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The silver lining of sadness in TIG (Hot Docs Review)

On August 3rd, 2012, comedian Tig Notaro got on stage at the Largo nightclub in Los Angeles, announcing that she had cancer to a stunned audience of regular patrons and close friends. What transpired was considered by many to be a breakthrough, as Notaro channeled her pain into a now legendary stand-up set, which brought her widespread fame in the comedy world.

Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York‘s film Tig follows the events leading up to this moment, and the effect of its aftermath. Having gone through a tumultuous series of events, that saw her contract pneumonia, experience a tragic breakup, and lose her mother. Notaro’s diagnosis of stage II breast cancer takes a huge toll on her life, creating deep-seated feelings of vulnerability and despair. Finding the courage to speak candidly on these feelings, she refines tragedy into humour, accentuated by  her trademark deadpan delivery.

As a result, she becomes an overnight sensation, with the audio recording of her set topping the comedy album charts, and spurring a wave of promotional appearances. In attempting to follow up the pinnacle of her career, Notaro begins to go above and beyond with her technique, striving for more inspiration in her past suffering. At the same time, she begins to move forward with making drastic changes to her life, that include becoming a parent and pursuing a new relationship.

Utilizing mainly talking head interviews, archival footage, and a portion of the infamous thirty-minute Largo performance, the format of the documentary is quite languid, and takes on a similar aesthetic to the directors’ reality television credentials. Nevertheless, the subject at the centre lessens the impact of these shortcomings, as Notaro is always enthralling to watch. Through taking on such a sensitive matter, her bravery is rewarded through newfound strength and a changed outlook on life. It is this element that makes the film an uplifting story about persevering through the worst life has to offer, against a rumination on the brighter side of death.

Goolsby and York frame Notaro’s background with equal parts joy and pathos, and its the oscillation between the two which empowers the narrative. Her resolve to overcome adversity through the means of humour is inspirational to say the least, giving way to a side of the stand-up life that very few ever see.  Tig is sure to strike a chord with fans of her comedic work, as well as expand her fanbase through the potency of such a captivating individual.

By Rob Trench

Rob Trench is a avid film watcher and writer, currently pursuing a Master's degree in Film Studies at York University. He lives in Toronto.