In the summer of 2013, comedian Tig Notaro made a video for her fans. “If you’d like for me to be on your rooftop, your basement, your backyard, living room, garage, in your barn,” she began. “You tell me where I’m going.”
The comedian’s request received more than 1,000 responses, and Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro features a few of the best. Or, at least, the ones that inspired a visit from Notaro. But to start things off, the documentary shows a selection of videos from folks who didn’t make the cut: Someone who made a tiny paper puppet “Tig in a blanket.” A guy who says that “the audience would be me and my dog, Patches.” Something called The West Bestern with “a green screen area” in a terrifying basement. A woman who made what appears to be a casserole, and then describes it like so: “Look, it says your name in tater tots.”
“Are you at all scared of these people?” Nick Kroll asks, as he and Notaro watch some of the entries together.
“Absolutely,” she responds.
Nevertheless, Knock Knock finds the veteran funnywoman visiting five nontraditional venues around the country: a geodome in Topanga Canyon, Calif., a lake house in Southern Indiana, “a run-down old church/abandoned building that happens to have shows in it” in East Nashville, Tenn., a sharecropper shack in Clarksdale, Miss., and a farm in Pluto, Miss.
But half the fun, as they say, is getting there, and Notaro picks up a friend in Chicago to add to that fun: Jon Dore. He does the good work, too, flipping off an SUV full of women for no apparent reason, confusing a toll-booth worker by pointing out that Notaro is sitting in the shotgun seat, and just generally serving as a riff partner at various stops along the way.
Some of the more poignant moments come from the after-parties at these odd locales. At the geodome—a location mostly comprising older, seemingly-well-to-do hippies—a woman approaches Notaro, to talk about how she, like the comedian, was recently diagnosed with cancer. Elsewhere, the shows themselves turn into parties. Notaro’s Indiana crowd work takes on a life of its own, and she finds herself bringing 30-something art kids to laugh-tears as she makes “clown horn” noises inches from their faces. In Mississippi, a sweet woman tells a bizarre impromptu fictional story about Notaro standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, reflecting on her life, and stripping naked. The tale starts out earnest and ends up amazing.
In fact, a lot of Knock Knock’s comedy comes less from proper material and more from what the road provides its stars. There are only a few real jokes told throughout, much of the humor instead coming in the form of crowd work and whatever Notaro and Dore stumble upon during their journey. At one point, he throws children’s underwear at her. At another, she shaves his neck on the side of the road in Mississippi. At still another, Dore attempts to “name as many Montreal Expos” as he can, before Notaro calls it “the worst day of her life.”
Their final stop is the most delightful. Pluto, Miss. is a town where, their host says “the population is eight or nine on a good day,” a place where catfish ponds and favorite trees and ladders in sunflowers fields and “a super fabulous fountain that my cousin Louie built that shoots flames and water just like Las Vegas” are some of the available venues. Following a band and Dore’s opening act—where he lets a child tell one of his jokes—Notaro rolls up in an off-road vehicle, also driven by a child. Backlit by the lights of a John Deere tractor, as rain spits ineffectually, she tells jokes for maybe 20 or 30 folks in lawn chairs, barbecuing and laughing. A teenager lights cousin Louie’s fountain, and Notaro heckles one of the babies.
“Everybody in this town knows this isn’t really a town,” she says, turning her sights on Pluto. “You’re gathering in groups, you’re making Aunt Mary the mayor, and no one’s falling for it, Pluto!”
But then she says she’ll stay if the assembled throng chants “Tig and also John.” They do, and the pair jams on drums and an acoustic guitar, eventually joined by the singer from the opening band, which turns out to be Shannon McNally. The song unravels ridiculously, Notaro and Dore trying to sing as well, as a montage of driving fades into Notaro and a couple more famous friends (Seth Meyers, Jeff Garlin) watching the clown horn bit while she does the clown horn bit for them in real life.
“I like that you have no fear it’s gonna wear out its welcome,” Meyers says, hinting, perhaps, at the absurdity of revisiting this silliness in lieu of some sort of proper ending. But really, this is nothing.
“I’ve done it for 30 minutes to close out a show,” Notaro replies, and Knock Knock is over just like that.