The Best Joke In ‘Tig Notaro: Happy To Be Here’ Is A Fearless & Unconventional Bit With A Major Payoff
Repetitive, absurd, downright deadpan comedy isn't something that every stand-up comic can pull off. But time and time again, Tig Notaro has proven that it's her bread and butter. She doesn't always have a clear punchline or a quick, snappy set-up. But that's all part of what makes her style work so well — and the funniest bit from Tig Notaro's Netflix special Happy To Be Here is another example of how unconventional and and revolutionary her comedy is.
Notaro has already solidified herself in the comedy world as someone worth watching. She blew up years ago when she took to stage at Largo in Los Angeles and announced that she had cancer, actively working through the real-life news she'd just received in front of an audience. (The set itself went viral.) Since then, she's helmed the Amazon original series One Mississippi, appeared recently on New Girl, and has basically been killing it in the world of comedy.
Near the very end of the new special, which dropped on May 22, Notaro starts laying the groundwork for a special guest or two to join her onstage, and she begins to rile up the audience in anticipation of these mystery visitors. She moves her mic stand away, and teases the audience into delivering a bigger uproar of applause, and peeks backstage to ensure that whoever is about to come out is, in fact, ready to come out. Soon, she finally seems satisfied that the guests are ready, and she ecstatically asks the crowd to give it up for the Indigo Girls.
The audience seems pretty pumped to see this Grammy award-winning musical duo, but alas, no one comes onstage.
"Well, this is awkward," Notaro says as she slowly wanders back onstage. And so begins a bit that takes longer than most comics would dare drag something out. It cannot be emphasized enough — this is the last joke of the entire special, and it begins to unfold when there are still more than 15 minutes to go. That is a VERY long time to be harping on the same bit, but Notaro never lets it get stale. She continues to go backstage and "confirm that they're set to go," and apologizes to the audience for the confusion. Notaro announces the Indigo Girls to the stage at least three more times, and in between each time, looks just as confused when she moseys back onstage by herself.
It's reminiscent of bits like this one, from Kurt Braunohler and Kristin Schall, so completely out-there but allowed to go on forever, making it funnier and funnier as it goes, or even the famous "What's New Pussycat" bit from John Mulaney, that unfolds slowly and has you laughing at the same exact joke over and over again, because you can't believe it's still happening.
"OK, I know what this looks like. It probably looks like the Indigo Girls are not here," Notaro says. This goes on and on, with variations of, "Who here is like, 'I don't think the Indigo Girls are here'?" and "Wow, you guys are still falling for this." She berates audience members — jokingly, of course — for getting an attitude with her. By the middle of this bit, the audience in the theater, and at home, are genuinely confused as to if she's screwing with us or not. It's an absurd roller coaster.
In the end — spoiler alert — the Indigo Girls come out and play a song, part of which Notaro joins them for on the drums. Apparently, Notaro has played drums since she was 22, according to the bio on her site. (The bio also hails the Indigo Girls as one of her favorite bands.) It finishes out the special, and for this joke, there is a payoff. But the build, as usual, is the best part. Only the most talented comics can keep an audience hooked for a good 10 solid minutes on a joke that may or may not be going anywhere, especially when it's one as repetitive as this is. But the spirit of this bit perfectly encapsulates what's so funny about Notaro. It doesn't matter if there's a pay-off, or even a punchline. Watching Notaro, the ride through the joke is enough on its own.
She's not afraid to meander through a joke, or to hit an audience with the same line three or four or five or six times. A good chunk of the special prior to this joke is made up of bits about how Notaro loves to pretend she's crazy around strangers, so the joke would work just as well even if there wasn't a song by that famous band at the end. Her style is absolutely fearless, though not in the way that usually warrants that description. It's not over-the-top or theatrical — it's calm, measured, and somehow also absolutely bananas. Notaro has the skill, practice, and courage to be absolutely ridiculous to the sheer delight of her audience, and Happy to Be Here is a strange and hilarious addition to her canon.