Tig Notaro’s ‘Drawn’ Explores Strange New Worlds: Animated Ones
One day, during the production of his new animated stand-up special, Tig Notaro was presented with a roughly illustrated version of an anecdote about his double mastectomy. In the track, Notaro wonders what her doctors could have done with her discarded breasts after the surgery she had following a cancer diagnosis in 2012. What if, she asks, the remains had been thrown in a Hollywood dumpster? Could they have been left to rodents to play tug of war?
The crass animation added an irreverent detail: a car speeding past the dumpster in the night, thoughtlessly flattening Notaro’s forgotten flesh.
“They had a tire mark on my breasts,” Notaro said.
She loved it. But maybe, she told her director, Greg Franklin, the image could use one more detail. to take it from good to excellent. She had an idea.
“I was like, ‘What if there’s a little milk that comes out when it’s spilled? “”
The hosts added lactose.
“Tig Notaro: Drawn,” available on HBO and HBO Max Saturday, is new territory for Notaro. It does not contain a single live action framework. Instead, it’s a fully animated 55-minute special. The audio is from sets that were recorded, but not filmed, at the Largo Comedy Club in Los Angeles from 2015 to 2020. Although it is far from the first stand-up project to feature animation – the mid-2000s Comedy Central series “Shorties Watchin ‘Shorties” was built around animated stand-up tracks, and comedian David Huntsberger’s most recent “One-Headed Beast” special also incorporated animation – c ‘is certainly new, especially given its length.
Notaro, 50, is known for her gallows humor. The 2012 stand-up set that made her a star focused on her cancer diagnosis, and her work since then has included the Amazon series “One Mississippi,” a bereavement comedy. (She has recently played more serious roles in film and television, including roles in “Star Trek: Discovery” and Zack Snyder’s film “Army of the Dead”.)
In some ways, Notaro’s tongue-in-cheek style may seem odd to animation. (Indeed, “immediately” and “lively” are almost antonyms.) But Notaro saw the approach illustrated as a tool to help viewers digest his personal, sometimes deliberately uncomfortable, anecdotes. The visuals do some of the same work as a club or a theater, bringing the audience into a state of mind that allows them to laugh at a detail that, under different circumstances, would make them back down.
“The animation really elevates him to this fun – obviously drawn – version of what really happened,” Notaro said. “I think it will help people feel less sensitive to the material.”
The animation can also be cut in the other direction.
As the director Franklin said, “Seeing a cute cartoon character go through tragedy is something you can sympathize with to almost a ridiculous degree.”
Franklin came to the project with years of experience in stand-up animation, albeit in shorter forms. In 2010, he was hired by comedian Kyle Kinane for a three-minute track about a pair of rabbits having sex. (“Visually, I thought there was some fun with it,” Franklin noted.) Short animated videos for other comics, including Wyatt Cenac and Jackie Kashian, followed. Notaro saw the Kashian video and admired how Franklin was able to insert his own humor without stepping on Kashian’s delivery.
“I loved the comedy he put between the jokes – he found his own joke,” Notaro said. “And it didn’t sound like too much, or as if it was taking away.” I felt like everything added to these songs.
While “Drawn” tastes like an idea from the Covid era – no audiences were hurt in the animation of this special – it was actually set in motion before the pandemic started. When they first spoke about collaborating, Notaro’s now famous 2012 set had yet to take place, and she had no network or studio to pay for such a project. She hired Franklin years later, in late 2019, and handed him around 48 hours of recorded performance to consider for the special.
The approach they settled on involved an ever-evolving style so that each piece had its own unique look. An anecdote on “Jurassic Park”, for example, uses claymation. The visuals for a story about wisdom tooth extraction were inspired by magazine illustrations from the ’60s and’ 70s. And a little involving Eddie Van Halen is reminiscent of vibrant contemporary animated TV shows like “Steven Universe.”
The idea, Franklin explained, was to “delight and surprise you visually throughout the 55 minutes.”
“Doing it all in a singular style would exhaust an audience,” he added.
Incorporating many styles was also a practical decision – they could more easily divide the work between different artists. (Los Angeles studio Six Point Harness, where Franklin is Creative Director, took the lead. The studio has worked with professionals around the world, including artists in Australia, Nepal, India, and Mexico.)
The result is a special show in which each new track has a distinct visual energy, reflecting how comics can adjust their own energy and pace bit by bit. Transitions, however, are sometimes faster than they would be in real life – the result of one of Franklin’s most counterintuitive decisions.
“The audience was laughing for so long that I had to stop laughing,” Franklin said. “Tig bristled a little at that. She said, ‘I’m not used to suppressing laughter from my job.’
The animation allowed Franklin and Notaro the flexibility to put together material from different sets. This included the finale, when Notaro tells a story in which she imagines herself and two friends dying in a car crash. (The punchline involves Dolly Parton and a car stereo.) This section was the most difficult, Franklin said, in part because of the Pixar style he chose. This arose out of a conversation he had with Notaro about Pixar being “kind of a weird valley situation”.
If you look at some of the characters from “Coco,” Franklin said, they look like cartoons but have human skin with pores and reflect light like the skin does “in a way that, ultimately, is a bit strange “. He and Notaro started talking about it, he said: “I was a little curious to see a Pixar character bleed to death.”
By the time the cartoon Notaro and his friends die in the car crash, several similarities of her in deadly distress have already emerged, including one who has pneumonia, then develops a gastrointestinal illness, then is diagnosed with a Cancer.
This visual gag goes beyond Notaro’s actual words. In the passage, Notaro describes his situation getting “worse and worse and worse and worse”, with the animation getting worse and worse with each beat. With the final “worst”, an urn with an image of Notaro appears. She was not aware of this detail in advance. But she was comfortable with it.
“I think because I feel so connected to this reality it was almost good and just for it to be there,” Notaro said. “If anyone wants to know, I want to be cremated,” she added. “So the artists were right. “
Notaro was more directly involved in the development of the moving images of herself, which went through many rough iterations.
“It’s a long process to say, ‘I like this one, but I like the nose better on this one, and maybe add the hair from option # 3,” ”Notaro said. .
She gave notes, but also asked his wife, Stephanie Allynne, to provide an outside perspective on accuracy.
“It’s hard to see yourself fully,” Notaro explained, “whether you’re animated or not.”
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