On Tig Notaro's New Talk Show, Alexa Helps Her Figure Out Who Her Celebrity Guests Are

The comedian discusses Under a Rock, her Funny or Die digital series

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There are no shortage of celeb-centric talk shows, but Tig Notaro has come with a novel twist on the genre. In her new digital series, Under a Rock With Tig Notaro, the stand-up comedian and actor doesn’t recognize any of her celebrity guests and therefore has no idea who they are.

As Notaro herself explains on each episode of the Funny or Die series, which debuted earlier this month: “I don’t watch many TV shows or films, so I’m really bad at recognizing famous people. And on this show, I interview famous people to try and figure out who they are.”

In each new episode, released Tuesdays through July 9 on Funny or Die and its social media platforms, Notaro attempts to determine the identities of guests like James Van Der Beek, Julie Bowen and Wyclef Jean.

The project was created in partnership with Endeavor Global Marketing, as part of its work with Amazon Alexa, and the voice-activated device is integrated into each episode, with Notaro asking Alexa for various facts about the guest, or to set a timer to give them a limited amount of time to answer a question or complete a task.

Notaro, who also recurs on CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery as Commander Jett Reno, spoke with Adweek about the unusual new series, the Alexa integration and how she navigates Hollywood without knowing who many of its inhabitants are.

Adweek: How long have you had this talent of not knowing who celebs are?
Tig Notaro: I’ve always been a little behind. When I was in the ’80s, I wasn’t really following … the ’80s [laughs] as they were going along.

What’s your usual M.O. when you’re talking with a celeb at an event, and you don’t know who they are?
Well, if I don’t know them, then I don’t know they’re a celebrity. Usually the way that I’ve tried to deal with any sort of social interaction is to say, “How’s it going?” That can work for somebody I know and somebody I don’t recognize. I feel like that’s the most neutral way to say hello to someone.

When did you realize there was a potential show in this?
My wife [Stephanie Allynne] and I have a production company [Something Fierce], and that’s the funny thing: Obviously I work in Hollywood, and I act and I write and I produce, but I’m just not following pop culture. When we started our production company last year, I had mentioned to Thomas [Ouellette, an Under a Rock executive producer and] our creative executive, that I had this idea floating around in my head as a show. It was something I had run by Ellen [DeGeneres], because I’m a regular guest on her show, and I’ve done segments for her, but I guess they thought that the audience would think I was insane for not knowing people. So I just had it bouncing around in my head, and when it didn’t quite fit for Ellen’s show, I ran it by Thomas and he was like, “That’s hilarious, I’ll see what I can do.” And he pulled it together.

How do producers figure out which stars you don’t know? Obviously, the show wouldn’t work if a guest comes out and you know them right away.
They create what they call “face sheets.” They put a bunch of different celebrities’ faces on paper and they would show me pictures. I would I say “yes,” “no,” “yes,” “no,” and when I would say no, with certain ones that were surprising, they would say, “Wait, you really don’t know this person?” Then they would show me extra photos, and I would say, “Yeah, I have no idea who this person is.” That’s when they would go to [their] agents.

It’s like a reverse version of police mugshots, where you’re looking for the people you don’t recognize.
Yeah. And a lot of people have misunderstood the concept. They think the concept is just that I don’t know who is going to come through the door. It’s that we’ve already established prior that I don’t recognize this person. It’s after I’ve looked at literally hundreds and hundreds of people, so it’s not like I just looked at 10 people. The producer is there, taking notes and marking who I don’t recognize. Then it was a matter of, are these people willing to do the show? Does their availability match up with our availability? Do they have something to promote at the time? It was all of those factors. But it’s definitely not a show where some celebrity is going to walk through the door and I may or may not know them. We’ve already filtered it out.

How did Amazon and Alexa get involved?
When Thomas reached out to Funny or Die, it was an idea that the executive at Funny or Die had. He said, we’ve done branded content before and I feel like this would work really well with Alexa, and then they were really into that. I had mentioned how, because it’s a talk show format, Alexa might work well as a form of a sidekick, in that I could ask questions or have Alexa sing or do a countdown or whatever was needed. So everyone melded together with, oh yeah, this will work. The requirement was that I at least mention or talk to Alexa once or twice per episode, and I think it came out pretty smoothly.

Did you know in advance of each interview what kind of things you’d ask Alexa, or did you try to make those interactions more off-the-cuff?
It was both. There was always something lined up that we had discussed that I could ask, that would be integrated well in a conversation. Then something just came up naturally, and then it worked like that.

You said Funny or Die is interested in another season of the show. Do you have a timeframe on when they’ll make a decision?
I’m not sure at all. I know they do want to make another season. I think it’s just going to be a matter of if we’re actually going to do it. I have a busy schedule coming up. I think everyone wants to do it, it’s just going to be a matter of figuring that out. But there’s no particular timeframe, and if it makes sense, I’d love to do it again. If not, that was a fun little run.