“With humor, the equation is ‘tragedy plus time equals comedy.” – Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro turned the worst day of her life into a historic classic of performance comedy.

Opening the line “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer” (The clip above features the jaw-dropping first three minutes of her now infamous set. You can purchase the entire performance on iTunes). She goes on to explain:

  • I had this bacteria eating my digestive tract…Please bear with me. It’s so hard because right now in my life because right now when I have a show I don’t want to talk about how funny it is that a bee was taking the 405 freeway…because (everyone relax), my mother just died…Tragically too! She was 65, tripped, hit her head – died. A week after I got out of the hospital – ’m doing okay…So the timeline – I was in the hospital for a week with CDIF. Got out out. A week later my mother died. Then – I know it’s hilarious – then I went through a breakup. Right in the middle of it all. It’s tough times…you can’t stick around for that…All of it just turned into cancer.”

I’ve always said that there is a line to be drawn in embracing failure. There is failure and there is tragedy. I guess the difference is that the learning and dividends of “failures” outweigh the costs of the failures themselves. But with “tragedies”, the cost is so great, that no amount of growth can compensate for the loss. And yet, despite the extraordinary series of tragic events that Tig suffered, she still managed to turn it into one of the most inspired and inspiring comedic pieces in the history of stand-up.

This weekend starts off the “Race for Life” season where thousands of women face their own extreme physical challenges (especially with the introductions of “tough mudders” in the mix) to raise money to fight the scourge of cancer. As a friend of a recent cancer survivor, I am witness to the success this research is having to save lives. Especially to add “time” to the equation of those lives so more of that “tragedy” can become “comedy”.