After broaching new, action-packed territory with Army Of The Dead, Tig Notaro is back on stage, doing stand-up comedy in the HBO animated special Tig Notaro: Drawn. The One Mississippi creator and star recorded one of her shows at the Largo in Los Angeles four years ago, intending to release it as an album. But, as she tells The A.V. Club, “I decided to do animation because I’ve had jokes and stories of mine animated on different TV shows or websites.”
Tig Notaro: Drawn doesn’t have the same distinct through-line as Happy To Be Here or Boyish Girl Interrupted, but it still courses with Notaro’s signature wry humor and personal revelations. Her circuitous storytelling is illustrated by different styles of animation, which can make everything hit harder, whether it’s the sight of Notaro and her friend wolfing down meals to appease an elderly relative, or watching the ailing comedian propose to her wife and collaborator, Stephanie Allyne, while in the worst pain of her life. We spoke to Notaro about how the special came together, her own artistic abilities, and whether she ever sets out to make herself laugh with her stand-up.
AVC: Have you seen the end result yet? What were your first thoughts on how the animators played with the stories?
Tig Notaro: There was no point where I finally saw the animated special because I was working on it the whole time. I was working on it from the picking the artists to the rough sketches to figuring out “Should my or this person’s ears be bigger? Smaller eyes?,” you know? So it wasn’t like they went away and animated it and showed it to me. I’ve been working on the special from start to finish—each little segment, each joke each, each character choice, the colors. I was very hands-on the entire process and I’ve seen the special probably 50 times, if not more. We’ve been working on it for a long, long time.
Greg Franklin, the director, presented different artists to me, and he told me his thoughts and feelings about the pairing that he was thinking about and coming up with. He had access and knowledge in a way that I just didn’t except for, “Oh, do I like this or not?”. So, he told me his thoughts and feelings behind, “Oh, we should do this artist with this story because this is like childhood.” He just had all these different ideas and I felt like it made sense. And also I just basically went on, do I like this?
AVC: When you were first promoting the special, you said stand-up can be a very solitary art form. I was wondering if you could kind of expand on that a bit and maybe how it shapes your approach to crowd work.
TN: Well, I write my jokes. I tell my stories. I travel alone the majority of the time. Sometimes my assistant goes with me, or sometimes Stephanie will join me, or an old friend that lives in North Carolina will come out to a show. But it’s pretty much my world and my job. I interact with people, like you’re saying, on stage with the audience or with local opening acts, when I’m going through town or if I bring an opening act there with me. But it’s very minimal. Even when I’m doing a special, that’s like a typical stand-up special, I might be sitting in an editing bay with the editor, or maybe I’d be at home and the editor will send me clips and I’ll give notes on that. But again, it’s very minimal.
Whereas with this animated special, there were so many people working on it. It was such a different process to deal so directly with so many people. But it was also really a great experience and such a perfect time to do that, because I was home during the pandemic and did have that time to give to the special and to interact with the different producers, director, executives, and to some degree, the artists.
AVC: I do want to talk about the Kool-Aid Man bit that opens the show, because it is a very hard thing to explain to people who did not grow up with those commercials.
TN: Yeah, during my childhood, watching the commercials, I didn’t really think too much about it and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I make a joke about it. I don’t even know or care if this is relevant, it just struck me and I just wanted to share it with people. But for those that are aware of the Kool-Aid Man, not only did he kick the wall down, but he had to have been walking through a neighborhood and hiding in a neighbor’s backyard in order to get through to your house or backyard. And it took decades for me to realize how insane that was.
AVC: That’s easily one of my favorite parts, and it makes me wonder, is there something similar, like from the past or even the present, that you’re worried your kids just won’t understand as they get older?
TN: They’ll never know what it’s like to just walk outside of their home and go play in their neighborhood, sadly. I don’t know if it’s ‘cause I live in Los Angeles—I mean it’s not just Los Angeles, but we’re in a city, you know? I remember being five and leaving my house and who knows where I went until the sun was going down. That would never happen now. They have no clue what that’s like. We know exactly where they are in our house at every second. I mean, their grandfather also lives with us, so there’s a lot of eyes on everything and everyone.
AVC: I was also struck by your Eddie Van Halen story, which is very funny and sweet. As with the Kool-Aid Man, you preface it by saying, “This is a story that’s probably just for me,” like there probably isn’t an intended audience for this story, and you tell it anyway. In general, do you try to make sure you have one of those moments in your stand-up, where you’re fine with something just being funny to you?
TN: I don’t set out consciously trying to have one of those moments, but if it does come about, if there’s something that is only interesting to me, or only funny to me, I allow myself that moment to share it because I also think it’s interesting. I know that if I were at a musician’s concert that I really love, like Eddie Van Halen, and let’s say I went there just for all the hits. And then he said, “I know you’ve never heard this and this will never be on an album, but I wrote this song and I’m going to play it on a grand piano.” I would be so happy to hear that. And I think it’s okay.
It’s not like I’m wanting to hijack my audience with things that I know won’t make them laugh or I know aren’t funny, but I’m just going to do an hour of it. If I did decide to do that, that’s my prerogative. Then it’s the audience’s prerogative to buy the ticket or not. Be a fan or don’t. But I certainly do try to do material that does amuse me, but I have an idea a lot of times where this might not be the most popular, but I want to share it just like I would want Eddie Van Halen to share a classical piece that he had written and then move on to running with the devil.
AVC: I did see that you’re teaming up with The New Yorker and Jason Sudeikis for this virtual event where you’ll be doing some drawing or cartooning of your own. Can you draw? Or are you going to be kind of getting a lesson on the fly there?
TN: [Chuckles.] I think, like many children, I thought I was a really good artist. But I also think I might’ve thought that even more so because my mother, as well as my grandmother, were both brilliant artists. I think I was in denial for maybe a little too long and fancied myself an artist. I can draw maybe a little bit better than the average person, but nobody’s going to sit down in front of me and ask me to paint their portrait.