Instant Family Star Tig Notaro Talks Family, Fostering, and Queer Parenting

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Tig Notaro didn’t realize this when we chatted over the phone recently, but she had already been reading to me for hours by that point. Well, she had been reading the audiobook version of her biography, sped up to 1.5x. So when she came on the line for our interview, it took me a second to remember that she sounded slowed down because that was reality—not that she needed coffee.

Tig Notaro delivers a pitch perfect performance in Instant Family, the latest movie by Sean Anders about the process of adopting kids from the foster system. If you’re not familiar by name with Sean Anders, you’re certainly familiar with his work. Anders wrote Hot Tub Time Machine and We’re the Millers, among other comedy classics.

And if you’re not familiar with Tig Notaro, she’s one of the great comedic artists and gay pioneers of the past two decades. Tig is a genius with words and cadence, delivering truths and humor with a characteristic nonchalance that is at once surprising and poignant. This movie is no different, and if you’re like me and think initially that it may not be your thing, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It really is both hilarious, moving and absolutely flew by.

Tig isn’t afraid to dig deep, as she’s been through more in the past ten years than most people would want to go through in fifty, including the death of a parent, a serious bacterial infection, and cancer. She started her own family recently with her wife—something she had tried to do on her own but was too ill to do so at the time. She is introspective about it all, as well as intentional in how she raises her own family, having had her approach shaped by her reflective nature and own experiences growing up.

You mention in your book that your Mom wasn’t much of a disciplinarian, your biological Dad floated in and out of your life, and your lawyer Stepdad often offered more advice than support. With your own children, how much of your self-awareness of your upbringing drives your own parenting?  How much of your parents do you see in yourself?

I can feel the influence of all of my parents, and you know, it’s that typical thing of your parents driving you insane growing up, but as an adult you feel them like crazy—and I feel like I appreciate everything they brought to the table. All of the easygoingness and the structure—everything. I’m a full-on believer that everything is just perfect just the way it is, and of course so much is bittersweet in losing them, and having the life and family that I have. But I know that as a parent myself I feel like—I’d like to say that I’m a little more—well, possibly more reasonable than they were in ways, and there’s structure and discipline and fun. I feel like my wife and I are very hands on and present with the kids. And I’ve had some great options to choose from with how I was raised as well.

So being present is intentional?


Many kids are in abusive homes now and don’t get adopted. Usually, it has to be pretty bad for the state to get involved and take away the child and put them into foster care. It’s not the kids’ fault, and I don’t think they are broken, but what do you say to people who don’t foster or adopt out of fear of a too-challenging situation, because they are afraid of getting a “broken” child? Using quotes around that word of course.

I hate referring to anyone in that way. I just, I kind of don’t even know what to say to that. I feel like if someone has a real genuine interest in fostering or adopting it seems like when it happens, ideally you should be knowledgeable and prepared enough to take on the situation. But I think that there’s no guarantee, also, in having your own children, or not having children. I mean who knows what’s down the road? I would hate for anyone to go in feeling like they were with a broken person. Everything in the world is a risk and it feels like- if someone is genuinely interested and prepared, it seems like the right risk to take.

I agree completely. Also, I really liked your book! More?

I thought about writing one possibly this following year, but it looks like there’s not enough time. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and doesn’t come naturally to me. It took me four years to write a book that you can read in one day. I would imagine I’d be a little better the next time around and not take four years, but I don’t have the time- at least not now.

Well, maybe you can write it after you’ve had your kids a while longer and have more material.

Ha, maybe!

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

I can still recall when Ellen first came out over the intercom in the airport in her show many years ago, and it was a huge deal. How do you feel gay representation has changed in the past 20 years since Ellen’s announcement and how is it now seeing gay characters openly adopting in this movie?

I mean, it does seem like being gay is fairly—of course there’s still so much work to be done, but it feels like barely the issue that it used to be. And I feel like this movie did a really great job at representing so many different people and families, and we’ve come a very long way since that episode. And again, there’s plenty more room for gay representation everywhere, but it seems to be sneaking into the mainstream more and more. After Ellen did that show, we had Will and Grace, Modern Family—it seems like there’s always someone there. I mean, there’s plenty more that could be represented. And I feel like in this movie the gay families were presented just like every other couple, which is a nice way of doing it.

When did you come out?


So you’ve been living your whole life gay, almost-

I know for myself, yes—I just kind of just came out and just got on with my life.

How has your own creativity changed from having a family? Your comedy, your work?

Well, I always tell people that I have, now that I have children that I have a writer’s room full of people working on material for me—my two sons and my wife. But yes, I mean it’s changed in the way that I’m not out performing every night like I used to be, and I’m okay with that. When I am on stage I try to make sure it counts more than ever, because I’m not spending all my time on stage anymore. But at the same time, I feel the pressure is off to some degree—my priorities have changed, and I also feel inspired but I don’t feel pushed by it. It feels natural and flowing more than ever.

You talk about how being on stage gave you a huge sense of fulfillment- has that been replaced in other ways?

I was so driven by stand up that I was on stage six or seven nights a week and I was always writing or performing, and it feels good when I do it—but now I just don’t have to do it every single night.

Director Sean Anders, Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer on the set of Instant Family from Paramount Pictures.jpg

What are a couple of your favorite things about this movie, Instant Family?

I had such a great time with every single person in the movie, and it feels great to be part of a film that will change so many people’s lives. So, I would say those things would be the best.

I mean yes, it will probably drive a lot of people to look into fostering!

And hopefully they will do it—if they genuinely feel that way, that would be key.

Did you ever consider that?

Oh yes, I had many meetings with different agencies before I was married. But I was ill at the time, so I wasn’t a great candidate for it. It’s something I’m still open to, and we’ll see. Maybe when my wife sees the movie at the premiere, she’ll be all in.

What do you want people to take away from this movie?

The most important thing to me is if there is any sort of thought you’ve had about adoption, take the time to go check things out, go set up a meeting with an agency and go check it out. There should be a grander discussion around this topic, and hopefully this movie will do that.

There are too many kids, gay and straight and everything in between languishing in the foster system. It’s my hope that the movie does that too…

Instant Family hits theaters on November 16th.