Comic opens set for ages: 'Hello. I have cancer.'

Associated Press Modified: October 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm •  Published: October 12, 2012
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"I should have known better," Helms said. "She's such an honest person and just moves through the world with total integrity. She knew deep down she couldn't just get on a stage and tell jokes the old-fashioned way. It wouldn't be true to where her head was at."

"I just really needed to talk about it," says Notaro, explaining her mindset at the time. "What if my life is slipping away right now? What if this is the last time I can get on stage? ... I certainly never thought that was going to be my second album."

Notaro is now back from the brink. She had a double mastectomy and doctors believe the cancer has been removed with recurrence unlikely. She finds herself a sensation, and has signed a book deal with Ecco Press. Her first album, "Good One," is among the best-sellers on iTunes. "I've never gone viral before," she says.

"I didn't expect any of it — the good or the bad — and to the degrees that things have happened!" says Notaro, who's just begun a previously hired job writing for a Comedy Central show starring the comedian Amy Schumer. "I cannot wait, and I'm so curious, for the time that I have a boring day with nothing going on. I have not had a boring day in seven months."

It's an unlikely high-point for Notaro who has for years been a respected and popular stand-up. She grew up in Mississippi before moving with her mom to Houston. Notaro, whose real name is Mathilde, was nicknamed "Tig" by an older brother. Long a fan of Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Paula Poundstone, she first began performing when she arrived in Los Angeles about 15 years ago. Performing at Largo in August — "a live-wire of nerves," she said — reminded her of that first time.

Her stand-up, while personal, hasn't typically been confessional or dark. Among her most famous routines is a never-ending bit about repeatedly running into '80s pop star Taylor Dayne. Performing on "Conan," she also stretched absurdity, spending the majority of her set pushing a stool around the stage.

But now, Notaro realizes a shift has occurred in her comedy and that she can't return to her old material. "Live" ends with her telling one of her jokes — one about a bee on a highway in Los Angeles — but she's telling it ironically. After talking about cancer and death, the joke is funny for being so foolish by comparison.

"I cannot imagine — and maybe it's just a matter of time — doing that kind of material right now," says Notaro, who hasn't yet performed since. "I feel a little more reflective and searching. My comedy is beyond me right now.

"I have no idea what's coming," she says. "It makes me feel like I'm just starting in stand-up. I feel like I've just been born, but I feel like I've been born with every tool I need in life. If you had a baby and it was born with all the experience it needed. That's how I feel."

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Contact AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle at http://twitter.com/jake_coyle