The first half of Tig Notaro’s new comedy special, which was released in August on HBO, included jokes about swimming with gastrointestinal distress and a confused airport security worker. The crowd laughed with delight. Then, more than halfway through the show, Ms. Notaro removed her blazer and shirt and completed her performance naked to the waist, displaying the scars from her double mastectomy.
The atmosphere in the theater seemed to change, with the laughter becoming loud and aggressive as some men shouted “Whoo!” It was hard to tell whether the studio audience was truly with the comedian, but Ms. Notaro took it all in stride. She was doing more than just comedy. She was presenting a redefinition of the art of making people laugh, and a new phenomenon in entertainment: the unfunny joke.