Tig Notaro’s ‘I’m Just A Person’ runs very close to the bone, says Steve Boylan
Comedienne Tig Notaro has written a book that’s not particularly funny. Not a good start, you might think, but the thing is… it’s not really supposed to be that funny. Notaro didn’t have much to laugh about for a long time. That she has emerged with a sense of humour from the early part of the decade is a wonder. That she emerged in rude health is nothing short of miraculous.
In March 2012, while filming a movie, Notaro fell ill. She was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile (C diff), a debilitating bacterial infection of the large intestine that had previously gone undiagnosed by her doctors. She lost a huge amount of weight, could barely keep her eyes open with exhaustion, and was eventually hospitalised. She finally recovered after undergoing treatment, and was discharged from hospital in time for her 41st birthday.
Two days later, she missed a call from her mother wishing her a happy birthday. Shortly afterwards, she received another call from her stepfather telling her that her mother had fallen, hit her head, and wasn’t going to make it. Notaro made the long journey to Texas to say goodbye and turn off the life support machine. Little did she know, the universe had even more in store for her; that July she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer.
I’m Just a Person is not only a journey through those extraordinary months in 2012 which culminated in Notaro having a double mastectomy, it’s also a tale of a persevering through relentless adversity, looking for positives when there are only negatives, and building oneself up after being repeatedly knocked down.
Nothing and nobody gets away easily; she wryly examines her early years, her burgeoning career, and her family life – her parents, particularly, loom large. She deeply loved and admired her mother, Susie, but pulls no punches about her parenting style. She was the type of parent other children think is cool, when her own kids really just need decent meals and someone to help with homework from time to time. (‘Drinking with friends by the pool was my mother’s 9 to 5 job, and she took it very seriously.’) It’s all fun and games, it seems, until someone forgets to collect the kids from soccer practice.
Keep reading to find out about Tig’s relationship with her stepfather, her album, documentary and TV show.
She had a difficult relationship with her stepfather, Ric, who she says provided support and security but not much else. When she was younger he had advised her to quit comedy to go to business school, even though he knew it would make her miserable. She goes to visit him after her mother’s funeral, only to discover he has cleared out a lot of her mother’s belongings. Most of this eventually comes out in the wash, but there’s no doubt some passages will make uncomfortable reading for some of its protagonists.
There comes a point in reading I’m Just a Person when things get so bad, you start to wonder at what point you would just give up.‘Emotionally raw’ is a phrase that’s often thrown about in marketing spiels, but this really runs very close to the bone. Notaro found solace and relief in her stand-up (her Grammy-nominated album Live, recorded just after she received her cancer diagnosis, is now widely regarded as a masterpiece) and, happily, things have finally turned around.
The documentary Tig, which chronicled her illness and her attempts to have a family was a huge hit at Sundance. She recently married, is expecting twins with her wife, and has just launched a semi-autobiographical TV show called One Mississippi. This sits well alongside her other work and will remain an incredible document of one person battling through extreme and merciless illness, of the things she learned during that time, and what that experience can teach the rest of us.
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