Laughing when you want to cry

tig-notaro-live1.jpg Like so many millions of other people on Twitter, I saw Louis CK’s tweet earlier this month about comedian Tig Notaro’s stand-up performance at a comedy club in Los Angeles, just a few hours after she was told she has breast cancer, which came on the heels of her mother falling down, hitting her head and dying, which came right after her relationship broke up, just after she battled an infection that almost killed her.

How do you start a comedy set hours after you’ve been told you have cancer?

How about, “Good evening, hello. I have cancer. How are you?”

Louis CK writes


What followed was one of the greatest standup performances I ever saw. I can’t really describe it but I was crying and laughing and listening like never in my life. Here was this small woman standing alone against death and simply reporting where her mind had been and what had happened and employing her gorgeously acute standup voice to her own death.

The show was an amazing example of what comedy can be. A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them. Tig took us to a scary place and made us laugh there. Not by distracting us from the terror but by looking right at it and just turning to us and saying “wow. Right?”. She proved that everything is funny. And has to be. And she could only do this by giving us her own death as an example. So generous.

I’ve heard her Public Radio interviews about the performance — and about the cancer — but until today, I hadn’t bought the performance, which Louis CK provided on his website for $5.

It was, indeed, a stunning performance that forces the listener to confront how — or even, whether — we press on through the times.


“God never gives you more than you can handle. I picture God going, ‘You know what?I think she can take a little more.’

And then the angels are standing back going, ‘God, what are you doing? You are out of your mind.’

And God is like, ‘No, no, no. I really think she can handle this.’

‘Why God? Why?’

‘No, well, you know, just trust me on this. She can handle this’

“God is insane… if there at all.”

You’ll want to spend the time today to listen to this episode of Fresh Air that aired a few weeks ago…

This is a topic — reacting to the worst news you can get — that had already gotten my attention this week anyway. A colleague of ours at MPR revealed that her husband’s cancer has metastasized into his brain and they had decided he would transition to hospice.

She relayed on her Caring Bridge site how he reacted when the doctor gave them the horrible news.

“Okey-dokey,” he said.

  • Ali

    Timely. Just last Sunday the Strib profiled my friend Colin Farbotko, who passed away Oct 15 of ALS. His coping mechanism was also humor. I’m always impressed by those who can face terrible news with grace.

    Here’s his obit, which hopefully displayed Colin’s personality to the max!

    And his blog, for anyone who’s up for a little ALS humor.

  • Mike C.

    Thanks for this Bob… just, thanks.

  • Heather

    Bob, I heard Steve Seele dedicate “Just Breathe” to them, and it brought me to tears. He didn’t say what prompted the dedication, but it had this incredible weight to it. Thank you for the clue. I wish them both comfort.