This Comic Does House Calls
Knock Knock It's Tig Notaro
The setup seems like a punch line: Tig Notaro is giving a concert outside of a house in the form of a geodesic dome in Topanga Canyon, Calif. She's at the end of a joke which pits social grace against a puckish sense of impunity (a strong suit of hers), when a curly-haired woman pipes up: "That's so mean!" Notaro stops for a moment, mouth agape, and repeats the interjection of her heckler, "That's so mean?!" Notaro then pushes her punch line further – deftly asking her critic to reconsider her sense of scale. But instead, the woman from the audience has her own suggestion for the nearly 20-year veteran of comedy, perhaps "at the end you should [say], 'Just kidding!'" What happens next is alchemical, showcasing a comedian at the top of her game. Notaro begins her joke again, slowly and painfully drawing out her audience's anticipation, inserting a loud and much-too-obvious "just kidding" at the joke's end. The audience laughs, her heckler laughs, everybody wins. A potentially awkward situation has been both mined and diffused with grace by Notaro. At the end of her set Notaro thanks her audience, telling them how great they were, pauses, and then – winkingly – "Just kidding!"
Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro, a documentary special filmed by Showtime and premiering at SXSW, is full-up of moments like these. After putting a call out to her fans in the summer of 2013, Notaro traveled around the country with fellow comedian Jon Dore (whom Notaro calls "one of the funniest people living and breathing on this planet right now"), performing in backyards, small living rooms, and cornfields. Notaro says that although the house concerts look different from a traditional show, the underpinnings are the same: "It's like any relationship off the stage, if you stay open to it and let it unfold and breathe – let it have its say and you have your say."
At the time Notaro kickstarted the tour it hadn't yet been a year since Louis C.K. released (via his website) a now-famous, raw, and compelling half-hour set performed by Notaro on the very day she found out she had cancer. "Tragedy plus time equals comedy," she says in the opening gambit of that show. "I am just at tragedy." Notaro became something of a critical darling after that, and the house-concert tour was an opportunity to reconnect with and thank her fans. "I feel like people are so thankful when you go to a town that most people skip over," Notaro says of the tour, which took her to far-flung places like Pluto, Miss. "I think it's really more so when you hit a town that has a population of seven people. It is such a beautiful moment in the film – it's so beautifully shot. Mississippi is an easy target to rip on, but it's obvious that audience was so excited and loving. There were gay couples there."
The documentary not only captures the magical ambience of an improvised setting, but interjects snippets of the time Dore and Notaro spent driving from gig to gig as well. "We were already pretty close beforehand, but I'm sure there's some degree of closeness we reached after that experience together," says Notaro. "You can't help but become closer." Their relationship – a lesbian/straight buddy combo that we can only think to call lezbro – is one of the most endearing things about Knock Knock, even, and maybe especially, when the pair winds up buying Notaro a tombstone from a roadside business specializing in (what else?) tombstones and fireworks. Both Dore and Notaro remain knowing but distanced about the gravity of why they might be buying a grave marker for Notaro, and they consider with care the pros and cons of a flush gravestone vs. an upright headstone. Remarkably, the scene is treated like any other incident on a comedy road tour. And if this seems a dour note to end on, just do what Notaro's heckler suggests and append your own "just kidding."
Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro
Monday, March 16, 11am, Alamo RitzTuesday, March 17, 7pm, RollinsWednesday, March 18, 10pm, Alamo Slaughter