Tig Notaro makes you squirm. On talk shows, she flips conventional stand-up comedy on its head, most notably during a "Conan" appearance when she spent much of her allotted time dragging a chair across the stage. During her recent tour, which stops in Minneapolis on Sunday, she has teased audiences by building up a surprise appearance from the Indigo Girls, knowing full well the pop-folk duo are nowhere near the premises.
On Amazon's "One Mississippi," which she co-created with former Minnesotan Diablo Cody ("Juno"), family gatherings take on the tone of hostage situations. And then there was her ground-breaking club appearance four years ago in which she stunned an unprepared audience by addressing her recent diagnosis for breast cancer (she is currently cancer-free). Louis C.K., now an executive producer on "Mississippi," called it one of the most masterful performances he'd ever seen.
So it's appropriate that our recent phone interview, conducted while her twin baby sons wailed for attention in the background, started off with an awkward moment.
Q: Congratulations on a second season for "One Mississippi." Here's something you may not know. The venue you'll be playing here, the Skyway Theatre, is right above the place where Diablo used to be a stripper.
A: OK. (Pause.) Wait a minute. Who?
Q: Diablo Cody. Your writing partner.
A: Oh, she only worked on the pilot. She left after that, and Kate Robin, from "Six Feet Under," came on board to run the show. But Diablo is someone I connected with. I'm a huge fan of her movie "Young Adult," and was looking for that mix of drama and comedy.
I don't really write scripts. I just needed some guidance, and she helped give that first episode structure.
Q: One of the many things I liked about the series is the flirtatious nature between your character and her radio producer. I was really rooting for them. I didn't realize until after watching all the episodes that the actress [Stephanie Allynne] is your wife.
A: A lot of people have said that. It was Kate's idea to cast her, and we were like, "That's interesting." Funnily enough, Amazon had us audition on camera together to see if we had chemistry. Apparently, we did.
Q: Both your TV show and act revel in awkward moments. Where does that come from?
A: I never really consider myself an awkward person, but once I got into stand-up, I kept hearing that word. The only thing I can trace it back to is that my mom had a similar sensibility. She always made people uncomfortable. She was in a bad car accident and they used long screws to straighten her toes. At parties, she would use those screws to spear olives for people's drinks and used the vomit trays to serve snacks. Being raised by that kind of person, you naturally absorb their sense of humor.
Q: Not too long ago, you were doing routines about dealing with her death and the double mastectomy you had. After taking on such big issues, is there pressure to keep raising the bar, or can you go on stage and do jokes about airline food?
A: I'm not opposed to talking about airline food. In my HBO special [the Emmy-nominated "Boyish Girl Interrupted"], I took my shirt off to show the mastectomy scars. It was important to me to make a statement and have a sense of humor about it. But I want the freedom to do what I want to do. I don't feel like there's a threshold I have to cross over to do heavy material. If I want to do an hour on airline food, I will.
Q: I recently saw Patton Oswalt, who was a great supporter of yours during hard times, and he addressed his own tragedy beautifully in his act. [His wife died in April at age 46, leaving him to raise their young daughter.] Have you had a chance to talk to him recently?
A: I've definitely talked to him here and there. I was honored to lose the Emmy to him earlier this year. After he won, he sent me a gift card to one of his favorite restaurants, like a perfect gentleman. I did send him a copy of my book ["I'm Just a Person"] with a note that said, "If you ever want to read this, it may help you know that you're not alone and help you get through tough moments." I can't claim to be one of his best friends, but I think he's a genius.
Q: Are you preparing material for another TV special?
A: I'd like to do another one. Maybe it will all be on airline food.