Tig Notaro‘s career was on the rise when a number of personal tragedies befell her in quick succession, forcing her to find humor in the face of death.
Not long after her mother died suddenly from a fall, the comedian was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. Notaro, 44, recalls thinking at the time: “After everything that had happened, I have cancer?”
On July 17, Netflix’s documentary Tig gives an inside look at what else what running through Notaro’s mind during one of the most trying – and strangely amusing – periods of her life.
“As soon as I was diagnosed, everything came over me as funny,” she adds in PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly‘s exclusive First Look trailer. “I love stand-up so much. I wanted to do it one more time.”
Notaro hopes the documentary – which first premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews – will be an “inspiring and humorous example of moving forward and taking risks in life as it continues to swing in every possible direction,” says Notaro.
Indeed, Notaro faced her battle head-on one month after her diagnosis in the only way she knew how. Her storied 2012 set at Largo opened with a line that would define the dry, deadpan, half-hour confessional that would follow: “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer.”
The set was recorded by fellow comedian Louis C.K. and was released under the title Live days later, immediately becoming a contemporary comedy classic.
Notaro shared more of her thoughts on Tig via a Q&A with Netflix.
What inspired you back in 2012 to share your cancer diagnosis with that audience?
It wasn’t just cancer; I was sharing the entire four months of hell that I was trying to navigate. Losing everything in life so quickly made me uncertain if I’d live to even do stand-up again. And because I love comedy so much, I wanted to do it possibly one last time, but didn’t feel like I could share anything less than the truth of my reality. I needed desperately to connect with that audience while trying to make light of it all.
Why did you want to share so much of your life? Anything you’re proudest that you shared? Or anything you regret letting cameras capture?
When I first agreed to do this film, I had no idea I’d be sharing so much of my life. I thought maybe it would be a sort of highlight reel of all the best moments on my way back up in life. I was extraordinarily naïve. But there is no way of knowing how a documentary will go – just as you have no clue what lies ahead in life. As far as what I’m most proud of though, I’d say the whole film. Truly. I think the filmmakers did a great job and that just leads me to having no regrets. However, I will say at moments I regretted agreeing to the film when I was in the middle of certain situations, but there was no way I was going to limit the filmmakers’ access because they wouldn’t have gotten such a full story. Not having that whole picture in the end would have left room for regret.
Was it difficult to find comedy in cancer? Are you cancer-free now?
Initially I was shell-shocked upon diagnosis – mainly because invasive cancer just isn’t great news in a general sense, but, more than anything, I was diagnosed right on the heels of a ton of other devastating developments in my life. There was way too much physical and emotional pain for a while – so much that I didn’t feel like a comedian anymore. I just felt like a dying person. Once I was able to take a beat and look at everything, I finally found an angle to get some clarity and, in turn, my sense of humor started to rear its head again. I still had a very long road ahead of me to process it all, but I feel lucky to have had comedy to help me in those times. As for my health now, I get checked out by my oncologist every three months. The actual term for my condition is NED (no evidence of disease). In two more years, I will be considered in remission. So yeah, as far as anyone knows, I’m still cancer-free, so that’s pretty darn great.
Tig begins streaming on Netflix July 17.