Silly is often the enemy of cool. Not so for Tig Notaro. She fully indulged her silly side at Sunday night’s taping for her new HBO special, “Boyish Girl Interrupted,” at the Wilbur. (It will air on Aug. 22.) She shimmied across the stage with a finger under her nose, pretending it was a chocolate ice cream mustache after relating how she once played a whole show with an actual one, and told a story about freaking out over a man in a McDonald’s parking lot who looked like Santa Claus. She got the crowd to sing “Yellow Submarine” while pretending to be Ringo Starr’s surprised wife hearing the song for the first time.
But no matter how dorky she got, Notaro could not have been cooler. There is a relaxed confidence in her delivery and a liveliness in her ideas. Whatever might be going wrong during the day to supply her with material, Notaro is in complete control once she hits the stage. Sunday night, at the second of two shows that evening, she seemed to feed off the audience’s energy.
Notaro casually mentioned her breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy — the central topic of her 2013 album, “Live,” a personal and professional breakthrough. “I have not told anybody yet,” she said. “You’re the first people to find out.” That caught the audience off guard, and there was a beat of silence and some nervous laughter. Notaro looked at them quizzically. “That’s a very cold response,” she deadpanned, bringing more laughter.
Before the mastectomy, Notaro used to make jokes about how small her breasts were. “You know what,” she imagined them saying. “we’re sick of this. Let’s kill her.” The audience gave her a big laugh and applause. “I’m always thrown off by the clapping — ‘Woo! Take her down!’ ” said Notaro.
That routine ramped up to the biggest reveal of the night. Notaro removed her jacket and tossed it on the mike stand. Then she unfastened the top buttons on her shirt, bringing the inevitable catcalls. “Don’t tempt me,” she said. Then a couple more buttons, and more catcalls. “I’m not going to take my shirt off for my HBO special,” she said, chiding her audience. And then she did just that, to thunderous applause.
As if nothing had happened, she started in on her next joke. “I am very scared to fly,” she said.
She performed that last quarter of the show topless. Routines about flying, about music, about randomly texting friends “What’s your ETA?” just to confuse them. But nothing more about breast cancer, nothing more about her appearance. The biggest statement was left unspoken: This is who I am now, it’s part of me, and it doesn’t change anything. I’m still funny. Still silly.
What could be cooler than that?
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.