ON THE BAYOU
‘One Mississippi’s’ Tig Notaro: Being Gay ‘Feels Different’ Under Trump
In Season 2 of ‘One Mississippi,’ comedian Tig Notaro reckons with being gay in Trump’s America.
On a Monday afternoon in late August, Tig Notaro and I are facing each other in two oversized chairs next to a giant poster of her face in an otherwise empty room at The London Hotel in West Hollywood. “This is a recreation of my home,” she jokes, right off the bat. “A pitcher of water, a picture of myself, and a stranger across from me.”
Notaro is a fundamentally silly comedian. Her most famous bits include pushing a stool across the stage and making a clown horn noise. When I saw her do stand-up this past summer at San Francisco’s Clusterfest, she ended her set with a 10-minute tease about bringing out the Indigo Girls that never paid off but had the packed auditorium losing their minds. You had to be there.
But even though One Mississippi, the Amazon series she created and stars in, can be quite funny, it also tackles some deadly serious issues. In addition to an ongoing storyline about sexual assault, Season 2 of the show, which premiered this weekend, deals directly with what it’s like to be gay in Trump’s America.
Five years ago, Notaro’s life took a sharp turn when she walked onto the stage at Largo in Los Angeles and proceeded to do a 30-minute set about her recent breast cancer diagnosis. After undergoing treatment and a double mastectomy, Notaro is now cancer-free. In 2015, she married comedian and actress Stephanie Allynne, who plays her love interest Kate in Season 2 of One Mississippi. They have twin boys who turned 1 this past summer.
All of those life-changing experiences have inevitably influenced Notaro’s work, both onstage and on screen. But the unexpected election of Donald Trump also weighed heavily on her as she entered the writers’ room this year.
“The first season, it was really important for me to show that I could be gay and from Mississippi and it not be a big deal,” the Jackson-born comedian says. “That’s how my real life is. I got married in my hometown. Everyone knows us there.
“But returning with Season 2 and the…”—she pauses—“big change in the White House, it felt very irresponsible to not explore the other sides of the South or Mississippi or the country,” Notaro continues. “And it’s not just in the South, it is everywhere. But since we are in Mississippi, I wanted to go into that. And I felt like we would look foolish—we have Mississippi in the title of the show—if I just pretended like, yeah, everything’s cool in Mississippi, what are you talking about?”
She says she and her writers showed up to work after the election “very astounded by what was happening and ready to talk about it and write about it.”
The show is actually shot in Louisiana, but Notaro still has family in Mississippi and goes back to visit often. I wanted to know if it felt different being in that part of the country after Trump’s election.
“I think everything feels different. It’s hard to not feel different,” she says. “Stephanie and I were in central Mississippi getting a hotel and realized that we might not be safe. We could be asked to leave. Everything feels different.”
This past June, a federal appeals court upheld a Mississippi law that allows businesses to deny almost any service to same-sex couples. It’s a new reality that Notaro and Allynne thought they had moved beyond after the victories of the Obama era.
“It’s terrifying,” Allynne adds in a separate interview. “Living in Los Angeles, I never feel gay. And then I go to Mississippi or so many places in the country where I’m like, oh, that look you’re giving makes me think, we’re gay. We’re a gay couple. And so it was interesting to look at what’s the truth and reality of Mississippi and really go toward it.”
Allynne describes Notaro’s family as “very progressive,” noting that she has “a lot of pride” in her state. “There are great people there who want it to shift, it’s just not the majority.”
This season, Notaro wanted to keep upending stereotypes about the South, but she also wanted to show that “there really are people” who have abhorrent beliefs when it comes to LGBT issues. “And I know people like that. As much as I know really loving, open people, I also know really ignorant people.”
There is a scene early in the first episode of the new season in which two female friends of Tig’s widowed stepfather Bill come over to the house to wish them a happy “Great Americans Day.” They explain that since Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King were both born in mid-January, many Mississippians have decided to combine their birthdays into one holiday.
When Tig says she doesn’t even know how to respond to that, one of the women says, “Well, I think it’s right that they honor both sides,” an eerie echo of Donald Trump’s comments after the white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville last month.
Notaro says she felt that scenario was “timely” back in January when it was written, “because we felt that we probably weren’t going in the right direction as a group of humans occupying this planet.” But, she adds, “No way could we have imagined that days before this show is premiering” the president would say something so similar. “It’s almost like we wrote this show two weeks ago and just filmed it really fast.”
“I’m already so proud of the show, that makes me just beaming with pride,” she says of the inadvertent parallels. “It feels amazing. But unfortunately amazing.”
Despite a consistent undercurrent of politics, the heart of One Mississippi season two is the budding romance between Tig and Kate. Just as in real life, the two characters first meet at work. On the show, it’s at a local radio station while in reality Notaro and Allynne met on the set of Lake Bell’s 2013 comedy In a World… They actually played a couple in that project as well, but at the time, Allynne considered herself to be straight. They reconnected at the film’s Sundance premiere and have been together more or less ever since.
“It’s fictionalized to a degree, but so many things are true,” Allynne says of their onscreen romance on One Mississippi. “That was my personal struggle with my sexuality. That was such a key part of us being together where I had to come to terms with that and understand it. I really thought I wasn’t. So that whole journey is so true and very fun to go back now, where I feel so far from it in my real life.”
“It’s really fun to recreate and then sit back and watch us fall for each other again,” Notaro adds.
Allynne says she found it “kind of tough” to be so close to Notaro and then have to pretend on the show that they are still in that early, awkward phase of a new relationship. “You’re like, oh, right, I wouldn’t feel comfortable just walking into a room the same way we would now,” she says. “How do we go back to that energy of, ‘oh, hi, I like you?’”
On the other hand, Notaro sweetly says it wasn’t hard for her to remember what it was like to fall in love with Allyne. “Even just now in the other room, she was getting ready for the press, I was like, god, she’s beautiful,” Notaro says. “And I enjoy her and she makes me laugh. So it’s not a huge stretch for me.”