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The Bentzen Ball Preview: Tig Notaro

To preview the upcoming Bentzen Ball—which runs from October 22 to 25—we’re interviewing several of the comedians who are performing at the festival. Today, we chat with the brains behind the whole thing, Tig Notaro.

Never heard of Tig Notaro? Maybe you should have. The tough, sardonic West Coast comic plays Officer Tig on The Sarah Silverman Show, and she has called Tig one of her best friends. Notaro is slated to appear as Joan Jett’s mom in the 2010 film The Runaways—and she’s the central, magnetic force behind the Bentzen Ball. She’ll be performing standup at the festival every night; view the schedule or purchase tickets for any of the shows here. You can catch her on opening night with Patton Oswalt, Todd Barry, Kyle Kinane, Ian Edwards, and Rory Scovel at the Lincoln Theatre.

Read yesterday's interview with Lizz Winstead here.

So tell me about the Bentzen Ball. Where did the idea come from?
“I did the DC Comedy Fest last year and had a really great time, and Brightest Young Things interviewed me then, and we just connected on a personal level. I saw their ability to cover different arts in the area, and I thought it was really great. Then this year, the DC festival wasn’t coming back. I’d always wanted to put together a comedy festival, and I figured that since the DC festival wasn’t returning, I’d put one on myself. I brought it up to BYT, and they were totally on board. At first they didn’t think we’d be able to get all these big names, but we called some people and next thing you know, everyone is coming to DC.”

How did you choose where the proceeds would go?
“A portion of the proceeds will be going to Walter Reed Hospital, which I’m really excited about because I’ve always chickened out when I’ve been invited to the Middle East to perform, so I thought it’d be a good way to give back without actually having to go. I know that sounds—well, I’m a chicken. But all the comedians have been excited. There are some who have gone to the Middle East, and they’re excited about giving back.”

If you weren’t doing standup yourself and could pick one show to see at the Bentzen Ball, what would you go see?
“That’s so unfair.”

I wanted to make it fun.
“So your idea of fun is unfairness. God, it’s so hard to say. I’ve been helping to schedule the shows with my friend Andy Wood, and we were working on it until 9:30 last night. So to be honest, I don’t know the lineups of every show, because we just rearranged the schedule. But I can tell you that after we looked at the show, our minds were blown. There’s not one show that’s weak. For every show there are seven or eight performers, and about half are nationally recognizable. It’s truly a strong, strong festival. It’s mind-blowing. I’d buy a weekend pass for myself and take everyone I could. So there. You were unfair, I’m unfair back.”

That’s fair.
“The only time two unfair things make a fair one”.

Who’s a relatively unknown comic in the festival who you’re really excited about?
“Well, we have about 15 local comedians, and then there’s one in particular who came out of DC—he’s living in New York now—Rory Scovel. I think he’s tremendously talented. I saw him in Portland a few years ago and I walked away saying ‘Whoa, he was really funny,’ and I hardly ever walk away saying that. It’s just hard to see something new that could possibly excite me. We have some great up-and-coming locals.”

Let’s talk about your own comedy. Who are some of your influences or favorite comedians?
“These days, I love Maria Bamford, Zach Galifianakis, and Sarah Silverman. I think my friends are my biggest influence, but when I was starting out when I was a kid, I loved Paula Poundstone and Richard Pryor. I really don’t think anyone would see me and say, ‘Wow, Tig is a Richard Pryor ripoff,’ but I adored him.”

What’s the easiest or kind of person to make fun of?
“I love awkward people. I love quiet awkward people. I don’t like to make fun in a mean way—those are people I like to talk to: quiet awkward people. It’s like, 99 percent of the time they’re the perfect person to talk to, if not 100 percent of the time. That’s who I’m always drawn to.”

Have you performed in DC before? What do you think of DC crowds?
“I haven’t performed a lot in DC, but from what I’ve experienced, I’ve had really great shows. I think I’ve had one performance for the festival and one for the Inauguration show, but both were really great crowds.”

In Washington we can’t get anywhere without talking about politics. How should we solve the health-care crisis?
“If Obama came to me and said, ‘What should I do?’ man, I don’t know what I’d say. Maybe I’d just give every home in America a first-aid kit. Maybe that’s what I’d do. Everyone would just have a good first-aid kit.”

Find out more about the Bentzen Ball here

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