For many, Tig Notaro became a must-know force in the comedy world after her 2012 album “Live,” which made a huge and hilarious stir after gospel spread about the performance, in which Notaro opened up about a recent spurt of bad luck that included a break-up, her mother’s death and breast cancer. But as the comedian reveals below, she’d already been used to the way the Internet has made the comedy world a much larger, and also smaller, place; a fact used to power the documentary “Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro.”
In 2013, Notaro solicited fans to invite her to their homes around the country, where she’d perform with her friend Jon Dore and whoever else might show up. The resulting film about the tour serves as a combination comedy film and buddy comedy and, after making its world premiere at SXSW 2015, premieres tonight on Showtime. Just after SXSW, Notaro told Indiewire about how “Live” expanded her fanbase to “everyone,” and why “everyone’s ultimately interesting.”
Are you back from Austin?
Yep, I’m back from Austin. Had my birthday party last night, hosted the GLAAD Awards the night before. I’ve been a little busy.
Is that atypically busy or busy per usual?
It’s pretty usually busy.
What are the current things on your plate right now?
Well, I’m finishing editing my book, and I’m touring pretty non-stop, getting ready for taping an HBO special on May 31 in Boston. I’ve been developing a TV show with some pretty exciting people that I can’t say. I always have my weekly podcast, Professor Blastoff. So it’s always something.
I had this funny experience: I was in Austin for SXSW, and I was talking with an old friend who was super-excited about seeing a sign on the streets, saying that you were performing somewhere. She wasn’t at all the kind of person I imagined would be a big fan of alternative comedy — she’s a tech reporter — and yet it struck me, how much the internet has changed people’s awareness of what’s happening, say, in small comedy clubs in LA.
I’ve heard that here and there, and I don’t know that I’ve had a full awareness about that. I think the first time I realized that was actually at SXSW probably six years ago or something, and there was this singer named Jens Lekman, and he was from Sweden, and he came to my show and introduced himself. He is actually a big indie rock guy, I just wasn’t familiar with him. He was into my stand-up, and we were talking, and I said, “Where are you from?” and he said “Sweden, but I live in Australia.” And — this is six years ago — I was like, “Wait a minute. How do you know who I am?” And he was like, “I have the Internet.” And I was like, “Oh, right!”
I was so baffled because at that point I’d been to Sweden, I’ve been to Australia several times, but I was so baffled that this guy not only knew who I was, but was a fan. As far as how it’s changed, I don’t know, other than it’s certainly — I feel ridiculous saying it — far-reaching. I guess not just people from different countries [but] you hear stories about, “Oh, I sat with my five-year-old daughter and showed her your clown noise bit on the internet,” and it’s like, “Oh yeah, I guess she wouldn’t have normally gotten to see that.” It’s really a cool thing.
I wouldn’t have immediately thought of that bit as one that would work for the under-five set, but it definitely has a crossover appeal.
Oh my God, from infants to elderly. That’s the one that I can rely on.
When you were preparing for the tour that became the movie we’re talking about, were you struck at all by, like, “This is the kind of person who’s aware of me, is a fan of me, and wants me to come to their house?”
I just knew that after I had released my album in 2012, that was so personal and was literally No. 1 around the world for several months, I knew I had a totally different fan base, a greater fan base out there. I know anybody could be out there. Because fans of mine were now either utter comedy nerds, podcast fans, gay people and now cancer survivors. That includes everybody. I think at this point, especially now, I’m never surprised by who is a fan. I think because that album that I put out was so bizarre, just so different. I used to marvel here and there when somebody seemed a little outside of the norm. It was like, “Yeah, I love your stuff!” and I was like “That’s weird.” And now, I’m kind of never surprised. Not because I’m an egomaniac, but because I just realized that I crossed way more boundaries, as far as demographics go.
I imagine that one album… is it pretty much the first thing that people mention, when they meet you for the first time?
You know what? It does come up. People will thank me for inspiring them, or helping their loved one get through an illness or a hard time or something like that. I feel very grateful to be connected to such a positive thing. And that in turn inspires me, when they tell me what they’ve been through.
But I have this bit that I did several years ago, about the pop singer Taylor Dayne. One of the lines in the story is, “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, but I just have to tell you, I love your voice.” And if I’m out in public, once a day, for sure, somebody will say that to me, referencing that. I feel people know me for several things and [the album] is obviously the biggest. But we can’t underestimate the power of the Taylor Dayne story. I really can’t believe how much it comes up.
But like I was saying before, I feel proud of that album and that time period that I went through. At the end of every show, at least one person in my meet-and-greet will tell me, or people will email me, that my album gave them the courage to die. They had terminal cancer. That period I went through made me feel more connected and alive and aware, which I do think I am. When somebody tells me their story, it rattles me on a deeper level all over again, and wakes me up. It’s unfortunate they’re going through what they’re going through, but it’s a gift for me, for my life, to remind me. I have no problem, how people think of me or perceive me or connect me to whatever material. I really feel like a lucky person. I’m very aware of what I have and what I made it through, and I’m so thankful that I was helpful in any way to people. People were so helpful to me when I was going through hell. And not everyone gets to have what I had.
One of my favorite moments from [“Knock Knock”] is one of the conversations in the car between you and Jon Dore when you mention something about your health, and he’s like, “I don’t like hearing that. I’m very concerned for you.” He’s making almost a bit out of it, but his concern for you is so palpable.
Yeah, I picked up on that as well. I love Jon, and as sincere as those moments are, I think he also just really made so many moments in that film hilarious and ridiculous.
How key was finding the perfect road trip partner for this project?
I almost feel like it can’t go wrong, kind of how I don’t think any person’s house that we could go to would go wrong, because even if it goes wrong, it’s going right. I feel like Jon was exceptional because he’s an open person, very easy-going, lovable, loving, ridiculous… he’s so many positive things. Every time we’re around each other, we just have the most fun, ridiculous banter. When we were watching the premiere at SXSW, we were sitting next to each other, and he leaned over and said, “We are the same person.” And I said, “I know.” There’s just that connection. We just really connect. I think he was so perfect.
Maybe if somebody was so negative and just like, “I don’t want to be here,” it would’ve been a huge bummer. But I don’t think I would’ve been drawn to them. I think as far as any of my friends that would’ve said yes go, I think they would’ve been there. Even if they had nervous reactions or, “Oh my god, this is a nightmare!” it still would have remained on that lighthearted level. Trust me, it did feel like nightmares you were walking into, but exciting nightmares. It felt like you were an escape artist — “How am I going to get out of this?”
Going into the selection of the houses, how much of it was driven towards “Oh man, this place is gonna be weird. They’ll really have a weird time here.”
I didn’t want that. The producers had a conference call, and sent me videos, and there was kind of a tone like, “Oh, we’ve found some really weird or funny people.” And it was like “Oh, I forgot to give this note, that I don’t need to have an utterly weird person or place to be walking into.” I feel everybody’s ultimately interesting, and everybody’s house will be interesting and there will be little nuances that we’ll just naturally find, and they’re gonna have an interesting friend. So I just wanted to have that space, whether it came in the town, the house, the opening act, the host or owner of the house, any of that. Something will authentically pop up. But I didn’t want to be on the search for a freak show.
One of the things I really like about the film was that you have all these opening acts who are all local comedians and musicians, and some of them are really fun.
Oh, yeah! I didn’t want the film to just be me, or me and Jon just in the car, or at the show. I wanted to show our travels in between, the town, the house, the host of the show and their friends, and the opening acts. Just so you could really feel the experience that we were on, and that’s what I feel like we conveyed pretty well. Because if we were in a capsule the whole time, we could’ve been anywhere. It didn’t matter.
Woulda saved you some gas.
[laughs] Yeah, exactly.
I imagine it’s a little disconcerting to look back on 2013 nowadays. How different does your life feel compared to that?
I don’t have a complaint in the world. I’m healthy, I’m working on everything that I hoped to be working on. I’m alive, I’m in love, I have a yard full of birds and bobcats and coyotes and squirrels, and that’s what I stare at all day long.
Where is that?
In Los Angeles. I have a very secluded yard and behind my property is undeveloped nothingness. So I get deer, coyotes, and bobcats in my backyard. While we’ve been talking, three hummingbirds came up and stared me in the face, about a foot away. I don’t know if you heard me a few times go, “Oh!” [laughs] That was because a hummingbird was wondering when its feeder is gonna be filled up today. I’ve created beasts out of these birds.
They’ve been accustomed to a certain style of living.
Truly. So yeah, I couldn’t be a more content human being.
“Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro” premieres Friday at 9pm on Showtime.
READ MORE: Sundance: Tig Notaro on What It’s Like to Star in a Documentary About Yourself