The title of Tig Notaro’s new hour-long special is a bit misleading, but not for the reasons you might suspect.
Happy to Be Here, which Notaro performed at Houston’s Heights Theater, might suggest a through line of sarcasm, or even cynicism, directed at the act of performance, celebrity, or the existential burden of life itself (this is a stand-up comedy special, remember?). “Happy to be here” is something we utter out of resignation, a forced off-the-cuff pleasantry we offer when we are somewhere we are certainly not happy to be. It betrays how we truly feel. Certainly Tig, whose comedic sensibility could be described as delicately dark and deadpan — and whose personal life has been punctuated by tragedy in a very public way — knows this, and naming her special this is just a witty way to playfully sabotage audience expectation. There’s no way her special could be that teed up for hope.
Except that’s exactly what it is. There is an unrelenting riptide of joy that defines Happy to Be Here. Tig uses this hour not to wade in the polluted pool of the past, but to play in the sandbox of the now. A confessional comic, Tig opens up about marriage, motherhood, and her newfound fame with an outlook bereft of any of that aforementioned assumed cynicism. Tig has repackaged her past’s trauma into a tightly written, silly, and self-confident set about her peaceful present. She’s literally happy to be here.
Below are the best of Tig’s jokes from the special that will make you happy to watch her.
On Her Looks
For the majority of my adult life, I have been mistaken for a man at least once a week. It’s more than that, but I don’t wanna seem like I’m exaggerating. But I also feel confident that probably nobody here is like “Ehhh, we are gonna need some examples.” It doesn’t bother me. I feel comfortable with who I am. I know what I am. You can call me a choo-choo train — doesn’t matter. I know who I am. Now, I can’t believe it took me 46 years to come up with this response. And if this happens to you, please feel free to use it. Give me credit…’cause it’s good. I went into a shop and walked up to the counter and the man behind the cash register said, “How can I help you, sir?” And I said, “Just the gum, ma’am.” And we were just in this lockdown moment of utter confusion just like, “Yeah I don’t know what I’m looking at either.” I don’t know how he felt about that exchange but I know for myself I did leprechaun kicks the entire way home.
It’s a testament to Tig’s storytelling that she is able to create such a richly detailed visual world to accompany her economically written bits. This joke is just a two-hander (Tig and the oblivious boob of a cashier) with a bottled-in setting (a blank slate of a shop), yet the joke’s DNA allows the space to create an entire universe for it. There’s Tig, having just been grossly misgendered by a jerk clerk (who I imagined was wearing a John Deere hat and rocking a soul patch) locked in this Wild West saloon stare down of awkwardness. In the hands of a less canny comic, this bit could’ve gone down an unnecessarily vulgar path. Instead, Tig once again flips convention and reveals her clever burn back at the cashier to be a pretty lame Borscht Beltian dad joke, and it fucking lands. Also, the image of Tig, who is not known to have much of a physical shtick, doing self-satisfied leprechaun kicks down the street is truly a chef’s kiss of an act out.
Accidental Sex Talk
We are the very proud parents of two tiny baby boys. It is very exhausting to have a baby. And we have twins. So the more you add to the equation, as many of you know, it’s exhausting. Maybe three weeks into their lives, it’s 4 in the morning or so, we were lying in bed — at that point we were still feeding them every couple hours — and our eyes are rolling in the back of our head exhausted. And Stephanie turned and asked, “How do you have sex with a baby?” And I said, “You don’t.” And that was the beginning of a ten-minute-long misunderstanding. “What do you mean you don’t have sex with a baby?” “What do you mean what do I mean?” What are you talking about? Who did I marry?
Tig elevates an anecdotal tête-à-tête between her and her wife Stephanie Allynne into the realm of an accidental Abbott and Costello routine, with a simple misunderstanding in language caused by the fatigue of parenting’s responsibilities morphing into a perverted version of “Who’s on First.” Tig spends the majority of Happy to Be Here absolutely gushing over Stephanie (seriously, these two are crazy about each other in a #goals kind of way) so the payoff to this funny flub in communication is a feeling of warmth and adorableness.
An Emotionally Complicated Fan Interaction
I’m not great with strangers. I was at the airport and I was on a travelator. You know what a travelator is? No? I’m not gonna tell you. What I will tell you is that I was standing still while moving forward. Okay. Anyway, so I was scooty-scoot-scooting along, travelating my face off, this guy was travelating towards me, and he turned and he said [finger-gun point with a snap] “Yo, Tig. What’s up?” And I was like “Oh my gosh, that is my favorite interaction I’ve ever had with a stranger.” And I couldn’t wait to share a glance to acknowledge how funny that was. So I turned around … [long beat] … And he never looked back again. Who is that person that felt compelled to be like “Yo Tig. What’s up?” and then just travelate off into the universe? I think about that man every day of my life.
The aggravation of celebrity is well-trodden territory in comedy. And airplane humor? Doubly so. Tig manages to inject refreshing momentum into both with this inverted Missed Connection that hilariously plays like a blooper from a rom-com. Tig’s fame is a relatively new phenomenon for her, so admitting that she’s actually excited to be barked at in passing by a fan provides enough situational humor for the bit to coast on alone. Yet the story’s comedic twists reveal themselves by not being a stereotypical overzealous fan encounter and the reversal of the fan/celebrity roles, as Tig describes becoming obsessed with this mystery man in her trademark sardonic style. Plus the extra texture provided by the tag of constantly referencing the airport travelator also adds a rollicking rhythm to the proceedings.
Another real joy for me is to look for my dog at a party and … I don’t own a dog. Okay, so what happens is: huge crowd of people, I’m looking under tables, chairs, peoples’ legs and I’m like, “Mitzy, Mitzy, c’mon!” Then people start asking questions, you know, “What does the dog look like? How can I help?” And I’m like, “Little tiny black dog, her name’s Mitzy.” Then as soon as I start seeing a lot of people’s heads ducking over like that, then I go, “Oh, there she is. C’mon, let’s go Mitzy!” and then I walk out of the party without a dog behind me. I love looking insane.
Party tricks are always fun — for a brief amount of time. They have the quickest expiration date and are easy to drive into the ground by overuse. But there’s something transcendent about witnessing the childlike glee of 47-year-old Notaro describing the ways she likes to lightheartedly prank people at social gatherings. The imaginary dog routine is an all-timer, as it achieves a collective deception. The visual of a bunch of concerned strangers ducking their heads and contorting their bodies in hopes of discovering a dog that isn’t there is poetry in motion. But in typical good-natured Tig fashion — as the closing line to the bit highlights — she is still the butt of the joke, and she prefers it that way.
Ladies and Gentleman, the Indigo Girls
I would love to offer up a surprise for everybody, if you would like to have a surprise. Well, that was really not much of a reaction. Look, if you don’t want a special surprise we can skip right over this. All right, sounds like you would like a very special surprise. You’re in the right place. Let me check and see. Okay, good. All right, we’re all set. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage, the Indigo Girls.
I know this doesn’t scan as a joke. Reading it doesn’t do Tig’s delightful denouement justice, because the entire premise isn’t predicated on her writing but on her audience’s expectation. With a setup that runs nearly ten minutes long, Tig begins engaging with the crowd as she informs them that folk-rock icons the Indigo Girls are backstage and ready to close the show with a live performance. It becomes a game of comedic cat-and-mouse as Tig calls them on to the stage but no one walks out … about six times. She begins to make excuses for them in the vaguest ways possible (“The brunette one broke her strings”) as to build the suspense and riff on the audience’s gullibility. It’s this wonderful crescendo that begins as funny, then sort of plateaus, then punches through the absurdity and is funny all over again.
I won’t spoil the “punch line,” but this bit is the alchemy of everything that makes Tig kill so effortlessly: the playfulness, the magnetic ability to have the crowd hang on her every word, and the joy she takes in arriving at a destination that we least expect.