“You traveled all this way to hear four friends talk to each other” said Tig Notaro to a group of fans who’d traveled from Oklahoma to the Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum on Tuesday. A live taping of comedy podcast Professor Blastoff was the occasion. Kind of odd to pay money to watch something you could hear for less online. But it ended up being a great party to be at with a fun, relaxed vibe.
A lot of that was Notaro herself, that clever friend who calls you on your BS, but does it in such a fun way you actually enjoy it. Highly focused, but never inflexible, she guided the daffy podcast ship down a more or less linear path. The panel featured vocal athlete Kyle Dunnigan, who she often riffed with, and wry interloper David Huntsberger, who came in with the twist, with the largely silent Aaron Burrell, all who work in the comedy profession one way or another.
Most tellingly, Notaro connected easily with the audience, while the other panel members rarely did unless seeking laughs for punchlines. That affable yet sober persona is why Notaro reigns as one of the most currently beloved comedians. She’s naturally witty and great with ribbing, both the audience and other comics. Her sharp features contrasted with a broad smile, and a tomboyish look kept it casual. That visual and tactile sense is deeply missed in podcasts that are studio recorded.
Plus there’s the Notaro story, someone who in a terrifyingly short time has kicked cancer’s butt, persevered through even more serious illness, endured deep and repeated loss on many levels, and then created comedy from it. Her initial set about her travails, performed at Largo in Los Angeles last August, is legendary; you can download it here.
But surgery and treatments for breast cancer and more wasn’t much a part of the Tuesday show, except for this line from Notaro: “Yeah, I was afraid my jokes were in the jugs.” They weren’t. She zinged all night, keeping the repartee lively, riffing with a baby crying at the back of audience that was babbling on cue. The all-ages show, presented by Parade of Flesh, skewed to 20s and 30s.
The usual Blastoff format has Notaro, Dunnigan and Huntsberger chatting up a topic from science, philosophy or theology, with Burrell serving up facts and research observations. This night the usual format was ditched in favor of seeking an audience member who was an expert at something to join them on stage.
Notaro and company hit pay dirt, with Shannon, a twenty-something self-described “robot surgeon” who programs exceedingly lifelike mannequins that are used in medical training and teaches professionals in their use. Jokes about body fluids, body parts and mannequin skin color (described as “Norwegian”) meshed with tech talk. It was a perfect topic to pique Notaro’s intense sense of curiosity.
But judging by questions from fans that concluded the show, many missed the more cerebral emphasis. At its best, the podcast blends comedy, theology and philosophy in their shared pursuit and interpretations of the same goal: truth. Complex topics like creativity, psychological projection and viruses have been routinely tackled. Maybe after the previous night in Austin—a town described by comic Anthony Jeselnik as “the opposite of rehab”—they needed the brain break.
The funky circa 1911 Sons of Hermann Hall is a dandy venue for comedy. The high stage and diamond shape of the wood-floored dance hall gives good sightlines and places the bar noise far away from the seats. Whitest Kids U Know appear there later this month.
Strange fact: Notaro attended Schimelpfenig Middle School in Plano for a year.
◊ Here's video of a Tig Notaro performance, pondering the nature of a hotel room “No moleste” sign at the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival.