Recently named “one of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time” by Rolling Stone, Tig Notaro arrived in comedy’s inner circle via regular appearances on The Sarah Silverman Program, landing jokes both absurd and serious. The breast cancer survivor plays the first lady opposite Jennifer Aniston in the upcoming Netflix film First Ladies.
You have been known since the age of two as Tig but your real name is Mathilde. Does anyone call you by your birth name?
It is “Mae-tiyl” and nobody really does, it just comes up for legal questions. It is a French name, my mother’s and grandmother’s names; it’s been in the family for quite a while.
You hail from Mississippi, were raised in Texas and now live in Los Angeles. Was there any cultural shock when you first moved to California?
I have family in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and I now live in L.A. I lived in New Jersey for a couple years as a kid and Denver on and off three different times and San Diego for a brief moment. L.A. is definitely intimidating but what surprised me the most about California was the beaches — I could not believe how crowded they were. Mississippi beaches are dead, lazy beaches and it was so shocking to go to the beach in L.A. and see just a parking lot of people.
How do you balance touring with appearing in episodic TV?
The priority is stand-up. I love doing TV and film but my passion and where I make most of my money is stand-up. I’m always working on new material and creating new specials or albums. When I have time off and it fits, I’ll do a project if it feels right and if I am available.
What drew you to play an engineer on Star Trek: Discovery? Are you a Trekkie?
A friend of mine is a creator on the series and this character was written for me. I am not a Trekkie but I did watch the original series and had the action figures when I was a kid. It is undeniably cool to be on Star Trek because it is such an iconic show and it always offered such a positive message and was so inclusive. As nerdy as the show can be, I still think it is cool.
In your 2015 documentary Tig, you seemed to grow your personal love story via text. Any advice for “first texts” to send to land a life partner?
I have no idea. I had no idea that Stephanie and I were going to be dating or develop an interest in one another. We had worked on a movie together and we exchanged numbers because we were both going to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival and were going to hang out there. When we started texting, we each thought the other one was really funny from working together. The texting elevated it a bit and then we couldn’t stop texting and that’s when we thought: maybe we might like each other. We were just being funny with each other.
You found the humor in the dark days of your cancer diagnosis. Was that humor or was that nervous laughter?
I think it was a lot of things. Humor is born out of a lot of uncertainty or fear of the unknown. But it is definitely humor. I found the humor and yeah, I feel lucky for being able to find the humor because it was certainly a very hard time. I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a breakup and I lost my mother, all in four months. It was ridiculously dark and terrible and there was nothing else to do but laugh at the patheticness (sic) of life and the situation you find yourself in. It’s not like I just found the humor and started laughing. It was ups and downs and crying and desperation and then laughing again, and it wasn’t just the laughing but certainly there were funny moments in it.
How did Netflix’s First Ladies come about?
I wrote it with my wife (Stephanie) for me to star in as the first lady and I knew Jennifer Aniston socially and she had expressed interest in working together. We thought Jennifer would be a great president and so we approached her about doing it.
What should our readers know about First Ladies?
Tell them that Jennifer Aniston is playing the first female president of the United States. People will be naturally interested to see that play out. It will be very funny, poignant and touching, all those great feelings. We are hoping to hit all of them.
Other than a tour stop in Santa Rosa, any connection to San Francisco or Marin?
I’ve been coming to the Bay Area for almost 20 years as a stand-up comic. San Francisco’s Punch Line is one of the first national A-list clubs that started booking me and I’ll forever be thankful for that. I love Northern California and I feel lucky that I get to come back. The audiences are great.
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Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.