This segment was originally broadcast on July 19, 2013.
In 2012, comedian Louis C.K. tweeted: "In 27 years doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo." The set C.K. was referring to was Notaro's performance the day she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. That set became "Tig Notaro: Live," which is now out now on iTunes.
We've invited Notaro to play a game called "Tig, meet Tug." Frank Edwin McGraw, known as Tug, was one of the great relief pitchers in baseball, or at least the most colorful. We'll ask Notaro three questions about her near-namesake.
CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ, Chicago this is WAIT, WAIT...DON'T TELL ME the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. And here's your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Carl. Thank you, everybody.
SAGAL: Tig Notaro was just another working comedian in Los Angeles when she performed what instantly became the most famous comedy act of the year, a monologue about a series of terrible events, including her mother's death and her own cancer diagnosis. She put it out as a recording called "Live" and we listened to it before talking to her in July of 2013.
TIG NOTARO: But you know what's nice about all of this is that you can always rest assured that God never gives you more than you can handle.
NOTARO: Never. Never. When you've had it, God goes, all right, that's it.
NOTARO: I just keep picturing God going, you know what? I think she can take a little more.
NOTARO: And then the angels are standing back going, God, what are you doing?
NOTARO: You are out of your mind. And God was like, no, no, no. I really think she can handle this.
SAGAL: Did you have to do the same that comedians do, just I'm going to write some jokes about cancer. Here we go.
NOTARO: Yeah, I mean, I was diagnosed on July 25 and the show was August 3. And so I didn't find anything funny from - you know, from my hospitalization and my mother's death and my breakup. I just wasn't in a lighthearted mood really. And then once I was diagnosed with cancer I was like, OK, everything became hilarious to me.
NOTARO: It just was still...
SAGAL: A lot has happened. I mean, I have to say, this is like - this getting cancer thing was like one of the best things that's happened to you professionally.
NOTARO: It really is.
SAGAL: I mean, are there other comedians out there going, damn why can't I get cancer cause...
NOTARO: I know. I - when people ask what - how'd you do it? What do you suggest in comedy? And I'm like, just get cancer and every other possible thing you know, that you can get. And then book a show at Largo and (unintelligible) C.K. on the show.
SAGAL: Yeah. It's worked for you. And I have to ask, how's your health?
NOTARO: I'm in remission...
NOTARO: And I'm feeling good, yeah.
SAGAL: Yeah, awesome. I want to ask you, has anything strange happened to you now that you've become known, God forbid, that this is continuing as like the cancer comedian and the comedian who did the thing about cancer?
NOTARO: Not - you know, the weirdest thing is that nothing weird has really happened.
NOTARO: And, you know, I feel like strangers think they know me but in a very kind way. And they know so much personal stuff about me. And I always tell the story about when I was in New York this last time and was going across the street. And this woman came up and she said, I know you have trouble with your digestive tract and you have some food issues, but this restaurant right across the street is just absolutely wonderful. You should check it out.
NOTARO: And then she just wandered off. I was like, thank you.
NOTARO: Thank you.
FAITH SALIE: So you're kind of known for creating awkward moments when you're on stage.
NOTARO: Sure, yeah.
SALIE: Like you'll push a chair around for two minutes.
NOTARO: Yeah, ideally longer than two minutes.
SAGAL: Yeah, two minutes is for amateurs. She goes for the half hour.
NOTARO: Yeah, yeah, and...
SALIE: But are you just not like the rest of us?
SALIE: Like, are you totally cool with awkwardness? Are you great on first dates?
NOTARO: I'm horrible on first through 100 - the first 100 dates I'm really not good.
SALIE: How? How are you bad on a date?
NOTARO: I'm very - I'm awkward in not a fun way. I've gone out where - with somebody where they couldn't believe I was a comedian. They were just looking at me so confused.
NOTARO: So that - yeah, I'm awkward like that. But then in comedy I feel very comfortable when the awkwardness follows me on stage. That's my element where I'm like, oh this feels right.
SAGAL: So there's moments where any other comedian, as Faith says, we're all kind of nervous, are standing there looking at an audience and think, oh my god, nothing's happening. I feel like killing myself. You're like, this is right.
NOTARO: Oh yeah. If I was on stage and nothing was happening I would feel like I had made it finally.
SAGAL: Really. OK. Tig Notaro. We've asked you here to play a game we're calling...
KASELL: Tig, meet Tug.
SAGAL: Frank Edwin McGraw, known as Tug McGraw, was one of the great relief pitchers in baseball, or at least one of the most colorful. We're going to ask you three questions about your near-namesake, Tug McGraw. If you get two right you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is comedian Tig Notaro playing for?
KASELL: Tig is playing for Jeremy Meyer of Tempe, Arizona.
SAGAL: Ready to go?
NOTARO: Yeah, and if it matters at all, I know who Tug McGraw is.
SAGAL: That's great.
SAGAL: OK. Here we go. How did Tug McGraw get his nickname? Was A, as a boy he liked to pull larger boys through the playground like a tugboat, B, was a compromise between his mother's choice of name Tim and his father's Doug or C, his mother nicknamed him Tug because of his aggressive breastfeeding.
NOTARO: I'm going to go with the first option.
SAGAL: He liked to pull larger boys through the playground like a tugboat.
SAGAL: The answer is C, the breastfeeding.
(SOUNDBITE OF SURPRISE)
SAGAL: At least that's the story that Tug liked to tell later in life.
NOTARO: I feel like I would've been a weirdo if I would've chosen that.
SAGAL: Don't worry about your reputation. Just go for your instinct.
NOTARO: That is such a weird story, I can't even move on.
SAGAL: I know. All right. Next question. After recording the final out in the 1980 World Series as a pitcher for the Phillies, Tug McGraw said what? A, you guys are happy we won a world championship, but I'm happy I just made another 25 grand. B, isn't all sport, indeed all human endeavor pointless in the face of eternity? Or C, New York can take this championship and stick it.
NOTARO: I'm going to say the first choice again.
SAGAL: You guys are happy we won a world championship but I'm happy I just made another 25 grand?
(SOUNDBITE OF DISAGREEMENT)
SAGAL: The audience doesn't...
NOTARO: When you repeat it back to me it makes me feel like I've picked another wrong answer.
SAGAL: Did you pick up that tone of condemnation in my voice cause...
NOTARO: Yeah, it was just like, Tig now the more I talk to you the more I'm realizing how you failed three grades and dropped out of high school.
SAGAL: So you're not going to pick the first one.
NOTARO: OK, the third one.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SAGAL: New York can take this championship and stick it?
NOTARO: Yes, that...
SAGAL: You're right, that's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: He later said he regretted that comment. He had played for some years for the New York Mets and felt bad about it. All right. Last question. If you get this one right, you win. As a young player, Tug had a relationship with a waitress and was intimate with her, he says, just one time. But that single night in the late '60s resulted in what? A, a lifelong habit of over tipping...
SAGAL: ...B, a vow of celibacy or C, the country music star Tim McGraw?
NOTARO: C., Tim McGraw.
SAGAL: You are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Tug took off. The waitress later found out she was pregnant and Tug never acknowledged that her son Tim was his until many years later. Carl, how did Tig Notaro do on our quiz?
KASELL: Tig, you had two correct answers so you win for Jeremy Meyer.
SAGAL: Well done.
SAGAL: Tig Notaro's "Live" is available on iTunes. Her podcast is Professor Blastoff Tig Notaro. Thank you so much for joining us on WAIT, WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
NOTARO: Thank you.
SAGAL: Thanks, Tig, Bye-bye.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.