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Comic Relief

A stand-up artist relives the most terrible time she ever enjoyed

Author Adam Baer Illustration Peter Oumanski

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LOS ANGELES – “Seagull with Diarrhea Barely Makes It to Crowded Beach in Time.” So goes the Onion headline that comedian Tig Notaro, 42, kept in her mind last year to cheer herself up as she battled a potentially fatal disease. At least, this is what she tells the audience at Largo, the Los Angeles club that propelled her to stardom exactly a year earlier.

The happy-clappy patrons tonight, many wearing vintage shirts and chunky glasses, respond to Notaro’s seagull observation with raucous laughter. “Can you even spell diarrhea?” she asks, and the actress Martha Plimpton announces that she can indeed spell the word: “D-I-A …”

It’s no surprise to find a celebrity or two in the audience. Notaro’s previous appearance here has become the stuff of comedy circuit legend. She’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her show—which mined her response to the news—was later described by Louis C.K. as “one of the greatest stand-up performances I ever saw.”

Looking limber and strong in a pink button-down oxford, Notaro doesn’t have such dramatic material to work with tonight (she’s feeling better, she says, before making a joke about growing out her hair), but this fact does little to dampen the ardor of her fans. “I hope Tig does ‘stool movement,’” says one young man, referring to the routine in which Notaro pushes her stool around the stage, an extended physical pun that she does indeed perform.

She also recounts how her emotionally unavailable stepfather had rarely phoned before her diagnosis, but now calls regularly to talk about her breasts. This story elicits one of the biggest laughs of the night, and there’s a flash of the brilliant defiance that made Notaro a star. “That might make sense,” she continues, “if he’d shown some interest in them before.”

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