Tig Notaro on Denver, Sarah Silverman and hanging on to the mike for dear life

Tig Notaro has friends.
Tig Notaro has friends.

After getting her start in the inner workings of the entertainment biz as a music promoter (for a while in Denver), Tig Notaro got an itch to be on stage -- not as a musician, but as a comedian. In that respect, she's been more successful than many; she's done specials on Comedy Central Presents and been a regular character on the now-defunct but iconic Sarah Silverman Program, and more recently is gearing up to star in a comedy variety show called Tig Has Friends, with Silverman as executive producer. Currently, she's working on a comedy disc to be released sometime this year on the indie-pop label Secretly Canadian. In advance of her show next week at the hi-dive, we caught up with Notaro to talk about momentum, out-of-body experiences and fear.

Westword: Before you were a standup comedian, you were a music promoter. How did you get into that line of work? Tig Notaro: Just a fan of music, and I had friends that had bands, and I'm a musician myself, but I wasn't -- I was too scared to actually perform. So, I don't know, music promotion stuff was just kind of a way to be around it and not have to actually perform. But that was just such a small blip in my life. It was helpful for my career when I got into standup, because I understood that you have to kind of be at a certain point before any business can kind of happen behind you.

WW: You said you have to be at a certain point -- what point do you mean? TN: You have to have a career that has some momentum behind it before you can have any sort of representation really working for you. A lot of people, artists, want representation so they can forward their career, but you have to create and work on your career to get some momentum going so that the business can get behind you. So that was helpful for me to know from working in the music business, that I needed to focus on my career and work hard at writing and performing to move that along so I'd be valuable to the business.

WW: It's interesting that you were too afraid to perform musically but you're not too afraid to perform standup, which, I would imagine a lot of people would say would actually be more nerve-racking. TN: Yeah, I mean, I can understand that. I think for me it was that I used to shake so much -- out of fear -- when I played guitar, if anyone watched me. Like, it was such a private thing that I would do alone at my house, and if anyone watched me play, I would get so nervous that I would shake and I wasn't able to play the guitar. So to perform live in front of an audience would just make that, uh, times a million. Whereas with standup, you can leave the mike in the mike stand and hold on for dear life, you know, and people won't necessarily see you shaking.

But I think also standup just came more naturally to me, that it wasn't so scary. I got pretty good at guitar and drums, but it wasn't... standup just felt so right from the second that I did it.  

WW: What was the point where you were like, "I'm going to give this a try? I'm going to get on stage and do these jokes and see what happens?" TN: When I was living in Denver, I was really itching to perform, like it was becoming something I couldn't ignore for much longer. And then when I moved to L.A., I moved with a couple of friends of mine that had been wanting to move to Los Angeles, and I just went with them. I thought, well, I could do music business out there, and then I moved with them and I saw the opportunity for standup, so I took a couple of weeks to, uh, assess the comedy scene, and then after a couple of weeks, I was like, "Oh, yeah, I could definitely do this."

WW: It seems like your signature is the really deadpan, sarcastic sense of humor. Has that always been sort of a hallmark of what you do? TN: I mean, I think my tone has always been that. My writing style, you know, you can't help but grow and change. It's funny, because I used to not smile on stage, but I started, like, smiling. So there are a couple of things that have changed. I think because I was so deadpan and dry, in my mind I made up that I couldn't smile on stage or do certain things. And I realized that was so confining, it just wouldn't allow me to grow.

When I made subtle changes like allowing myself to move on stage or smile, I felt like I was turning into this over-the-top hack -- but when I told my friends that, they thought it was hilarious, because they couldn't even really tell a huge difference in the before and after, other than that I seemed more confident later. But, yeah, I think just in my daily life or whatever, that my stage thing is just a little more magnified that who I am off stage. So, yeah, I really am that, I think I've always been that. I'm just a little more comfortable allowing myself to smile and move around a little.

WW: You had a recurring role on the Sarah Silverman Program. How did that opportunity come about? TN: Well, Sarah's one of my close friends, and she hired all of her friends and family to work on the show and write on the show, and so it just kind of, you know, it just kind of presented itself, and we've just continued to work together, whether its performing in standup or working on projects we're developing. She's just been really supportive and helpful in opening doors for me, and that was just a really fun show, and my first real attempt at what I guess you could call acting.

WW: Was that quite a bit different from being on stage? TN: It's different in that I write my own stuff and I feel...I mean, it's nice, because the writers on TV know my voice and my tone and typically will write for me, but it's still their words and their point of view for this character, even if the character is Tig, but still not exactly me. In standup, it's just all my point of view and my words, and I have so much more confidence with that, because I am a standup comedian first and foremost. As an actor, it's just a fun, exciting, weird thing that I'm getting to do because of my standup.

I don't like watching myself or hearing myself do standup, but I love watching myself act, just because it's such a weird thing, where I almost feel like I'm outside of my body watching somebody else, going, "Oh wow, good, good job," or "Oh, that was horrible. That person should not be acting." And then I'm like, "Oh -- that person was me."

So, yeah, it's just so different. You know, with acting, there's just so many takes from so many different angles. I mean, I'll have one line in an episode and I'll be there all day. And then, of course, you don't see the outcome until months later, and then in standup, you just tell a joke and then it's all done and you go home.

Notaro brings her act to the hi-dive on Thursday, January 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. Find tickets and more information here.

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7 S. Broadway
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