Groundbreaking Emmy and Grammy-nominated comedian, writer, actor, and director, Tig Notaro’s animated stand-up special, Tig Notaro: Drawn, debuts on HBO on Saturday July 24th, before streaming on HBO Max. From an unlikely hospital bed proposal, to a macabre road trip fantasy featuring Dolly Parton, and a meditation on the Kool-Aid man’s gender, this is one genre-spanning, hilarious ride, and a visual and aural delight.
Co-produced by Ellen DeGeneres’ A Very Good Production and Tig Notaro’s ZeroDollarsandZeroSense, the one-hour special features animation by the Oscar-winning studio behind Hair Love, Six Point Harness.
The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with Tig Notaro about how the comedy special came together, what the element of animation adds, why she doesn’t focus on her sexuality in her sets, and her favourite band, Indigo Girls.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: so we know from watching Drawn that as a kid you peed yourself a lot and that you were a mini-Fonzerelli, but when did you first realize that you had the ability to make people laugh?
“I think from the time I was very young, elementary school age. There was so much comedy in my house growing up. I come from a family with a good sense of humor and my mother was very much known for being funny, so it was always part of my life and my world. I was no doubt the funny one in school and I think it was more surprising to me when I came across people that weren’t funny or didn’t have a sense of humor because I was so used to being around that.”
How did the concept for Drawn come about?
“It’s real audio from my stand-up from about four years ago. I wanted to do more with it than just a stand-up album and it dawned on me that I could potentially do it as an animated special. Over the years people have animated stories or jokes of mine, so I thought animating the whole thing could potentially be a cool way to release the material. So it was more a case of this being material that I wanted to put out there rather than me thinking, will this work well animated? Although I feel like what was there just happened to work really well.”
I felt very immersed in the jokes while I was watching it and afterwards the stories really stayed with me in a way that normally doesn’t happen when I watch a regular stand-up set. On your side of things, what does the format offer you as a comedian that a regular, non-animated stand-up performance doesn’t?
“I think that that’s true, so much of the material can stick with you in a more vivid way after you’ve seen it animated. It was really fun to see somebody else adding to what I’d already written and performed, creating more jokes on top of the joke.”
When it came to the animation being created by Six Point Harness, how involved were you in deciding on the various styles that are used?
“They presented different artists’ styles to me and I connected with whatever felt right when I saw it. I was presented with a lot of options and when they showed me the animation there was so much about it where I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it makes sense why this particular style might go well with this particular material.”
A lot of your work in this set is quite personal, particularly the Jenny Slate joke when you talk about the string of unfortunate health and other issues that you had. To what extent does sharing stories about difficult times in your life make you feel better about them, does it feel like it’s part of the healing process for you?
“Yeah, I think that it for sure makes me feel better and it’s just such a good way to connect with people so I don’t feel isolated. In turn, somebody will connect with me and say, ‘Oh, I hadn’t heard somebody talk about it like that before’. Being a comedian and somebody that uses comedy to process the world and connect with people, I feel lucky to have that in order to get through this life and it definitely cracks things open and can create discussion.”
When it comes to your sexuality, it’s not something that you call much attention to or make jokes about in the way that some LGBTQ+ comedians do or have done in the past. I love that it’s very casual, you’ll mention your wife but there’s no big deal made about the fact that you’re married to a woman. What’s your approach when you’re talking about that aspect of your life in your sets and is it a sign of how things have progressed that it’s not something that you have to signpost in a major way, as say Ellen, who is one of the producers on Drawn, had to in the 90s?
“Nothing is too thought out in that way, it’s more a case of including what strikes me as funny. My sexuality, or even being a woman, or politics, are things interest me of course, as someone who is alive in the world, but there are certain topics that don’t get my head going and inspire me to write. If it came up naturally in that way then maybe I would include it, but nothing has genuinely and authentically come up. I don’t ever sit down and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to write about this’ or ‘I’m not going to write about that’. If something strikes me in a moment and I go, ‘Oh, my gosh that’s funny’, or I can see an angle there to talk about it, then I do.”
It’s not something that comes up in Drawn, but previously when you’ve spoken about your wedding day in your hometown of Pass Christian, Mississippi, you’ve talked about how celebratory the atmosphere was and that at one point when a passerby congratulated you, you leant over to your wife and said, ‘She thinks I’m a man!’
“That kind of thing comes up pretty consistently in my material—the topic of gender, who is male, who is female—because it happens all the time that I’m mistaken for a man. I touched on it in Drawn with the Kool-Aid man joke when I say, this is for sure a man, then basically question what is a man? How do we know he’s a man?! It’s so funny because it’s just a completely nondescript pitcher of Kool-Aid, there’s nothing masculine or feminine about the pitcher, but for sure this is a man?! So that kind of thing comes up more for me. Is this male? Is this female? Is this something in-between? Is this nothing? That’s a topic that comes up authentically for me.”
Finally, what’s your favourite LGBTQ+ piece of culture or person, someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why?
“It will always go back to Indigo Girls for me. They were—and they still are—so monumental to me. They were so huge in my life growing up, in my examination of life and self. I loved reading into whether I was right or wrong about their lyrics. They were also the first public figures that I really enjoyed and respected who seemed to care about more than just themselves and their careers. They seemed to care about the world and human rights and LGBTQ issues. I think that they’re brilliant, decent human beings and the depth of their songs and lyrics and political and social work just helped me to connect and anchor myself to something that felt positive and hopeful and healthy and continues to do so.”
By James Kleinmann
TIG NOTARO: DRAWN debuts Saturday July 24th 10pm ET/PT on HBO, and will be available to stream on HBO Max.