Tig Notaro’s ‘Drawn’ Explores Strange New Worlds: Animated Ones

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One day during the production of her new, animated stand-up show, Tig Notaro was presented with a rough-illustrated version of an anecdote about her double mastectomy. Notaro ponders what her doctors might have done with her discarded breasts after the surgery she had after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. What if he asks that the remains were dumped in a Hollywood dump? Could they have been left to the rodents to play tug-of-war?

The rough animation added a detail of its own: a car speeding past the garbage can at night, recklessly flattening Notaro’s forgotten flesh.

“They had drawn a tire tread across my chest,” Notaro said.

she loved it. But perhaps he told his director, Greg Franklin, that the image could use one more detail. to take it from good to great. He had an idea.

“What if some milk comes out when it’s done?” said.

The animators added some lactose.

“Tig Notaro: Drawn” New territory for Notaro, available on HBO and HBO Max on Saturday. It does not include a single live-action framework. Instead, it’s a fully animated 55-minute special. The audio comes from sets that were recorded but not filmed at the Largo comedy club in Los Angeles from 2015 to 2020. While it’s far from the first stand-up project to feature a featured animation – the Comedy Central series of the mid-2000s “Shorties Following Shorties” is built around animated stand-up bits and features comedian David Huntsberger’s more recent special “One Headed Monster” The included animation is also – absolutely new, especially considering its length.

Notaro, 50, is known for his gallows humor. 2012 stand-up set that made him a star focused on cancer diagnosis and her work since then includes the Amazon series “A Mississippi” A comedy about grief. (He’s also gotten more serious film and television roles recently. “Star Wars: Discovery” and the Zack Snyder movie “Army of the Dead.”)

In some ways, Notaro’s slider style may seem like an odd fit for animation. (In fact, “deadpan” and “animated” are almost opposite concepts.) But Notaro saw the illustrated approach as a tool to help viewers digest their personal, sometimes intentionally disturbing anecdotes. The visuals do some of the work of a club or theater setting and put the audience in a state of mind that allows them to laugh at a detail that would backfire on them in different circumstances.

“The animation really elevates it to this fun – obviously cartoony – version of what really happened,” Notaro said. “I think it would help people not feel so sensitive to the material.”

Animation can cut the other way as well.

As director Franklin puts it, “To see a cute cartoon character experience a tragedy is something you can empathize with almost ridiculously.”

Franklin came to the project with years of experience in stand-up animation, albeit in shorter forms. In 2010, she was hired by comedian Kyle Kinane for a three-minute piece about a pair of rabbits making love. (“Visually, I thought there might be some fun with this,” Franklin pointed out.) Short animated videos for other comics; Wyatt Cenac and Jackie Kashian, then it came. Notaro saw the Kashian video and was amazed at the way Franklin added his own humor to Kashian’s delivery without stepping up.

“I loved the comedy he put between jokes – he found his own joke,” Notaro said. “And it didn’t feel like it was too much or going away. It all seemed to add up to these pieces.”

While “Drawn” has a flavor of the idea of ​​a Covid era – no viewers were harmed in the reenactment of this particular episode – it was actually set in motion before the pandemic began. When they first mentioned the collaboration, Notaro’s now-famous 2012 set hadn’t happened yet, and he didn’t have a network or studio to pay for such a project. Years later, in late 2019, he hired Franklin and gave him nearly 48 hours of recorded performances to consider for the special event.

The approach they decided on included an ever-changing style so that each piece takes on its own look. For example, an anecdote about “Jurassic Park” uses clay formation. Images of a story about removing wisdom teeth were inspired by magazine pictures from the 1960s and 70s. And a bit of included Eddie Van Halen reminds me of lively contemporary animated TV shows. “Steven Universe.”

The idea Franklin explained was “to visually delight and surprise you for 55 minutes.”

“Doing everything in a singular way would tire the audience,” he added.

Combining many styles was also a practical decision – they could more easily divide the labor between different artists. (Los Angeles studio Six Point Seat BeltFranklin took the lead, of which he was the creative director. The studio has worked with professionals around the world, including artists in Australia, Nepal, India, and Mexico.)

The result is a special film where each new piece has a different visual energy, reflecting the way comics adjust their energies and progress piecemeal. However, transitions are sometimes faster than they would be in real life – the result of one of Franklin’s more irrational decisions.

“The audience was laughing so long that I had to cut back on some of the laughter,” Franklin said. “Tig got a little pissed off about this. He says, ‘I’m not used to laughing out loud at my job.'”

The animation gave Franklin and Notaro the flexibility to add material from different sets. This included the finale, in which Notaro tells a story in which he and two of his friends die in a car accident. (The major line includes Dolly Parton and a car stereo.) Franklin said this episode was the hardest, partly because of the Pixar-like style she chose. This arose from a conversation with Notaro about Pixar’s “uncanny valley situation.”

Franklin said that if you look at some of the characters in “Coco,” they look like cartoons, but have porous human skin, and the skin reflects light “in a way that’s ultimately weird.” He and Notaro started talking about it and said: “It made me a little curious to see a Pixar character bleed to death.”

When the cartoon Notaro and his friends died in a car crash, several of his mortally distressed similarities have already emerged, including someone who had pneumonia and later developed gastrointestinal disease and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer.

This visual gag takes Notaro’s real words a step further. Notaro explains that his condition “got worse, worse” as the animation became more gruesome with each hit. With the last “worse” an samovar appears with a picture of Notaro. He did not know this detail beforehand. But he was comfortable with it.

“I think because I felt so connected to that reality, it almost felt good and right to be there,” Notaro said. “If anyone wants to know, I want to be cremated,” he added. “So the artists were right.”

Notaro was more directly involved in the development of his animated images, which went through many grueling iterations.

“There’s a long process of saying, ‘I like this one, but I like the nose of this one more and maybe I can throw the hair of option number three,'” Notaro said.

He gave notes but also asked his wife, Stephanie Allynne, to weigh in on accuracy from an outsider’s perspective.

“It’s hard to see yourself fully,” Notaro explained, “whether you’re alive or not.”

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