Notaro had managed to go 42 years without being able to recognize him.
“I’m going to tell you, and you’re going to truly not believe me. And it’s not that I hadn’t heard his name, a lot of times I have heard somebody’s name before,” Notaro tells CNN. “But I maybe don’t know that the name goes with the face… Stephanie and I went to see a movie and I can’t remember what movie it was, and I don’t even know if he was in the movie or he was just in a preview, but I leaned over to her as the very beginning of our relationship and I said, ‘What is that guy’s name?’ And she said, ‘That’s Al Pacino. And I was like, ‘Oh God.’ I was like, that’s Al Pacino?’ Stephanie was like, ‘You don’t know about Al Pacino?’ And I was like, ‘I know he looks familiar and I know the name. I didn’t know all of those gangster guys were different people. They’re just one person to me.”
A few months ago there was another revelation.
“I found out who Ariana Grande was two months ago,” Notaro deadpans. “Because a comedian [Pete Davidson] was dating her. So that crossed my desk. I had never heard of her in my life.”
Then there was a run in with Anne Hathaway.
“I had left a wrap party with my friend and we were standing in a hotel at the elevator, talking. And this woman came around the corner and she said, ‘Hey Tig.’ And I looked at her and I was so thrown off because I had just gone to this party with so many people. And I said, ‘Hey, were you just at the wrap party? And she said, ‘No, it’s me Anne Hathaway, I met you at the Beck concert. And I go, ‘Oh right, hi.’ And then inside I was like, ‘Goddammit. I don’t, I just don’t like that feeling.’ And I told Stephanie and she goes, ‘First of all, I love that Anne Hathaway is trying to jog your memory with a Beck concert, and not just saying ‘I’m Anne Hathaway from Anne Hathaway.'”
Using her humor (and lack of pop culture knowledge) to her advantage, Notaro came up with an idea for a show while on a plane, “Under a Rock With Tig Notaro,” which streams on Funny or Die. Notaro’s producers extend an invite to a celebrity who she isn’t familiar with, and they explain to her who they are through clues. Guests so far have included Julie Bowen, James Van Der Beek, Wyclef Jean, Wolfgang Puck and Melissa Joan Hart.
“I was thinking about it on a flight… And, I was like, you know, why are people so baffled? Because I somehow get through my life without knowing all this stuff,” she says.
It becomes even more absurd as Notaro herself grows more famous.
“At first I could just anonymously go to those things and just have a fun night out. And then it became something where I was getting recognized too by people that I didn’t know who they were. And then, and then I kind of started to feel rude and crazy,” she says.
Notaro’s own star climbed in hit HBO and Netflix specials and roles in several shows and movies, but she wants to make it clear she thinks none of this is cool by the way.
“I just know some people think they’re like too cool. For me, it’s just, it’s not an interest of mine. And so I’m not purposefully avoiding something or rejecting something or thinking I’m too good,” she explains.
She’s simply filling her head with other things. When she’s on the road performing, she never turns the TV on in her hotel room. When she surfs the web, it’s to find new plant-based diet and vegan recipes.
“I’d say I follow news and politics by far more. And music and documentaries I follow more than TV and film,” she says. “And I think the way that I’ve avoided, I mean, people are astounded, even before I toured with a laptop, I would go and check into a hotel and it would never even dawn on me to turn the TV on.”
Notaro arrives on the very last flight she can before she steps on stage. She goes to bed after a show, and if she’s in the same city for more than one night, she spends the day getting coffee and searching for vegan food in whatever city she’s in.
OK, but doesn’t current pop culture manage to seep in through osmosis?
“It feels draining to me. No, I don’t care. There’s so much stuff that you would not believe I haven’t seen, and the other problem that I have, and it’s a real problem, is I have to go see a movie in a movie theater at like 11:00 AM or else I’m going to fall asleep,” Notaro says, adding that it will often take up to three consecutive nights to get through one episode of an hour-long show because she always falls asleep.
“Maybe it’s my eyes going back and forth and I don’t know what it is,” she laughs.
Notaro does know the following people: Pink, Katy Perry, Adele, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston. “Yeah. Yeah. I know all of those people,” she says.
What happened, she thinks, is her mental rotation of celebrities never really added anyone new after the late 1990s to early 2000s.
“If I opened an Us Weekly from the late nineties to like, two thousand, like early two thousands, I probably would be better,” she says of recognizing faces.
Oh, and to the people who’ve suggested she has facial blindness, she does not.
What she does have is an extensive knowledge of older country music and documentaries, which she loves.
“Not that I only like old country, but what if like vintage country music was the most popular thing, and people just, they just weren’t interested. Maybe it just wasn’t their thing. It’s like you probably wouldn’t still go check out who the singers are or what they’re doing in their personal life. You probably only know who Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton are. You don’t know who the other people are much less who they’re dating, right? Or any of that. It’s just, it’s not in your, it’s just not in your world,” she explains. “And then I guess it’s like, what if, oh, you know, if, if the most popular thing in the world was documentaries.”
Instead of schmoozing at Hollywood parties, Notaro finds herself much more at home doing her monthly show at Largo, called “Tell Me Everything.”
She’ll take a person on stage (who she does know) and without any talking points, they “literally get into nothing.”
“We just sit down and chat. It’s really usually a friend of mine, they happen to be a celebrity, but it’s so much fun,” she says. “And I was thinking of maybe graduating people that are on ‘Under a Rock to my talk show where I can really have a conversation with them.”
“Under a Rock With Tig Notaro” streams Tuesdays on Funny or Die. The next guest at her Largo show is Sarah Silverman on July 7.