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Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Julia Chamberlain

This is different, so much so that I’m finding it hard to pin down its appeal, although it’s very absorbing. Quietly spoken, laid back but focused, laconic almost, Notaro is difficult to describe. It’s easier to say what she’s not – not needy, not gushing, not whimsical, definitely not aggressive or strident. The funny happens in the space between the words, surely the mark of a rock solid, if elusive, comedy persona.

Now this is all very well, when there’s a big crowd of people who are ‘into’ you, their delight in each utterance was palpable, and spread round the room. It would be a different matter winning over a whole room of people unfamiliar (as I was) with the work, but it’s a mark of cool confidence that her minimalist style draws people in. She clearly has ‘audience whisperer’ on her list of skills, because you do, largely, fall under her spell.

Her entrance was quiet but followed up with a forceful: ‘Thank you for coming’, the kind that concludes a gig and elicits a wave of applause and cheers, which duly sprang up, but she cut it down with a hand gesture and a ‘No!’; a game played several times through the set, with increasing absurdity.

The routines began tiny, not so much watching paint dry, but about watching hair grow, phone-calls about non-events, morning dishevelment... then moved from this to ‘I had cancer’ in a simple, unemphatic but definite gear change, which lead into a marvellous account of airport security etiquette around gender issues, a confusion which could have been alleviated by simple process of a conversation. There was a Jane Austen quality in the way the smallest exchange or detail told the bigger story.

Strangely this audience really wanted to join in, and Notaro let them without any of the usual put-downs but with patience and trust that she would not be derailed. In fact she incorporated their random threads into her own tapestry, which was neither improved nor spoiled by the addition, just different.

Notaro is not artless, she makes explicit the tropes of comedy – the manufactured high energy finish, the ‘couldn’t make it up’ humble brag (‘Why would you boast about being bad at your job?’ ) and then allowing the show to dwindle because she doesn’t know how to end it, which some more literal minded people decided was a call for their assistance. Idiots.

When a show seems this pared down then the quality has to be high, and it was. Working in miniature, the effect is like light on water, her appeal is intangible. An extraordinary achievement that is less ‘wow’ and brash, but subtle and long lasting.

Review date: 22 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Julia Chamberlain

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