaro’s clever, wry jokes, and the deepest lows watching her face as she processes blow after blow of disappointing news.

It’s incredible to think of anyone surviving what Notaro has survived, and this documentary is a testament to her strength. Tig teaches us that it’s alright to cry, but it’s also alright to have a good laugh at it all. She has experienced immense loss in her life, yet she is still alive. That’s something worth smiling about.

Take a listen to Tig Notaro’s appearance on “This American Life,” which includes excerpts from her stand up shows, right here.

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