How’s everyone doing tonight? How ya doin’? How ya doin’?
You know the answer I love? “Oh, I can’t complain.”
“Can’t complain!” Well, aren’t you special, ‘Cause I can.
- Cathy from SOMEONE ELSE
Good evening, hello. I have cancer. How are you?
- Tig Notaro, from her recent TIG NOTARO: LIVE set
Kristen Thomson’s new play Someone Else, the story of a middle-aged standup comedian and her disintegrating marriage, arrives at a time when the lines between comedy, truth and pain have become blurred. Kristen has always walked this line with her work. Her best known play I, Claudia succeeds in making us laugh while at the same time laying bare the devastating effects that divorce can have on a child’s sense of self. Claudia has a razor-sharp talent for exposing the hypocrisy she observes in her life, and the accuracy and honesty of her observations are devastatingly funny.
Claudia fully opens up to us—she’s twelve, she doesn’t know how not to. Stand-up comedians too make us laugh by skewering the world’s ridiculousness—everything from the difficulty of opening airline peanuts to considering one’s own mortality—but there’s traditionally been an agreed upon lie embedded into the form. Their observations might be true, at times even intensely personal, but there’s always a layer of fiction acting as a buffer.
We know that when a ‘stand-up’ tells us they were “walking down the street the other day,” they are actually sharing an anecdote carefully crafted over a number of years. The awful boss they complain about is actually a composite image of all of the worst parts of every employer they’ve ever observed, been told about and can dream up. So when, this past August, alt-comedian Tig Notaro walked out onto the stage of the Largo comedy club in LA and told her audience she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, the crowd can be forgiven if it took them a few minutes to get their bearings. Just how honest was Notaro being?
As it turns out, painfully honest; shortly after her set at Largo, Notaro had a double mastectomy which doctors believe was successful in removing all of the cancer from her body. At the time of her now-famous standup set though, Notaro had good reason to think that her illness was untreatable. And so, for her to get up on stage and “riff” about it, just a few days after the diagnosis, well, as she describes herself in the set, it’s the exact opposite of the old stand-up adage “comedy equals tragedy plus time.”
It’s this immediacy that makes Notaro’s set in equal parts hilarious and harrowing to listen to. She describes her diagnosis in the same blunt and boldface terms which she speaks about her mother’s death, her recent breakup and her diagnosis with another debilitating illness—all of which happened within the same four-month period. She does so with the same unflinching honesty Kristen affords Cathy in Someone Else, who, in a series of stand-up sets throughout the play, reveals the completely unromantic, unattractive pains of middle age and her crumbling marriage.
In Cathy, Kristen displays the same honest wit that defined Claudia. But, in the journey from adolescence to middle age, her sharing has become only more affecting, because now it’s more unexpected. We’re used to children being completely honest about how they are feeling. This unbridled honesty is rarer in later life. The success of Notaro’s set—with more than 100,000 copies sold online—shows just how effective, and how funny, this kind of adult unadulterated honesty can be.
In a salute to Tig Notaro’s hilarity in the face of personal tragedy, Crow’s is doing a weeklong roundup of our seven favourite female comedians, and the sets that have made us love them. We begin with Tig Notaro. You can watch one of our all-time favourite Tig sets here, and purchase Tig Notaro Live from the iTunes store for only $5. As our countdown continues, we hope you’ll share with us your favourite women in comedy, by posting videos on our Facebook page, or by sending them to us via Twitter @Crowstheatre.
Someone Else by Kristen Thomson plays from January 7th to February 2nd at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Get your tickets now.