Knock Knock. Who’s There? A New Mission for Habitat
April 1, 2022
Renata Quimby of Knoxville, Tennessee was expecting a new roof. What she got instead was a bit of a riddle. Literally.
As Habitat for Humanity volunteers hammered at her new roof, Quimby kept hearing giggles, gasps, and guffaws. The source? “Turns out they were telling jokes,” she said. “Every time a hammer hit twice in a row, someone would shout, ‘Who’s there?’”
“As we fix up and build new homes for families, they are really appreciative,” said Habitat volunteer Amy Platt. “But we thought they could use a little extra sparkle in their lives.”
Those volunteers planted a seed. In these troubled times, Habitat for Humanity fostered strategic partnerships that ultimately led to the refinement of its mission to “bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope.” Now, according to CEO Jonathan “Joke-a-thon” Reckford of the newly branded Habitat for Human-inanity (HHi), the group exists to “bring people together to build homes, communities, and silliness.” He added, “Also, do you want to hear my joke about kitchen renovations?”1
The first initiative of the reborn organization, called “Knock Knock Knoxville,” takes advantage of a partnership with Zanie’s Comedy Emporium to create opportunities for local comedians laid off due to the pandemic to work on their trade while also learning a new one. While building houses, volunteers are often heard shouting “Knock knock!” to which there is the reply, “Who’s there?” When Reckford joined in, he was met by silence, and the joke slowly unfolded, “Ha ha! Get it? No bell? But it sounded like the prize before?”2 an awkward Reckford explained, sighing and admitting that he has to up his comedy game, especially if he is going to work with the new recruits.
For the new homeowners, the dream of HHi homeownership comes with even more perks. “Welp, in addition to my beautiful new roof, I also got a little bit of a laugh,” Quimby said. “In the last case, a very little bit.” Quimby was then interrupted by the hammering of volunteers installing siding. A clearly intentional “knock knock” of hammers was met with a chorus of “Who’s there?” and the reply “needle,” to which the chorus asked “needle who?” “Needle little help with this scaffolding!” There was a round of chuckles, before a volunteer yelled, “Seriously! I’m not joking. This thing’s heavy. I could use a friggin hand here, people!”
Knock Knock Knoxville is just the beginning, Reckford promises. “We’ve also got Riddle Me Reno, You Dork New York, and Chicago Chuckles,” pairing local comedians, or wannabes, with volunteer opportunities that could grow into trades, for when they have to put away the oversized sledgehammer, stop smashing their watermelons, and get a seriously unfunny “real job.”
Former president Jimmy “Stand Up” Carter, a longtime Habitat supporter, and renowned White House prankster, is getting in on the game, too. His contribution, which he will personally carry out with wife Rosalynn, is to oversee the interiors. The team is tentatively planning a “peanut” motif, complete with kitsch renderings of Mr. Peanut and old Charles Schulz comics.
Additionally, the new Habitat is enlisting Cowboy Biscuit Ears and his band of Tiny House Clowns in Portland, Oregon. Reckford laughed, “You won’t even believe the birthday parties we’re going to throw in these kids’ new houses! And by the way, heh, what do we always say after we finish building a house?”3