I expected the documentary “Tig” to be a well-deserved victory lap for comedian Tig Notaro. Notaro famously took a barrage of personal tragedy (a debilitating digestive illness, the death of her mother, and breast cancer) and turned it into a historic live comedy show at Los Angeles’ Largo nightclub.
But “Tig” is much more honest and revealing than that. A 25-minute stand-up set did not solve all her problems, and though she is in complete remission thanks to a double mastectomy, there’s still a life to be lived for Notaro, in all its ups and downs.
On the professional side of her life, that Largo set (documented on the album “Tig Notaro: Live,” which rhymes with “give”) did get her a tremendous amount of media attention. But with that attention came a lot of pressure on Notaro’s comedy, which has always had a smart, bone-dry goofiness. The Largo set used the tools Notaro had developed over a decade to grapple with life-and-death issues. but now that that storm has passed, she wonders what’s next. Now that everyone’s listening to her, what is she supposed to say?
On the personal side of her life, Notaro really wants to have a baby using a surrogate mother, an emotional process heightened by the risk of the hormone treatments igniting any pre-cancerous cells left in her body. She also starts a relationship with comedian Stephanie Allynne (they’re now engaged).
It’s amazing how openly Notaro let filmmakers Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York into every corner of her life, from the examination room at the hospital to every up and down of her relationship with Allynne. We see the text messages that she and Allynne exchanged while they were courting, and hear the voicemail message her stepfather left when her mother had her fatal accident.
In the end, “Tig” isn’t about anything more than herself, but the combination of her sense of humor and hard-won perspective on life makes it a very easy and affecting couple of hours to spend with her.
Notaro got a standing ovation at the post-show Q&A, where she said she felt proud of the movie as something that existed apart from her.
“It feels so bizarre to be gushing about the movie that I’m a part of, that’s named after me,” she said. “But it’s very real.”
Notaro will be in Madison doing a show on Feb. 28 at the Capitol Theater.