Tig Notaro’s new special, Knock Knock It’s Tig Notaro, premieres tonight at 9 p.m.—and it is the first great can’t-miss comedy event of 2015.
It follows Notaro (along with friend and fellow comic Jon Dore) on a tour of ridiculously intimate venues: living rooms, back yards, abandoned churches, and the like. And while Notaro’s stand-up is phenomenally dry and sharp, it’s the moments in between bits that really reveal the 44-year-old survivor. She talks candidly about her Job-like trials, which forced her to deal with the digestive disorder c. diff, cancer, a break-up, and the death of her mother. She also contemplates both her future in comedy and her own mortality. It’s a beautiful thing.
Notaro was similarly reflective when she called in to EW two weeks ago to discuss Knock Knock, as well as her adoration for her own back yard.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is not the first time you’ve played intimate shows like this. Was it easier this time around? You still seem to have a moment of minor panic every time you pull up to a new place.
TIG NOTARO: We call it “diarrhea arrival.” That’s what Steve Agee and Martha Kelly and I started calling it every time we pulled up to a new residence. It’s that kind of scary moment where you can’t help but go in horrified, but you’re laughing with your good friends and enjoying every moment. As awkward or as weird as it gets, you’re in there with a friend, and the audience is rooting for you. I guess I’m drawn to awkward moments and things. People think I’m insane, but I really enjoy it. You create this idea in your mind that it couldn’t be anything but the worst possible experience of your life. You’re pulling up to four lawn chairs and an umbrella and a hot dog stand, and I’m like, “Wait a minute, is this really where every road has led me?” You can’t get too big in your head if you’re pulling up to a hot dog stand.
Does that also change the way you prepare, or change your approach to the act?
When your audience is an inch from your face and eating Doritos, it’s different. I feel like Jon did more material, and for myself, I have a rough idea of what I might do before I do any show. But there’s probably a fourth or a third of my set that’s improvised, and it makes those shows a little more special and personal when you’re interacting with them in their home. It was kind of a weird time for me, because I didn’t have any material. I was just getting out and performing again and trying to feel comfortable doing stand-up because my life fell apart.
And it’s not like you could keep doing the stuff on Live, because it was so of-the-moment.
Exactly. I had all this old material, and then my album went to number one all around the world with material on it that I could never use again, and I didn’t know what I was doing. After I had recovered emotionally and physically to some degree, I still felt so lost as a comedian. I didn’t know what I had to say. I was really scrambling. This was a way for me to practice doing stand-up, and in some ways it was a really scary environment. But it was also comforting knowing this person was excited for me to get there, and hopefully they’ll be understanding. There was so much pressure on me as a comedian after what I had gone through and my set at Largo. I was sort of embarrassed to go into comedy clubs, and they’d be like, “We’re honored to have you here. Do you want to go up?” And I’d have to say, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have anything.” My head was so in the clouds with what I was going through.That’s a huge reason why you don’t see much material outside of crowd interaction, because I didn’t have any.
But those improvised interactions led to some amazing moments in the special, like the woman who makes up an elaborate story about you staring into the water while standing on the Brooklyn Bridge. What goes through your mind as a performer when something like that happens?
I was just as stunned as you were when she was rambling. Every second I thought it was wrapping up, it was twisting and turning in the story, and the plot thickened. I didn’t know what was happening. I’ve had weird moments with people where maybe they should be home in their living room, but they were out in the world.
What did Jon Dore bring to Knock Knock and the tour?
He is amazing. Jon Dore brings such a lightness and joy to my heart and soul. He’s so light-hearted and open and not judgmental and utterly silly. I’m so drawn to him. When we were watching the premiere at SXSW, he leaned over and said, “We are the exact same person!” Jon had anxiety at moments, but he wasn’t carrying a heavy load of fear and negativity. He’s just joy to me. He loves the final product and was boasting about it. That made me so happy. He was like, “I can’t believe how much of me you used!” And I was like, “But that was the whole thing!” What I learned going on these tours is it’s so fun to see the interactions between us while we’re on the road in these towns and in people’s homes. I can’t imagine making it heavy on me.
There a moment in Knock Knock when you actually have to go to the hospital. Does that still happen pretty often?
When I finished that tour, that was when I finally wasn’t in daily pain. I had some complications, and I have some sensitivity to eating and sometimes I feel better than others, but in general I feel healthy and positive. I don’t think I’m going to end up skeletal again or near death in any way. But maybe I’m just a fool. I don’t know what’s going on with my body, but a few months ago, I had a cyst burst on a blood vessel. I was hemorrhaging internally for several days in Philly after a show, and I had to have surgery. While I was hospitalized, they found something on my liver, and I’ve been told that if my cancer comes back it’s not curable, so there was that stress of what’s on my liver—but it turned out to be benign.
So there’s been health issues, and quite possibly the cyst might be affected by the treatment I’m doing for hormone blocking. It hasn’t been completely fine, but since I came home from Philly, I took two months off and recovered and then reappeared. It ironically happened during my Boyish Girl Interrupted Tour, and the tour did in fact get completely interrupted while I was hemorrhaging. But right now I am great. There is no evidence of disease with the cancer. I get checked every few months, and I’m eating well, sometimes sneaking a Tootsie Roll. But in general I’m doing well. That was a long response, but that’s where I am. I’m very healthy and in love right now. I don’t have a single complaint.
So now that you have been back on the road, what’s next for you?
Everything that’s coming out right now—the special, a book, a documentary on my life, an HBO special—all of this has been a long time coming, over the past two years. More than anything, I really just love being home with my fiancée. We want to build a family. We have a million birds tweeting in our back yard. I want to adopt some turtles.
I feel like I’ve done everything beyond what I ever dreamed. There’s a TV show I’ve been developing for a long time, and if that surfaces somewhere that’d be great. But otherwise I’m very interested in being in my backyard. We built a garden. We have a hammock. My fiancée laughs at me and says I’m going in the wrong direction if I want to stay home and watch the birds. “All that you have coming out, and your plan is to stay home and watch birds?” It really is, though! I have a hammock and bird feeders outside every window. Why would I go anywhere else? I know I sound insane, and that’s fine. But I’m looking forward to my turtle adoptions, and whatever I can fit in around the turtle time is fine.