Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, elements of the special we can’t reveal in our review.
The big surprise in Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted isn’t Notaro removing her jacket and shirt to reveal her chest, altered by a double mastectomy after her 2012 breast cancer diagnosis. She’s done it before, and HBO’s promotional teasers and billboards hint that she’ll do it again. The surprise is how rapidly, and how thoroughly, she reclaims attention from the upstaging effect of her toplessness.
Notaro herself says, “Make no mistake. It’s a stunt. It’s definitely a stunt.” A stunt that succeeds is a feat; a stunt that doesn’t is just an accident in progress. The stunt of removing her shirt to show her slim, scarred torso succeeds entirely on the strength of Notaro’s poise, the ease with which she commands the stage in a situation that would be a literal nightmare for most people.
“I’m just a person, just a person!” Notaro jokingly reassures her audience early in the show, and again at the end. Her frankness—her nonchalance—cuts through both curiosity and prurience, and she makes a point of juxtaposing her unconventional exposure with traditional (but expertly performed) material. Her timing, her voice, and her confidence remain constant and assured, even as she continues with gestures and postures that both land the jokes and emphasize her nudity.
It’s brave, it’s uncompromising, and it’s startlingly effective. After a few minutes, the camera seems to forget how vulnerable she makes herself, and it’s easy for a viewer to forget, too. Despite the transgressive power of the moment, soon it’s her nonchalance, not her nudity, that sets the tone. She’s just a person, and her body is just a body.
That transgression is real, and it’s more than shock value. Notaro knows exactly what she’s doing. Her performance normalizes her experience of illness as just part of what happens to a person, simultaneously challenging both the common narratives of survivors and the unspoken limits on what bodies are deemed appropriate for media consumption. It’s a cliché to say a performer is comfortable in their own skin, but Boyish Girl Interrupted makes that cliché the bare truth.