February 11th, 2015

Current Obsessions: Tig Notaro

I am an insatiable consumer of music–I scan the radio, quiz my friends, and buy the openers’ EPs at concerts. My tastes aren’t very cutting edge, but I do devour new music, sometimes to the point of “using it up.” It would not be unusual for me to listen to a song 40 times in a row and then, if it wasn’t really strong or complex enough to withstand such intense scrutiny, never be able to listen to it again.

On the other hand, I don’t really like listening to recorded talking–ebooks and podcasts generally seem awkward and distracting to me. The two exceptions are during long drives and while QCing a website–both are activities that root me in place while keeping most of my mind free to get involved in a story.

But my favourite thing to listen to while doing website QCs is standup comedy. You can’t actually listen to comedic sketches or other forms of tv/web comedy while doing something visual–you may think it’s about the dialogue but try listening to an episode of *Friends* with your eyes closed–doesn’t work (that’s assuming *Friends* worked for you in the first place). But standup comedians do I’d say 85% of their work with their voices–the remaining 15% in facial expressions and gestures one does miss, but I figure that’s ok. I am working, after all.

So, I listened to most of the online oeuvres of Louis CK (devastatingly insightful and interesting, with the occasional weird little Jew joke now and again just to make me feel I can’t really like him), Dylan Moran (my heartthrob from *Black Books* but far less funny when he’s not pretending to be that character. Luckily, he is usually in character for standup) and a fair bit of George Carlin (the real deal, for sure). And then I ran out of ideas, because there is no real way to be exposed to standup comedy casually–not like hearing songs on the radio or whatever. So I actually googled “standup comedy” (what?) and I got Tig Notaro.

This was about a year ago, and the first thing I listened to was a drawn-out gag involving pushing a stool across a stage. It was not my jam and I skipped on to something or other else (honestly, I think I just didn’t have to QC any sites for a while). But somehow Ms. Notaro got back on my radar and I listened to this devastating set live from the Moth called R2 Where Are You?

The series at the Moth is called Stories and Notaro is billed as a storyteller and so she is–all the really good comedians are. But she pushes it to the next level, telling brutally honest stories from her own (very) personal life, with just this fantastic little edge of humour–like the lemon in your martini. This is not the “Didja ever notice” humour-about-nothing topical style that Seinfeld popularized (full disclosure: I quite dislike Seinfeld’s kind of comedy though I respect his talent). This is humour-very-much-about-something. About life and death, a lot of the time, actually.

Normally I’ll exhaust the YouTube catalogues for a performer and then give up, but for Notaro I bought an album, Live. I’d heard a number of interviews by that point about the live set at Largo that constitutes the half hour album, and it seemed that many people found it nothing short of revelatory. I’d listened to a lot of other sets that covered some of the same material and liked them very much, but wasn’t sure I would find this album so very full of revelations. But hell, it was only 5 bucks.

I put it on my iPod and took a snowy walk to a friend’s place last week and listened all the way, grinning, eyes wet with genuine tears, plodding through the slush. This is amazing, thrilling, surprising comedy. Some of it misfires–it was the first time she’d done the set EVER and that alone makes for fresh and interesting listening as she fumbles some of the jokes into the shapes they would eventually hold onto. But it’s just so brave and honest and funny… Blogging has kind of ruined the word “brave” but it’s much harder to be brave when you’re staring into a sea of faces waiting for you to entertain them.

This album made me question some of my stupid insecurities and wonder what I could do to live my life more fully. Most comedy can’t do that. I haven’t really gone into the content of the album because I like surprises and maybe you do too–if I could go back and do it all again, I would’ve listened to “Live” first, before I knew what it was about. So maybe you should do that–it’s only $5, it’s only half an hour–listen. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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