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Notaries in pop culture

Notary-pop-culture.jpg(Originally published in the September 2019 issue of The National Notary magazine.)

In the final season of NBC’s comedy series “Parks And Recreation” Garry Gergich (also known as Jerry, Larry and Terry), dies peacefully on his 100th birthday and receives the “Indiana Notary Society’s” most coveted honor at his funeral — the 21-stamp salute. Notaries gather around the casket with their stamps. Stamp, stamp, stamp. And thus, Garry was sent on his way. Taps could not have lent the moment more solemnity.

Notaries have a lot in common with great comedy — you tell the truth, and you take the everyday realities of life and turn them into something bigger and more meaningful. You’re standing by as we sort out our issues, find stability and achieve our dreams (Garry’s greatest dream was to become a Notary Public). We live, we buy homes, we proffer ID, we love, we overcome.

If Notaries have their own entries in the journals of our lives, we can expect them to show up in our favorite comedies too. But if you take a closer look, the lessons they teach go beyond the comedic.

Being a Notary is serious business

In “King of Queens,” Arthur Spooner, Carrie’s Dad, emerges from his basement apartment and demands his daughter sign a document as homework for his Notary class while he watches. The document declares that Carrie will deliver 15 tons of gravel to a military base, but Arthur explains it’s just a fake. “Good,” she notes. “Cuz I don’t think I have that much gravel.”

“DO I MOCK YOUR PROFESSION?” he yells. (Who hasn’t struggled with a little job insecurity?) Before they start, Arthur needs to stretch and get loose. Then, just as Carrie signs the document, he gets distracted by a dog barking and looks away. “I signed it, Dad, take my word for it,” Carrie says. “If I could take your word, we wouldn’t need Notaries, would we?” Good point, Arthur.

Arthur is an unemployed elderly man living in his daughter’s basement, and he’s trying to find a new career path. His character feels guilty for sponging off his daughter, wants to find a way to contribute, struggles with both anxiety and rage and takes his responsibility very seriously.

Despite his problems, he maintains his integrity and demands that he must witness the signature or the whole thing is moot. He gets the most important part of the job right but is so overwhelmed by the interaction he folds and flees. He is shockingly relatable.

Unfortunately, the stress of the situation is too much for the man, and he folds. “Who was I fooling? I’m not fit to be a Notary. It’s a young man’s game,” he wails, and throws his supplies in the trash.

Getting it right

We get a bit of a different scenario in “The Big Bang Theory,” a comedy that made nerds the heroes and got laughs out of role-playing games and math jokes. In one episode, physicist Sheldon decides he needs to cement his relationship with Amy, the woman who has captured his strong and yet nonsexual interest, so he draws up a relationship agreement which he then prepares to notarize himself.

Sheldon’s comedic dilemma mirrors a real dilemma notaries face in their work — avoiding conflicts of interest. His personal stake in the matter disqualifies him, but that doesn’t stop our guy, who isn’t known for being concerned with either the needs of those he serves or the ethics of his own profession.

Who hasn’t been tempted to use their insider, professional experience for their own gain, especially when under threat of losing something they care about?

A Long, Strange History of Notaries in TV and Movies

Parks and Recreation (TV series, 2009-2015) — In the series finale, Garry receives the “Indiana Notary Society’s” highest honor, a 21-stamp salute.

King of Queens (TV series, 1998-2007) — In one episode, Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller) emerges from the basement and asks his daughter to help him practice notarizing for his class.

The Big Bang Theory (TV series, 2007-2019) — There are at least 2 references to Sheldon being a Notary, including the “Flaming Spittoon Acquisition,” during which he has Amy read the relationship agreement while he sets up his Notary stamp.

The Office (TV series, 2005-2013) — In season 4, Angela wants to break up with Dwight via notarized letter, but he is her Notary.

Two And A Half Men (TV series, 2003-2015) — In season 9, Evelyn tells Walden that she’s an interior decorator. “I’m also a building inspector, a mortgage broker, a Notary Public and a bail bondsman.”

D.O.A. (Film, 1950) — The main character of the film, Frank Bigelow, is murdered because an entry in his “Notary ledger” can prove the innocence of a man being framed for a crime. 

The League (TV series, 2009-2015) — Taco announces that he has started a Notary business: “Don’t terrorize, notarize.” 

Brooklyn 99 (TV series, 2013-Present) — Sergeant Amy Santiago, a perpetual overachiever, is a Notary.

Notarized (TV program, 1999-2014) — BET Network’s annual New Year’s Eve music video countdown program.

Iron Man 2 (Film, 2010) — Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson, poses as a Notary to get close to the lead character.

JFK (Film, 1991) — Witness Julia Ann Mercer contradicts a sheriff’s report: “See that notarized signature on the bottom of each page? That's not my signature. And there never was any Notary present during any of my questioning.”

Pain & Gain (Film, 2013) — Mark Wahlberg’s character, Daniel Lugo, bribes the owner of the gym where he works to notarize fraudulent documents so he can loot the assets of a wealthy businessman.

Collateral (Film, 2004) — The Tom Cruise character, contract killer Vincent, poses as a Notary to get to one of 5 of his victims, lying about his signature being needed on some important documents. No matter it’s the middle of the night.

Getting respect

Even great comedy can get a little lost sometimes, like in the case of Jerry Seinfeld’s Notary jokes. The comedian has a strange beef with Notaries going back decades that has critics scratching their heads. Notaries showed up in a bit he used on the “David Letterman Show” in a YouTube clip that appears to be from the 80s, and he skewered them again on his 2017 Netflix special.

What’s the beef? In the Letterman bit, he complains he had to see a Notary. It’s a special person with special degrees, and only the Notary can use the stamp. “I just want to grab that stamp sometimes and say, ‘There, I have the power now!’” He goes on to mock the process for certification. “Do they teach these people? Do they have Notary classes...? Press and stamp and press...” 

But not everyone agreed with his point of view. Some commenters found his take on Notaries in his Netflix special “savage.”

Vulture notes: “Seinfeld mocks the self-important aura of the Notary Public, as if that’s a thing that we’re all going to be glad someone finally called out.”

Notaries, like every other public servant, occasionally take abuse, but sometimes the nice guy wins in the end. In “Parks and Recreation,” Garry, the government worker, says he finally pursued his Notary commission after an illness made him realize he needed to chase his dreams before it was too late.

His affable manner and quick forgiveness made him a target for abuse, but when it came time to find his dream, he chose a pursuit that protected vulnerable people. Then he became the mayor and kept on getting re-elected by a citizenry that had formerly shown him little but scorn.

Sure, his name might have been misspelled on his tombstone, but he was surrounded by loved ones at the time of his death, and he received perhaps the most unique salute at his funeral in television history. What more could a nice guy want?

Related Articles:

A celebration of the American Notary

Additional Resources:

Notary History


Add your comment

Craig Rutledge

25 Nov 2019

List is definitely not complete without "Lance Parkertip, Noted Notary Public." Don Martin of Mad Magazine chronicled the adventures of Parktertip in the book "Captain Klutz." I'm here for all your 40-year-old-or-more pop culture needs.

John Schwirtz

25 Nov 2019

Just like to point out that Arthur (King of Queens) does not have to witness Carrie's actual signature. She has to acknowledge in front of him that it is her signature. A common misconception about what Notary actually does.

Paul Weingarten

28 Oct 2020

Lance Partnerkip was a hero. He solved crimes with his notary stamp.

Dwayne Linde

01 Sep 2021

Notaries are also mentioned in the animated TV show "Metalocalypse". Dethklok's bassist, William Murderface, declares that he's a Notary when trying to broker a deal with Satan.

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