Tig Notaro’s Rules for Laughing in the Face of Illness & Heartbreak

Comedian Tig Notaro faced a lot of adversity throughout her life, but she never let her trials steal her joy. The artist learned to deal with heavy topics like illness and loss through laughter while developing personal tricks that allow her to keep pushing forward. Notaro follows a few simple rules to keep herself smiling.

In 2012, Notaro experienced a series of intense hardships, beginning with contracting the potentially fatal bacterial infection C. Difficile. The news of this illness was followed by personal loss in the form of a breakup and the death of her mother. The misfortune was capped off by the comedian learning she had breast cancer.


Instead of stalling her career, these events helped Notaro put together a set that would go down in comedic history and launch her career into the stratosphere. In August 2012 at Largo in Los Angeles, just days after her diagnosis, Notaro delivered a poignant set that went viral overnight. Notaro realized that her willingness to laugh at herself drew others close. The idiom “laugh and the world laughs with you” is certainly true.

After a double mastectomy, Notaro was declared cancer-free. She opted to go without reconstructive surgery, allowing her the unique opportunity to surprise fans with a triumphantly defiant “topless” set in 2014.


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Three inspiring tips allowed Norato to continue laughing despite her illness. First, Notaro stresses the importance of choosing small adventures each day, as doing interesting and exciting things allows her to maintain a sense of wonder in life. Second, she notes that it’s important to be selective when deciding which opportunities to accept, and she only accepts projects she believes in. Finally, Notaro discusses the importance of connecting. Notaro’s comedic style incorporates long pauses, a stylistic choice that she says brings her closer to her audience. A documentary about Notaro’s Largo set and her subsequent recovery premiered on Netflix in July 2016. The film showcases the comedian’s long road to recovery, and it ends on a happy note, showcasing her budding romance with now-fiancee Stephanie Allynne.


For more comedic relief, check out comedian Mike Hanley’s hilarious and touching dance with his daughter.

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