Tig Notaro’s push towards comedic ubiquity continues this summer with her new HBO special Boyish Girl Interrupted, which aims to mark a new leg in the comedian’s whirlwind tour, the inspiration for which was sparked by a maelstrom of misfortune beginning in 2012. Documented and detailed in the Netflix film Tig, Notaro faced her mother’s death, a rare digestive track disease, and ultimately breast cancer, all of which inspired her to mine her life’s woes for belly laughs.
The resulting set — commonly associated with adjectives like “legendary” in the media — catapulted Notaro to a fame she wasn’t prepared for, but one she’s begun to wholly embrace. Which is a good thing for anyone paying attention, because as with Tig, Boyish Girl Interrupted further cements her as one of the great comedians currently working. The comedy special, which airs this Saturday, August 22 on HBO, doesn’t aim to break the formula or upend expectations, but Notaro exudes confidence in her awkward niche of long pauses and classic you-get-me workaday humor.
Her jokes cover a somewhat expected bullet list of self-deprecatory asides (getting caught with a chocolate ice cream mustache) and obvious bon-mots (making fun of the various staccato laughs emerging from the audience), but the interesting thing about Notaro is everything she does feels unexpected. She begins discussing life with her fiance, constantly using the male pronoun instead of what the audience knows should be the female, pausing and staring blankly out in confusion. She’s bold, as a stunt like that could backfire instantly, but perhaps Notaro’s biggest claim to brilliance is that she trusts her audience to keep up, and doesn’t wait for the laughter before blazing ahead to the next punchline.
Thankfully, Boyish Girl Interrupted also doesn’t entirely use Notaro’s cancer-stricken backstory as its entire source of jokes. She doesn’t begin referencing her history until about the halfway mark, letting the audience know her situation with grace and precision (“But I haven’t told anybody yet. You’re the first people to find out.”) before forging forth into the unexpected yet again. The comedian, discussing her breasts’ aspirations to murder her (a joke anyone who watched Tig should be well prepared for) pulls off a stunt so brazenly brave, I won’t spoil it here, although it’s been much advertised in the show’s own media push.
Notaro’s act shoots an electric volt into a comedy special that was already thriving, and sends the last act off with such a dazzlingly addictive energy you may be encouraged to join the Boston audience in the three minute long standing ovation once all is said and done. As a whole, Boyish Girl Interrupted thrives on the juxtaposition of Notaro’s deadpan delivery and her dead-serious subject matter, and given that the whole enterprise — and the brand she’s building — manages to avoid feeling gimmicky at every build-up and punchline is a feat alone worthy of celebration. I can’t speak for the famous Largo stand-up set having never seen nor heard it, but in comparison to years worth of comedic stand-up specials from other performers, I can confidently say this: Boyish Girl Interrupted is one of the funniest, sharpest, and most gutsy I’ve ever seen.
Simultaneously madcap and uniquely powerful, Boyish Girl Interrupted is Tig Notaro in rare form, with a bravura final twenty minutes of which most comedians can only dream.