Tig Notaro‘s animated special, Drawn, lands on HBO and HBO Max tomorrow, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s quintessentially Tig Notaro: dry, gently sardonic, softly sprawling stories that pull back the curtain on the every day absurdity of just being a human being in this weird world. The material is pieced together from stand-up Notaro has done over the last several years, and the entire thing is book-ended with a cartoon Tig entering and exiting the stand-up stage. But, visually, it’s not stand-up at all. It’s an animated marvel that spans artistic styles, a dozen topics, introduces guest characters from Jenny Slate to DOLLY PARTON, and is somehow as masterfully timed as Tig’s ability to drop a punch-line (or a jab at the audience for talking over her).
This year has been good for the brand of Tig Notaro. The internet lost its collective mind when photos surfaced of her looking like a stone cold babe in aviators and a flight suit, and she was heralded as one of the best parts of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. And because she’s Tig Notaro, she was able to make the talk show rounds to promote the movie while doubling down on how she’s Hot Tig now, in a way that was somehow both charmingly boastful and completely self-deprecating. It is no small thing to have the world gawking about the sexiness of a middle-aged butch lesbian. But I confess I was worried about Drawn; Ellen DeGeneres’ last stand-up special was the beginning of the end for her, as she continued to add fuel the accusations that she was an out-of-touch zillionaire concerned only with her own self-preservation. Luckily, Tig Notaro rose to the moment, in large part because she’s not afraid to spill her own blood all over the place.
Literally, actually. Drawn is a double-edge sword: it’s about the animation, but it’s also about looking ill. Much of the special’s humor comes from Notaro’s own experiences with her body betraying her. From something as simple as a wisdom tooth extraction to collapsing on stage with heart issues to her now well-known battle with cancer. What rang especially true to me, as a person learning to navigate chronic illness and disability, while still trying to laugh (and make other people laugh), was how honest Notaro was about the frustrating and often bananas lengths we go to try to connect with the people we love — from friends to wives — when our bodies are on the fritz. When Notaro wove a tale of trying to make plans her body kept thwarting, with fellow comedian Jenny Slate, behind the backdrop of split-screen claymation, I was doubled over cry-laughing because it was all just such familiar horror to me. Is the hospital the perfect place to propose, or nah?
Drawn’s animation actually elevates Notaro’s comedy, which has always been known for its meandering narrative style. The jokes are punctuated with well-timed gags and the absurdity is accentuated by wacky visuals. There’s a kind of Drunk History feel to the whole thing, but in that stone cold sober way Notaro delivers every line. Like so many impossible juxtapositions, Notaro just makes it work.
The most refreshing thing about Drawn is that all the bits and pieces were recorded at various shows before the pandemic, so there’s no attempt to find ways to joke about the last 16 months. Instead, Notaro invites us to laugh with her about the goofy, loopy, preposterous things that have come out of some of the hardest parts of her own life, so that we might share a little bit of healing too.