Many Kenyon students, myself included, were thrilled that Tig Notaro was hired by the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) to perform on Saturday. This excitement was amplified by the lingering collective discontent following Pete Davidson’s lackluster performance last year. Notaro is a talented performer who showed a great deal of patience for a crowd that was clearly very excited to see her. But as the last off-key notes of her rendition of Adele’s “Hello” drifted out of the piano, Notaro stood up and walked back to the microphone, waiting for someone, anyone, to tell her what was supposed to happen next.
As an audience member, I was confused — what was going on? Was her set over? Was this part of the bit? As it turns out, it was time for a Q&A session. Nobody had questions prepared because at no point had we been informed that we should have any. Instead of an intellectually stimulating conversation about comedy, Notaro got an OSE-sponsored heckling session. Questions ranged from poor attempts to be funny to cringe-worthy questions about her personal life. It was awkward, painful, embarrassing and completely avoidable.
In all fairness, Notaro did hold her own, aided by the fact that her show as a whole involved playfully roasting the crowd. However, her willingness to go along with our nonsense should not be seen as a sign that this was well-executed. The deconstruction of a performance in an unguided free-for-all format of this type is just plain awkward. If we wanted to do this “right,” the administration should have crafted some kind of a brief pre- or post-performance panel where we could all participate in a more formal conversation.
That being said, performers shouldn’t be obligated to suffer unstructured post-performance reviews of their own work. Think about this in another context: Would we ask a Summer Sendoff artist to quietly catch their breath, then break into Q&A after a skull-pounding finale? Most of us came to Notaro’s show with the expectation that we were going to be entertained, not because she was sparking a conversation with her jokes.
Let’s be honest, many of us are thrilled at the opportunity to ask performers questions about what they do. There were a few earnest questioners who did contribute positively, but they were greatly outbalanced by the insensitive and disrespectful ones. Frankly, I would have preferred another 15 minutes of her material to the mess that unfolded.
I understand the desire on the part of the administration to provide students with the chance to engage with visiting speakers or scholars, but a comedian is neither. If performers want to host a Q&A, I think they should feel welcome to, but making it a contractual obligation is awkward. Kenyon’s interest in extracting educational value out of every experience is well-intentioned, but Tig Notaro is not James Comey. This was not only evident in the way that the audience treated the post-performance Q&A session, but also in the ramshackle manner in which it was organized and communicated. Notaro deserved much, much better.
Michael Lahanas-Calderon ’19 is a political science major from Dayton, Ohio. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.