Tig Notaro’s Got a Good One

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If you write about stand-up comic Tig Notaro, you’re obligated to mention how she used to work in the music industry promoting bands, so let’s just get that out of the way at the outset.

Thankfully for those who enjoy wry humor, Notaro found her niche once she moved to Los Angeles to give stand-up a shot. She is sharp and clever and all that stuff, and according to her bio, she’s always wearing argyle socks. The bigwigs have taken notice (can’t say for sure about the socks), as she played Officer Tig on The Sarah Silverman Program, guest starred on Community, and just shot her own pilot for the Logo Network.

I recently caught up with Notaro to talk about her pilot, stand-up, and her new album coming out in August.

Did you have a plan when you left the music industry to do comedy? Did you want to see where it would take you?

I didn’t really have a “plan.” I just worked in music and then happened to try stand-up and couldn’t stop doing it, so I had to stop the music business thing.

Even though stand-up is a skill you never quite perfect, in that you’re always improving every time you take the stage, how long did it for you to feel like you were pretty good? Was there a moment where you felt like “yeah, I AM a professional comedian. People should pay to hear my observations?”

I think after about three years in and regularly doing my feature set (30 minutes opening for headliners on the road) that I started to think it wasn’t a total sham for people to pay to see me. I still have shows though, where I’m not thrilled with how things went and I feel like reimbursing everyone. Luckily, those times are few and far between and hopefully the audience doesn’t feel that way.

You’re known for your laid-back, dry delivery. Did you start out that way or did that evolve over time? Were you ever the “angry” comedian or any of the other archetypes?

I’ve pretty much always been the laid-back person that I am, so it just naturally followed me on stage, too. I think it would be funny to try to be the angry, ranting comedian. Maybe I’ll try that one night. Probably not though.

I saw on your website that you have shows booked through April of next year. That’s quite impressive. Is that typical to have shows planned out a year in advance? Or are you a world-class plan-aheader?

I’m not a world-class plan-aheader, but luckily my agents are. We make a great team. I get to be laid back and joke around and they get to carry the title of “world-class plan-aheader.”

You’re doing Midwestern college gigs almost exclusively from October through April including a stretch where you’re on the road for 17 days straight (seriously, is there a joke I’m missing here?). How does a person prepare for something like that? It must be grueling.

I’m totally fine with touring. I have a very structured time with my days, and I also bring an opening act usually that is a good friend of mine. It’s perfect that way, because we can hang out during the day, travel together and do shows together. And I don’t normally do that many shows, it’s just really been because of my CD release and the CD tour to follow, that the dates have multiplied.

Do you change things up a bit when you’re playing in front of the college kids? From what I can tell, you don’t have a lot of ecstasy and late night burrito jokes in your act.

My show is more PCP and corn dogs, so you can imagine how much I scramble to make the kids understand me. But no, in general, I don’t really change things up. I’m not one of those comics that has a club show, a college show, a corporate show and a dirty show. I just have the show I’m working on. However, my shows are different every night. I do a mix of brand new things, some popular jokes, and I improv a chunk of it while I’m on stage. That way I’m always enjoying being up there every night.

Congrats on the success of Professor Blastoff. It’s very funny, but pretty heady for dimwits like me. How did that come about? Did you feel like the world was missing a podcast exploring the existential crisis of the worker bee?

My writing partner, Kyle Dunnigan, and I always seem to take breaks during the day and discuss things like outer space and evolution, as well as my friend and sometimes opening act, David Huntsberger. I noticed I was always having these types of conversations with the people I was working the closest to, so the idea popped up organically. I was at a party and mentioned the idea to this guy, Scott Aukerman, not knowing he had just started a podcast network for comedians. Long story short, he wanted us to do the show on his network as their “NPR/comedy” type show.

You’ve also got a new CD, “Good One,” coming out on Secretly Canadian. Pretty slick. How did you get a hip indie label to sign you, especially when the decline in album sales is well-established at this point? Is putting out an album something comedians just feel like they have to do?

I certainly never felt it was something I “had” to do. Signing with Secretly Canadian happened because one of their artists, Jens Lekman, was into my comedy and asked me to tour with him a couple of years ago, so I got to know the label pretty well during that time. It never dawned on me to be signed by them. They’re based in Bloomington, Ind. and while I was there independently of Jens, the label came out to a bunch of my shows and then took me out afterwards and pitched the idea to me. I was immediately sold. I had thrown around the idea of doing a CD in the past, but nothing excited me before. When Secretly Canadian told me I’d be their first comedian and told me their ideas, I realized I’d be an absolute fool if I passed that up. They have delivered on every level and still seem just as excited.

Can you talk about the pilot you’re working on for Logo? Is it going to be a talk show? What do you enjoy about interviewing people? You seem to be pretty good at it.

Yes, the pilot is based on the live show, Tig Has Friends, I do at Largo in LA. It’s a talk/variety show and Sarah Silverman is executive producing it (which by the way, she’s amazing at that job) and Kyle Dunnigan produced and wrote it with me AND is on stage playing the piano as sort of my Paul Shaffer. If the show goes to series, each week I’d have either a TV cast, a movie cast, band, comedians, etc., (it’s a themed show, in that all guests have to be the same somehow) and I interview everyone in a ridiculous way — nothing about their latest project or who they’re dating. Then my guests also provide the variety by doing a hidden talent of some sort (sing, do a back flip, balance spoons on their faces, etc.) then I go into the audience and do a Q & A where the audience gets to ask the questions that I didn’t care about. For the pilot we had cast members from Mad Men. It’s so much fun and the pilot turned out exactly how we had hoped.

You have publicly declared you have no interest in Twitter. Bold. Sorry, but I’m kind of fascinated in how comedy and Twitter are becoming increasingly intertwined. Why no interest? Your one-liners seem tailor-made for it.

I prefer to mass-text my friends via cell phone with things like, “@sarahksilverman let’s go swimming today! retweet @natashaleggero says who?!”

Phil Davidson is a writer whose work has appeared in um, well, Splitsider.