If you’re looking for a straightforward stand-up comedy special, you’re not going to find it in Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro (though you can wait a few months to see her star in one for HBO). What you will find, however, is part stand-up, part buddy comedy, and part road trip documentary — and an oddly cathartic one, at that. If anyone needs catharsis, it’s Notaro herself, who, over the course of about four months, suffered from a major intestinal infection, found out her mother had suddenly died, endured a break-up, and then got diagnosed with stage two breast cancer (her now-famous set revealing her diagnosis is available for purchase here). Premiering tonight on Showtime, Knock Knock documents the next part of her life: a short tour that forgoes the normal comedy venues and instead finds Notaro performing in odd, intimate settings — a private lake house, an abandoned church/warehouse, and more.
With comedian/actor Jon Dore as both her driver and opening act, Notaro visits various locations to perform her unique stand-up in even more unique places. During her first gig, she jokes about how comedians tend to move the mic stand out of the way before they get started, resulting in her walking through someone else’s house, setting down the stand in a separate room, and then instructing an audience member to go retrieve it. In these private settings, Notaro is able to better interact with the audience (in one set, Dore notes that he can shake people’s hands as he’s telling his jokes). It’s in these moments that she’s having the most fun: an impossible-to-describe-on-paper bit finds her just mimicking a clown horn over and over, her pitch-perfect impression causing the audience to laugh harder and harder each time, to the point where Notaro is wandering through the small crowd, going right up to people’s faces, making the odd noise, and marveling in their conniption fits.
At an old church where the host points at a hole in the ceiling and informs us that there might be homeless people squatting (and where Dore notes that the “green room,” a disgusting RV in the parking lot, smells like a murder occurred there), Notaro takes a panoramic video of the audience as they all “introduce” themselves to her (see: a loud cacophony of various names overlapping). Dore, meanwhile, decides to try crowd-surfing during his set, telling both the setup and the punchline as the audience holds him afloat. In the final, quietly beautiful stop on the tour, Notaro finds herself in her home state of Mississippi, performing for a ragtag group of enthusiastic adults drinking beer while sitting on the hoods of their cars and bored children who run around, climb on stage, and heckle a good-natured Dore. A tractor also appears in the crowd, simply parked there.
While the small bits of stand-up comedy that we do get are funny (Dore’s material especially works), it’s the in-between scenes that provide the most affecting moments in the documentary. Notaro and Dore have a natural rapport as they travel together, something she also shares with longtime friend Nick Kroll, who appears early on to help her choose locations and pretend to be her love interest. While on the road, Notaro is suddenly struck with terrible stomach pains that land her in the hospital. Dore is appropriately worried but also keeps the mood lighthearted, talking with Notaro about her illness — and the other tragedies in her life — in the way that friends do: he’s concerned but not overbearing, allowing her to reveal as much or as little as she wants. The hospital visit catches them both off guard — “I probably have some bouncing back to do,” she admits later, referring to her recovery from surgery — but they don’t break their stride, instead joking about how the documentary has switched from a comedy to a drama. And then they head back on tour.
When they pass a combination fireworks and gravestone store, neither can resist stopping and shopping. “I would love to buy your headstone,” Dore tells Notaro as they look around, trying to decide which one to get while acting out the role of mourners. Early on, when describing his living room set, Dore remarks, “That was weird. It was fun, but it was weird.” That might be the best way to describe Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro. It’s fun, it’s weird, and it’s a must-watch.