Tell Me a Joke About It, Tig

We don’t get a lot of stand-up comedy in rural Vermont. The population of our entire state is less than the population of the city of Boston, so why would a touring comedian come up to the hills when all of the wallets are down in the valleys? One of my friends recently saw Chris Rock perform in Boston; another saw him perform in Los Angeles. That’s where the people are; hence, that’s where the comedians go.

Which is why I was so surprised to hear that Tig Notaro was performing at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington (about 90 minutes from my house). My wife and I love Tig’s comedy, and we are huge fans of her Amazon show, One Mississippi. As soon as I heard she was coming, I snatched up two tickets.

Here’s the thing though. I first heard of Tig because of Louie C.K., whom we all know by now is guilty of sexual misconduct. Louie released Tig’s incredible “cancer set” on his website, trying to spread it far and wide using his vast email list, upon which I was included. After hearing the set, I searched out every video I could find of Tig and quickly fell in love with her slow, deadpan delivery and the way the basic cuteness of her soul combines with her thrill for messing with the expectations of an audience.

As soon as I got the tickets, I asked my friends what were the chances that Tig would make at least part of her set about Louie’s crimes. I figured with the way her career was tied to his — not only did Louie introduce her to the mainstream, but he also served as an executive producer on her Amazon show; in addition, he stole one of her ideas when he hosted Saturday Night Live last year, turning that connection dark —  even so, with all of those connections, plus the fact that Tig played a large role in calling Louie out for his misconduct, there was no way she wasn’t going to comment on his public reckoning during her set.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. For her first bit, Tig came on stage and said (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m not very political, but I’m trying to get more political. I’ve started going to a lot of rallies, but I don’t always know what to say. So I just walk around with a sign that says, ‘I totally agree.'”

And that was it. That was her only “political” joke of the night. And it was great, not just the joke, but the night. She had the entire room laughing virtually non-stop for the hour, and her closing bit left most of us exhausted from laughing so hard. If she comes anywhere near your town, you’ll definitely want to spend the money and go.

But this isn’t a review of Tig’s awesome hour of comedy. It’s an attempt to understand why I really wanted her to comment on the Louie thing.

Tig isn’t shy about speaking on the topic. She was on The View recently where they pretty much ignored her own career and made her focus on Louie’s perverted habits. She also dedicated a portion of the second season of One Mississippi to exploring the downstream effects (no pun intended) of when a male authority figure masturbates in front of one of his female employees (which is basically what Louie did). She also talks about sexual abuse when she goes on the late night shows.

So it’s not like I can’t find Tig talking about it in other places. But still, I wanted her to talk about it during her show, and when she didn’t, I was slightly disappointed.

Today, I read a short piece on The New Yorker website about “How Sarah Silverman Reckoned with Louis C.K. in the Year of Sexual Harassment.” As Silverman explained on I Love You America, her show on Hulu, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged, and the culture that enabled it, and also sad, because he’s my friend.”

In The New Yorker piece, the writer, Ian Crouch, makes an interesting observation: “So often in this reckoning, it has fallen to women to explain what bad men did and why they had to go away,” and I’m wondering if some version of that is what I wanted from Tig, some explanation not of what he did and why he has to go away, but of how I’m supposed to feel about him now.

Because the truth is that Louie’s comedy has been the gold standard for me for over a decade. His combination of surrealism, optimism, humanism, and dark, dark comedy spoke (speaks) to my sense of the world, a brutally honest place with death and destruction and perversion, but also a place where “once in a while you [can] get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

I counted on Louie to help me understand the world. His comedy exposed the little hypocrisies that make up humanity’s attempt to act civilized while also being ruled by animalistic and selfish impulses. His brutal honesty about parenting — which I had never heard before in a comedian — also helped me figure out what kind of father I want to be.

In short, I loved Louie and looked up to him, not as a role model per se, but as a wisdom-possessed elder. He helped me make sense of the world, and he gave me a lot of laughter while he did it.

But he is also a person who assaulted at least half a dozen women (and probably more) over the last couple of decades.

I don’t yet know how to deal with that kind of moral complexity. More than anything, I want Louie to do another special where his unique mind and perspective can address the issue head on, and does so as brilliantly and as brutally and as funnily as it has addressed everything else.

But I also don’t know if I should want that. He is, in all honesty, a perverted criminal, and the last thing we should give a perverted criminal is a stage and a microphone.

And that’s why I think I wanted Tig to address it during her set last weekend. More than I want to hear from Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, I want to hear from Tig. She is one of the bravest comedians I’ve ever heard, and I love the way her honesty and bravery combines with her ninth-grade education to provide deep, yet simple insights into the complexity of our modern world. I really want her take on the topic.

But I don’t want it in a contrived talk-show format where mainstream sensitivities are at their highest. I want to hear it in a stand-up format. I need to hear a long, layered, intelligent, emotional, and deeply comedic monologue on Louie’s crimes and on the way individual humans, society, and the subculture of comedy nerds ought to reckon with it.

I haven’t heard that yet. And I really wanted Tig to deliver it.

Alas.

(Thankfully, she was still as funny as all hell, and you should definitely go see her!)