As the kind of niche web show that could only exist in the YouTube era, “Under A Rock with Tig Notaro” represents an upside of the content ocean. The concept is unthinkably specific—and also very weird. Despite her own success in comedy, Notaro might as well be living “under a rock” when it comes to knowing her peers in the entertainment industry. That is to say, she has absolutely no idea who they are to the point where it seems almost impossible.
Each installment finds Notaro face-to-face with an easily recognizable celebrity, navigating clues to determine their identity. The show, a project of Funny Or Die, premiered on June 4 with a very amusing visit from James Van Der Beek. Julie Bowen came next, followed by Wyclef Jean. (“Under A Rock” is only three episodes into its run.)
It’s actually kind of an interesting social experiment. Notaro’s utterly blank face tickles Van Der Beek immensely when he walks onto set, capturing the former teen heartthrob in a very rare moment of experiencing total anonymity on camera. Even given his last name and a picture of a creek, Notaro had to choose from a list to get to “James.” Bowen presents the host with a bejeweled bow, taking her through the sounds until Notaro arrives at “Jules Bowen.” That’s about as far as she gets.
“They should make every big-headed actor sit here!” the actress jokes after Notaro cluelessly botches the name of her popular “Modern Family” character. She’s right. It’s a humbling set-up, and there’s something to be said for watching celebrities endure the process.
The prepared clues in the first two episodes make for better viewing than Jean’s appearance, through no fault of his own. Their conversation is fun enough, it’s just confusing to watch Notaro quiz him randomly without much direction. More structure would benefit the show in general, moving the discussion along purposefully, and heightening the effect of the underlying joke—Notaro is so out of the loop that basically nothing helps.
The set is basic and casual. An Amazon sponsorship makes Alexa something of a co-host, providing drumrolls and timers on command, but not quite to the point of total distraction. The format is a great vehicle for Notaro’s dry comedy. Clearly, it was an easy concept to execute, although how producers chose the celebrity guests without knowing whether they were, indeed, part of the many gaps in Notaro’s cultural knowledge, I have no idea.
More than a decade into YouTube’s run, countless hours of funny content—both professional and amateur—are competing for our time. That’s on top of the nearly 500 scripted series coming out each year, and the libraries of film accessible on streaming platforms. The content ocean is exhausting, yet it also enables people like Notaro to explore these strange niche projects that never could have existed before, but produce perfectly enjoyable results. “Under A Rock” isn’t exactly gripping, but it’s fun and it’s clever and it’s easily worth ten minutes of your time.