After reading this slim, melancholy memoir, you may be tempted to turn to the Book of Job for comic relief. Notaro’s avalanche of ordeals has become such a staple of her comedy routines and interviews and is so prominently featured in the 2015 documentary Tig that many readers will likely know about them already. For those who don’t, they include, in rapid succession, a broken romance, a debilitating digestive tract disorder called C-diff, the sudden, violent death of her mother and breast cancer leading to a double mastectomy. All these calamities are revisited within a framework that embraces Notaro’s difficult childhood relationships with an endearing but irresponsible mother, a martinet stepfather and a spaced-out, absentee biological father.
Although there are diverting comic touches (most in the ironic vein), the book’s chief virtue is Notaro’s absolute candor in describing how these devastating setbacks wracked both her body and soul. We feel C-diff sap her strength, partake of the terror she experiences when discovering she has cancer and grieve with her as the mother she emotionally relied on slips away.
The focal point of I’m Just a Person—and the turning point in her career and outlook—is the night in 2012, when she goes onstage at a comedy club and begins her routine with, “Hello. Good evening. Hello. I have cancer, how are you.” Her performance, undertaken as a wild gambit, captivated the crowd and became a milestone in comic history. Even with cancer gnawing away at her, she had triumphed.
Notaro ends the book with the happy tale of meeting and marrying Stephanie Allynne and of looking, with fingers prudently crossed, toward a bright future.
This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.