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Professor Blastoff host Tig Notaro talks podcast inspiration and using listeners as guests

Tig Notaro

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Science is one of those subjects that many people are interested, but many fewer actually know anything about. At the intersection of those two groups is “Professor Blastoff,” Tig Notaro’s weekly podcast in which she and her two co-hosts wax poetic on all sorts of lofty issues – typically in the service of bringing them down to our level. Notaro, a comedienne and performer, admits she serves a bit as the class clown or proxy audience for the trio, providing the show with an undercurrent of humor that she says she’s grateful is as entertaining to her as it seems to be to their listeners.

IFC recently caught up with the incredibly busy Notaro, whose recent appearance on “This American Life” almost immediately begat another one, proving that even if she’s not the academic in the group who regularly appears on “Professor Blastoff,” she understands the value of a well-conducted experiment. In addition to talking about the process of getting the podcast started, she discusses the adjustments and differences that make podcasting such a unique experience, and offers a few insights into where she’s going in the near future.

(Explore “Professor Blastoff” and more in IFC’s new podcast section!)

IFC: Talk about how you first got involved in actually doing podcasts and how sort of you got acclimated to the process. And how different is it from other sorts of performance that you do?

Tig Notaro: How did I get into becoming a guest on different podcasts?

IFC: Sure, yeah.

Notaro: Just friends having them and inviting me on. Once the whole podcast world started to take off, it just seemed like I started to get an invitation. And it’s definitely different than standup and anything like that. It’s kind of learning to be conversationally entertaining with more than by yourself, because I’m involving anywhere from three or more people. And it’s kind of bizarre, because going through the learning curve, with standup I was able to privately learn how to do standup in open-mic. But with podcasting, it’s just being immediately broadcast for everyone to hear. And it was just kind of funny starting out — people are so harsh with their criticism. And I’m certain I have a million miles to go, our show still has a million miles to go — but I think that we’ve grown a lot over the year.

IFC: How did you come up with the idea for “Professor Blastoff,” and how difficult was it to create what would eventually be a format for the podcast?

Notaro: Well, I have a writing partner, Kyle Dunnigan, who is one of my co-hosts, and then David Huntsberger, who is also a co-host, and I just know that these guys in my life were constantly talking about science and religion. And it was just a common theme with these two people that I was with all the time. And David and I were, I think, somewhere in Idaho, and I was like, what if we tried to do a podcast about science? I was the one that got the deal with Earwolf, but they were who I brought in to kind of make it happen — because I don’t know stuff about science or anything like that, but I have an interest in it. So I’ve kind of been the person that’s like, wait, what is that? Or this makes no sense. Or I don’t know what that word is. David keeps things more on track. He’s very much informative, and wants information, and wants to go from point A to point B, whereas Kyle and I will kind of go off the rails a little bit, even though Kyle is more knowledgeable than I am. He is absolutely ridiculous. And some people describe it as a silly NPR. And I feel like another way to describe it is that it’s kind of my fantasy situation for my childhood, which is that I get to learn and I get to interrupt, and make jokes, and do stupid things without a teacher telling me to be quiet.

IFC: What was the most conscious adjustment that you had to make from a kind of performance where people could actually see you to where they’re just following your interactions audibly?

Notaro: I don’t know if I made a conscious adjustment about myself or anything. I know that even though I find David and so many of our guests and people that come onto the show so enjoyable and funny, Kyle is just that person that inspires me and makes me laugh just outrageously. When Kyle’s around, it’s just I don’t ever stop laughing. And it’s not quite, I think, what people are used to when I’m seen on stage, because I’m not this giggly ridiculous person on stage. But if Kyle’s face appears in front of me then I have no control.

IFC: Sort of further along the lines of the performance in general, how much interactivity are you able to have, and do you want to have with an audience? And how does working on a podcast differ from a live audience where you might be able to feed off of energy as they’re sort of reacting in real time?

Notaro: Well, as far as interaction with them, a lot of our listeners are guests on the podcast. We’re not really celebrity-oriented, which has been an interesting thing. A lot of those podcasts are constantly bringing in the biggest names and they’re trying to kind of boost their numbers in that way. And we’re trying to obviously boost our numbers, but we really are trying to have on people that would be good for the show, and are our fans, and are interested in the show. And so I interact in that way, whether they come in or call in. And then with my standup I’m very interactive with the audience. But as far as interacting, I think David is more interactive with the audience.

IFC: What is it about podcasting that you feel like, not just that you enjoy, but what does podcasting allow you to do that other kinds of performances don’t let you do?

Notaro: Well, even though I go on stage and do structure jokes, and I also go on stage and improv a lot, I do the majority of my writing on stage where I just talk through ideas. With podcasting, I don’t really even go in with any idea of what I’m going to say – and it is really very much as though I’m just hanging out with Kyle and David, my co-hosts. And it’s also like personally, beyond the creativity, it’s something I look forward to every week. Because with as busy as our schedules get it’s kind of that, it’s so cheesy, but it’s that one hour every week that I know I’m going to go have an absolute great time. And even if we walk out feeling like it wasn’t a good episode, we’re still laughing at how possibly not great that just was. I love those guys so much, and it just, it kind of just frees me up. And we all explore different stories. With our format we’ve started just opening the show with what’s been going on with each of us. And usually Kyle offers up some atrociously embarrassing story, and he’s typically not like that. His standup is nothing like that. So we all kind of just come in just kind of free of everything, which is so much fun. It’s just a completely different thing from standup, and every other world of entertainment that I’ve worked or dabbled in.

IFC: Gotcha. What are you working on now, and what’s coming up for you?

Notaro: Well, I just did “This American Life,” and Ira Glass called me a couple days after my segment and said that they wanted me back immediately. So I’m now working on two new pieces for “This American Life.” So that’s kind of a big focus for me right now. And I’m working on new material just for my standup. And I have a movie coming out with Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, and Nick Offerman and it’s called “In A World.” And I can’t remember what I have going on — just touring here and there. I don’t know, I don’t know. I have a couple projects that I’m working on that are not needing to go into specifics. But that’s pretty much what I’m doing.

IFC: With all of these different things in the works, are podcasts a foundation for the other stuff that you’re doing? Or is it a respite from the other stuff that you’re doing?

Notaro: It’s definitely more relaxed. But I would say it’s really my baby. Like, it’s not some place I just show up and kind of be like eh, no cares, no stress. There’s not really stress to it, but it definitely feels like I go meet with Kyle and David every week and somebody secretly mics us, and everybody that listens gets to hear it. But to be honest, it has gotten more popular than I ever would have thought. We may have low self-esteem, but we all were a little surprised that people took to it.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.