Edinburgh 2013: Tig Notaro - It may be her Fringe debut, but this is a comedy masterclass


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The Independent Culture

Almost exactly a year ago, the American comedian Tig Notaro walked out onto the stage at LA's Largo Theatre and announced that she had breast cancer. The ensuing set went viral and topped the Billboard comedy chart thanks largely to Louis CK who declared it to be one of a handful of "truly masterful performances" he had seen in his 27 years of comedy.

Now at the end of a whirlwind 12 months which has seen Notaro go from comedians' comedian to film-star, author and regular on the pages of Time and Vanity Fair, she makes her UK stand-up debut at the Edinburgh Fringe.

"There's something that's top secret, that nobody knows about. I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer" - she says drily at the start of the show before a short, spikily hilarious routine about being betrayed by her own body. Later, when someone jokily heckles her, she pauses before whispering, deadpan "You know what I've been through, right?"

Other than that, her illness barely gets a billing. Instead, she spends well over an hour (no Silverman-style short-changing here, although the lengthy pauses surely help) quietly dismantling the edifice of comedy with low-key, laconic and repetitive routines about joke-writing, her favourite texting prank and spoof headlines. Casually dressed in hoodie and jeans, hair awry, "as if a horse had been chewing on it", and eyes glittering, Notaro never raises her voice above a mutter, never hikes the pace above a drawl, never signals a single punchline and yet the laughs keep coming. It is compelling to watch, hovering between stand-up and playful performance art - like Stewart Lee but smilier.

While she appears to get off to a slow start and then to be derailed by a long digression in which she asks an audience member to spell "diarrhoea", it slowly becomes clear that Notaro is in complete control of any chaos. For one impression, of a clown horn, she has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. By the final section, a deft physical routine involving a stool and many minutes off the mic, the room is rapt. As with Lee, there is the odd dip when it feels like she might be having more fun playing the comedy game than the crowd is having watching it, but this is consummate, ice-cool stuff. A comedy masterclass.

To 26 August (0131 622 6552)