Tig Notaro on letting friends film every facet of her life for “Tig”

To say Tig Notaro went through a few difficult years is an understatement. In 2012, she was diagnosed with cancer, split up with her girlfriend and dealt with the sudden passing of her mother. She then delivered a now famous comedy routine at Largo in Los Angeles, where she publicly discussed what she was working through, and her career exploded. But she had to undergo a double mastectomy and later required more medical attention while in the midst of a 2014 comedy tour.  

Tig, who many AfterEllen readers have been fans of since her role as Officer Tig on The Sarah Silverman Program in 2007, has maintained an optimistic outlook, joking with friends and fans alike and finding the comedy in the melancholy. Now the film Tig, which is opening Outfest tonight and coming to Netflix July 17, documents the out comic’s life and career since her diagnosis, illustrates just how she has managed to find her way out of an unexpected turn of tragic events and become successful in health, career and love. Filmmakers Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York follow Tig from stages to hospital beds to meetings with prospective surrogates. (That’s right—Tig wants to have a baby.) And then there’s the unplanned friendship that turned into romance for Tig and her In a World co-star Stephanie Allynne. (The two are now engaged.)

We spoke with Tig about letting Kristina and Ashley follow her with a camera, what she learned about herself through the process and her passion project, Clown Service, which will also play at Outfest next week as part of the Girls’ Shorts program.

AfterEllen.com: It seems like you have to give up a certain about of vanity to have someone film every facet of your life. Was that something you thought about when you agreed to the film or while watching it for the first time?

Tig Notaro: You know I didn’t really think about anything when I agreed to do it. My friend Kristina—she was who came to me about the project. And I really thought, because I had been through so much already, that everything was going to be her catching me on my way up and back into life and just kind of a highlight reel of good times. So I didn’t really consider anything. She’d always wanted to make a documentary and we’d been friends for almost 20 years and I thought, “That would be cool. I’d do that.”


AE: Was there anything that surprised you or that you learned about yourself when you saw the finished product?

TN: Yeah, you know, I didn’t realize I was someone who took risks so regularly. That was a really interesting thing for me to realize about myself and it kind of feels good. [laughs]


AE: Did you have any say in the editing or the story as it went along?

TN: Well, Kristina’s who started this out and then a pretty good size production company took it on and so a lot of people started getting involved and they always included me when they do would do an edit. I probably saw four or five versions of it. I would give notes and they would address my notes, and if it made sense, they’d take my note. If not, they gave me reasons why and I would say 95 percent of the time I agreed with them and they were reasonable. I also think it’s kind of lucky that I was so busy that I just honestly didn’t have time to worry about it and so I was doing other things all the time and then I’d get a link sent to me with the latest edit or I’d have to go somewhere and see it.


AE: Was there anything the cameras weren’t there to catch that you wish they had?

TN: Gosh, you know [laughs] I had this weird—it’s not really a small moment that they could have just grabbed, because it would have just spun off into more storylines and stuff. But really interesting point, I thought, after they had stopped filming was, I had this very odd moment in life where I did this show that ended up being high profile because I’d taken my shirt off, and then I had gotten all of this press about it. I didn’t know that the New York Times and the New Yorker and Huffington Post—I didn’t know they were in the audience at my New York show. I knew, of course, that word would get out, but I didn’t know it was going to go nuts like it did. And then the very next night, I was hospitalized with internal bleeding and then that went nuts on the internet. It caused this crazy confusion because people were like “Oh my god, did you hear about Tig?” And they’re like “Yeah it’s so cool and amazing!” And then it’s like, “No, she’s bleeding to death in Philadelphia!” And so I think that it was really the epitome of how life swings in every which way and it was kind of—it encapsulated kind of the theme of my life in a very quick moment because when I was at the lowest point in my life, my career was going through the roof and I was devastated emotionally and I was in a lot of physical pain and then I had that kind of same thing happen just within 12 hours or so. Or 24 hours. It just seemed like it could have been an interesting, dramatic moment for the documentary.


AE: How did they know, or how did you know, when to stop shooting? You’re still alive—they could still be filming you!

TN: Yeah, it really—they had to kind of jump out at some point because budget was up and there wasn’t a real clear place to stop. They just really had to stop. There were other things I wanted to—I was encouraging them to just let the story breathe and maybe some other things would pop up and they let it go a little bit longer, and I think they went a little over budget. But I think they had to just stop the production. They just had to. But I think that what they captured were great examples of me trying to rebuild after losing everything.


AE: One of my favorite aspects of the movie is your relationship building with Stephanie. Was that ever a concern for either of you, going into a new relationship and having it all on film? How did you feel about that?

TN: I didn’t think about anything. [laughs] And she brought that up to me this morning or last night when we were going to bed or waking up, I can’t remember. Because we were asked that the other day and she said, “You know what? It never dawned on me until someone asked us that in an interview.” And I said “Honestly, it didn’t cross my mind either.” Because I’d had so many relationships in the past and they’ve all been, for the most part, wonderful, kind, loving, whatever—but I just didn’t think I’d want to be with somebody forever and get married. One of the first signs for me was I moved Stephanie’s brother and his girlfriend into my guest house without even thinking. Like “It would be so great if Dylan lived here!” And then I thought back on other relationships and there is not a single person where I’ve moved their family onto my land. There’s no situation where that would have happened. I think it’s just the same with the movie. I didn’t even think about it. Trust me, I’m not saying I did things right. I said I was a risk taker.


AE: It could have gone south and not worked out and I don’t know how the movie would have went, but I’m glad it did!

TN: In the beginning, I was just kind of casually dating a couple other people but they streamlined it with me and Stephanie because we got serious.


AE: You’re also showing Clown Service at Outfest, which I know you’ve been working on for a few years. Can you tell me a little bit of the premise of it?

TN: It’s based on true events. It’s a story that took place—I guess I was maybe 21 and I was going through a break-up and was very upset, and I told my friend the only thing that would make me feel better would be if I had a clown come over to my house. And she was like, “Oh my God, that is hilarious, and if you can get one to come over, I’ll pay for it.” And so they wouldn’t send a clown over because it appeared as though it was just me, because I called in a very depressed, monotone voice and they were trying to figure out what kind of party this was for and I kept explaining it was just for me, and they were very uncomfortable and didn’t send the clown. I wrote the rest of the film so the clown does come over.


AE: How long did it take for you to get it off the ground? I know you originally did a Kickstarter for it, right? [Full disclosure: I donated to the Kickstarter campaign.]

TN: I did and then right when I raised the money, I was diagnosed with cancer. I started the Kickstarter after I had gone through pneumonia and C-Diff and my mother’s death and my break-up and I was like, “You know what? I just need something to do.” And so I started a Kickstarter and then I got diagnosed and it got put on hold while I was going through all that. I started getting busier and healthier and then I just had to kind of take a weekend that I had free and I just shot it in a couple of days. I’m really happy with it. I’m really thrilled with that little film. I think it turned out really well. 


AE: Lastly, I know you’re coming back for Season 2 of Transparent. Can you tell us who you might be sharing scenes with or how much we can expect to see of you?

TN: You know, so far, I’ve been in scenes with both [Tammy and Sarah]. I was supposed to go to table read today—I think I had some big scene with Amy [Landercker]‘s character but I’m editing my HBO special so I couldn’t go. But I don’t really know what’s coming. I think for right now I’m doing four or five episodes and nothing is too revealing yet as to what my character’s doing, but I’m definitely in it it way more. I think the show is tremendous and all the people involved—it’s just really a masterpiece.


Tig opens Outfest tonight at 8pm at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. You can also catch it on Netflix on July 17.