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June 29, 2016

Leaning on Laughter

Christine Champagne
  • Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times

Halfway through taping her HBO special Boyish Girl Interrupted last year at Boston's Wilbur Theatre, comedian Tig Notaro casually took off her jacket and shirt and performed the rest of her stand-up set topless.

Her aim was to show the audience the scars from the double mastectomy she'd undergone in 2012 following a breast-cancer diagnosis.

"It was a very long process, coming to terms with my body and my life after the surgery," she says. "I carried so much fear and shame and so many complicated feelings about my body. I had this persistent need as I was getting better to do a topless show."

The act was powerful and, at the same time, downright funny. Right after removing her shirt, Notaro started telling run-of-the-mill jokes about air travel. "I love silliness, and I wanted to make being topless with post-cancer scars funny."

The comedian experienced a string of tragedies in 2012: hospitalization for the life-threatening bacterial infection C. Diff, followed by the sudden death of her mother and her cancer diagnosis. She'll continue to mine humor from her personal struggles in the her six-episode Amazon Studios series, One Mississippi, set to premiere in September.

The semi-autobiographical pilot, which Notaro wrote with Diablo Cody, finds the comedian going home to Mississippi to be there when her mother is taken off life support.

"Moving forward, it's going to be way more fictionalized," Notaro says of the darkly comic series she's scripting with a writing team that includes her wife, Stephanie Notaro, and showrunner Kate Robin (Six Feet Under). Notaro is also an executive producer on the series along with Cody, Robin, Louis C.K., Dave Becky, Blair Breard and Nicole Holofcener.

Notaro is enjoying the collaboration, sharing stories from her life with the writers, then encouraging them to get creative. "It's like dropping a turkey carcass in the middle of all these starving buzzards," she says of the process. "They come up with all of these storylines, and I'm sitting back going, 'Oh, yeah. That's a cool direction. I like that.'"

 

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