Tig Notaro performs comedy set topless: “I wanted people to think about how it’s not a big deal.”

Comedian Tig Notaro.

Comedian Tig Notaro.

Tig Notaro - the deadpan US comedian whose breast cancer diagnosis was the basis of a now iconic set at LA’s Largo in 2012, in which she famously entered the stage with the greeting “Thank you, thanks, I have cancer” – is being praised again for her fearlessness, following a show at the New York Comedy Festival last night, in which she performed topless, revealing her scars from a double mastectomy.       

“I’ve gotten a few texts from friends, but I’ve been driving all day, I haven’t really seen what people have said about it,” Notaro said on the phone, unaware of the rave reviews currently filtering through online, with publications like The Huffington Post and The New York Times calling the set “bold” and “legendary”.

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According to The New Yorker, Notaro was performing a bit about getting a pat-down inspection at an airport from a female security guard, who believed she was in the wrong line (“She didn’t feel any boobs, and she didn’t feel a bra,” went Notaro’s joke):

Notaro was wearing a gray sports jacket, jeans, and a pink button-down shirt. She finished the bit and unbuttoned her jacket. From the back of the house, someone shouted "Whooo!"—a catcall, or a catcall in scare quotes.

Notaro, with one arm still in her jacket, looked surprised. "Did you not hear the story I was just telling?" she asked. She paused, letting a small wave of laughter roll over the crowd.

"You know, it's funny," Notaro continued. "I was going to do this show with my shirt off, anyway. I'm about one more 'Whooo' away from going topless." It was a joke, obviously. But, predictably, several whoops emerged from the crowd. Notaro made an instant calculation. Then she ripped her shirt open, Superman-like, and she was topless.

“I did it at Largo in Los Angeles, I guess three weeks ago,” says Notaro, who's performing in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth next month. “But Largo is smaller; it kind of feels like my living room and a bit more protected. Last night, it was… I don’t know. It was kind of beyond what I expected."

In their review of the performance, The New Yorker brought up improv pioneer Del Close’s motto ‘Follow The Fear’, in reference to Notaro’s boldness.   

“Oh yeah, there was definitely fear in there,” says Notaro. “I had mentioned it to a couple of people that it was something I was thinking of doing, and the majority of the response was oh my god, that’s amazing, you have to. And then a couple of people said things like I worry that you won’t be able to get people to focus again and that it would come across as a stunt. And my feeling is – yeah, it is a stunt.

“I want people to talk about it and think about it, because it’s about me coming to terms with becoming okay with my body. I mean, I was sick, I had a surgery that caused me to be in remission now, and then my skin healed. If I had a scar on my face, no one would tell me to cover that up. I wanted people to really think about how it’s not a big deal.”