In 2012, comedian Louis C.K. tweeted: "In 27 years doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo." The set C.K. was referring to was Notaro's performance the day she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. That set became "Tig Notaro: Live," which is now out now on iTunes.
We've invited Notaro to play a game called "Tig, meet Tug." Frank Edwin McGraw, known as Tug, was one of the great relief pitchers in baseball, or at least the most colorful. We'll ask Notaro three questions about her near-namesake.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask accomplished people to do something that barely registers as an accomplishment. Last year, the comedian Louis C.K. tweeted: "In 27 years doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets, and one was Tig Notaro last night," unquote. That set became "Tig Notaro: Live." The album is now out now on iTunes, and we're very excited to have her with us today. Tig Notaro welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
TIG NOTARO: Thank you.
SAGAL: So you're a standup and have been doing it for years, but you got into it relatively late for a standup, in your late 20s, is that right?
NOTARO: Yeah, I think I was maybe 26 or 27.
SAGAL: And were you one of those people, were you like when you graduated high school, were you like class clown because you were always cracking people up in high school?
NOTARO: Oh, I failed three grades and dropped out of high school.
SAGAL: You failed?
NOTARO: I wasn't - I wasn't voted anything except probably least likely.
SAGAL: Really? You seem like a talented, intelligent, accomplished person. How did you flunk out of high school?
NOTARO: I guess I just wasn't interested. I didn't do work. I - yeah, it was pretty easy.
SAGAL: I guess it actually doesn't take that much, really.
NOTARO: Yeah, it takes very little.
SAGAL: Hey, obviously we want to talk about your record, which has been out for a while, called "Live," it's not called "Live," although it's spelled that way, even though it is live. And it became, I'd go so far as to say, the most talked about comedy act, well, in years. I can't remember the last time a single comedy act got this much attention. Can you tell us about the circumstance of it for people that don't know?
NOTARO: Well, yeah, I had a really horrible four months of time. I had pneumonia, and then I took antibiotics that caused me to contract this thing called C. diff, which is where this bacteria was eating my digestive tract. And I was hospitalized. And then when I was released from the hospital a few days later, my mother tripped and hit her head and died.
And then I went through a breakup a few weeks after that, and then a few weeks after the breakup, I was diagnosed with cancer. And I went onstage, and I talked about everything I had been through. And it went way better than I imagined.
SAGAL: I feel like I should assure everybody listening at this point, it's really funny.
SAGAL: It's one of - I mean, it's one of the funniest things I've heard in a long time because it's kind of raw. Let's play a little bit of "Tig Notaro: Live," so everybody can hear what it's like.
NOTARO: But you know what's nice about all of this is that you can always rest assured that God never gives you more than you can handle. Never.
NOTARO: Never. When you've had it, God goes all right, that's it. I just keep picturing God going, you know what, I think she can take a little more.
NOTARO: And then the angels are standing back going, God, what are you doing?
NOTARO: You are out of your mind. And God was like, no, no, no, I really think she can handle this.
SAGAL: Did you have to do the thing that comedians do, which is I'm going to write some jokes about cancer, here we go?
NOTARO: Yeah, I mean, I was diagnosed on July 25th, and the show was August 3rd. And so I didn't find anything funny from, you know, from my hospitalization and my mother's death and my breakup. I just wasn't in a lighthearted mood, really. And then once I was diagnosed with cancer, it was like, OK, everything became hilarious to me.
NOTARO: It just was so...
SAGAL: A lot has happened. I mean, I have to say this getting cancer thing was like one of the best things that's happened to you professionally.
NOTARO: It really is.
SAGAL: I mean, are other comedians out there going damn, why can't I get cancer? Because...
NOTARO: I know, when people ask how'd you do it, what do you suggest in comedy, and I'm like just, just get cancer and every other possible thing, you know, that you can get, and then book a show at Largo and get Louis C.K. on the show.
SAGAL: It's worked for you. And I have to ask: How's your health?
NOTARO: I'm in remission.
NOTARO: And I'm feeling good, yeah.
SAGAL: Yeah, awesome. I want to ask you: Has anything strange happened to you now that you've become known, God forbid, that this is continuing, as like the cancer comedian, the comedian who did the thing about cancer?
NOTARO: Not - you know, the weirdest thing is that nothing weird has really happened. And, you know, I feel like strangers think they know me but in a very kind way, and they know so much personal stuff about me. And I always tell this story about when I was in New York this last time, and I was going across the street, and this woman came up, and she said, I know you have trouble with your digestive tract, and you have some food issues, but this restaurant right across the street is just absolutely wonderful. You should check it out.
NOTARO: And then she just wandered off. It's like thank you, thank you.
FAITH SALIE: So you're kind of known for creating awkward moments when you're onstage.
NOTARO: Sure, yeah.
SALIE: Like you'll push a chair around for two minutes.
NOTARO: Yeah, ideally longer than two minutes.
SAGAL: Yeah, two minutes is for amateurs. She goes for the half-hour.
SALIE: But are you just not like the rest of us? Like are you totally cool with awkwardness? Are you great on first dates?
NOTARO: I'm horrible on first through 100, the first 100 dates, I'm really not good.
SALIE: How? How are you bad on a date?
NOTARO: I'm very - I'm awkward in not a fun way.
NOTARO: I've gone out with somebody where they couldn't believe I was a comedian. They were just looking at me so confused.
NOTARO: So that's - yeah, I'm awkward like that. But then in comedy I feel very comfortable when the awkwardness follows me onstage. That's my element, where I'm like oh, this is - this feels right.
SAGAL: So in those moments where any other comedian, as Faith says, were all kind of nervous, are standing there looking in the audience, and they think oh my God, nothing is happening, I feel like killing myself, you're like this is right.
NOTARO: Oh, yeah, if I was onstage and nothing was happening, I would feel like I had made it finally.
SAGAL: OK, Tig Notaro, we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...
CARL KASELL: Tig, Meet Tug.
SAGAL: Frank Edwin McGraw, known as Tug McGraw, was one of the great relief pitchers in baseball, or at least one of the most colorful. We're going to ask you three questions about your near namesake, Tug McGraw. If you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is comedian Tig Notaro playing for?
KASELL: Tig is playing for Jeremy Meyer of Tempe, Arizona.
SAGAL: Ready to go?
NOTARO: Yeah, and if matters at all, I know who Tug McGraw is.
SAGAL: That's great. OK, here we go. How did Tug McGraw get his nickname? Was it: A, as a boy, he liked to pull larger boys through the playground, like a tugboat; B, it was compromise between his mother's choice of name, Tim, and his father's, Doug; or C, his mother nicknamed him Tug because of his aggressive breastfeeding.
NOTARO: I'm going to go with the first option.
SAGAL: He liked to pull larger boys through the playground like a tugboat? The answer is C, the breastfeeding, at least that's the story that Tug liked to tell later in life.
NOTARO: I feel like I would have been a weirdo if I would have chosen that.
SAGAL: Yeah, don't worry about your reputation. Just go for your instincts.
NOTARO: That is such a weird story. I can't even move on.
SAGAL: I know. All right, next question. After recording the final out in the 1980 World Series as a pitcher for the Phillies, Tug McGraw said what: A, you guys are happy we won a world championship, but I'm happy I just made another 25 grand; B, isn't all sport, indeed all human endeavor, pointless in the face of eternity; or C, New York can take this championship and stick it.
NOTARO: I'm going to say the first choice again.
SAGAL: You guys are happy we won a world championship, but I'm happy I just made another 25 grand? The audience says...
NOTARO: When you repeat it back to me, it makes me feel like I've picked another wrong answer.
SAGAL: Did you pick up that tone of condemnation in my voice? Because...
NOTARO: Yeah, it was just like Tig, the more I talk to you, the more I'm realizing how you failed three grades and dropped out of high school.
SAGAL: So you're not going to pick the first one?
NOTARO: OK, the third one.
SAGAL: New York can take this championship and stick it?
SAGAL: You're right, that's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: He later said he regretted that comment. He had played for some years for the New York Mets and felt bad about it. All right, last question, if you get this one right, you win. As a young player, Tug had a relationship with a waitress and was intimate with her, he says, just one time. But that single night in the late '60s resulted in what: A, a lifelong habit of over-tipping; B, a vow of celibacy; or C, the country music star Tim McGraw.
NOTARO: C, Tim McGraw.
SAGAL: You are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Tug took off. The waitress later found out she was pregnant, and Tug never acknowledged that her son Tim was his until many years later. Carl, how did Tig Notaro do on our quiz?
KASELL: Tig, you had two correct answers, so you win for Jeremy Meyer.
SAGAL: Well done.
SAGAL: "Tig Notaro: Live" is available on iTunes, her podcast is "Professor Blastoff." Tig Notaro, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!.
NOTARO: Thank you.
SAGAL: Thanks, Tig, bye-bye.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.