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Q&A: Tig Notaro on ‘One Mississippi’ and How to Talk About Politics on a Sitcom

The comedian discussed the second season of her wry, personal Amazon comedy

Tig Notaro Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The first season of Tig Notaro’s Amazon dramedy, One Mississippi, was almost a docudrama with a Diablo Cody twist. Though the show’s freshman run told its story with sensitivity and wit, it was a story many of Notaro’s fans were likely familiar with before the series’ debut last fall. Notaro’s character—also named Tig—was beginning to recover from the one-two-three-when-will-it-stop punch of cancer, a breakup, a stomach virus, and the death of her mother. All these milestones were previously chronicled in Notaro’s instantly iconic stand-up set Live and the documentary Tig, currently streaming on Netflix. Then, at the season’s conclusion, Notaro resolved to put down roots in her childhood home on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

In its six-episode second season, premiering this Friday, One Mississippi takes full advantage of the opportunities provided by that decision. The new episodes keep the deadpan sweetness of the show’s charming first season, but augment it by building out the characters, and love lives, of Tig’s brother Remy (Noah Harpster) and hopelessly uptight stepfather Bill (John Rothman). (Remy brings a boisterous, church-going single mom into a household of subdued liberals; Bill meets his female equivalent and learns to live with breaking a vase or two.) Tig, meanwhile, starts to wrestle with her feelings for radio producer Kate, played by Notaro’s real-life wife Stephanie Allynne—one of many subplots that addresses the current political climate and broader issues of social justice. One Mississippi’s consciousness never impinges on its comedy, but it does add a new layer to its wry, grounded—give or take an absurdist daydream or two—study of small-town and family life.

Last month, The Ringer spoke to Notaro about long-term grief, fictionalizing your IRL romance, and how to talk about Trump on your sitcom.

This season has a lot more about what it means to be culturally liberal in a conservative state—reactions to Tig’s sexuality and conversations about race. Was that a conscious decision?

In the first season, I just wanted to show people that you could be gay and it not be a big deal, being from the South, with family and friends and stuff like that. I think that was shocking to some people. They were like, “I was waiting for your big coming-out moment or the big conflict.” Getting a second season, I thought it was important to show that even though it was a non-issue in my life and family, it would be irresponsible of me to act as though it’s just no big deal across the board. And with the new administration, I felt it was really, really important to address sexuality and racial issues.

Was it important to you to incorporate that organically into the show after not discussing those issues for much of Season 1?

Well, yeah. I’m trying to do everything organically, and if it comes across that way, I’m thrilled.

The show is way more fictional this second season, but there’s still real moments that are sprinkled in, whether they’re my moments or other writers’—when we were sharing in the room, just like, “Well, when I went home and was talking to my sister’s husband and found out that he thought this, and this came up.” There’s some sort of truth that it’s based in that I think lends itself to feeling authentic.

How much of that was true to your own experience growing up in the South?

It’s a different world, but it’s also a different world in a lot of small towns. Upstate New York has it; it’s everywhere, and I think when you step outside the safety of a large, progressive city, you’re aware of, Oh, grabbing my wife’s hand publicly … just wondering what will happen. We were traveling in central Mississippi and realized, Oh my gosh, we could be kicked out of places. It was a reality. It’s so scary. Then having kids now, and wanting them to be safe. How do we protect them? How do we protect ourselves?

It’s easy to feel adversarial toward anyone with those views when you’re in a big city, but I thought the show did a good job of how uncomfortable it is to have those people be an unavoidable part of your social or family life.

Definitely. I think social media has that ability. People start rearing their head, and then you’re like, “Oh, I … didn’t know you thought that.” Or, “Oh, you? You’re stunned. It can kind of be a nice way to give you a heads-up before you go out into the world. Like, “Oh, you’re terrible,” or “I never paid much attention to them, but they’re amazing.” It can weed people out before you get out on your way in life.

One of the advantages of TV versus stand-up is that you can show the long-term impact of something as well as its immediate effect. I’m curious how you thought about the long-term of grief, which the characters have moved into as their lives start to stabilize.

We really struggled with—it was so fun having flashbacks about my mother in the first season. We had some for the second season, but then we did a re-write. We weren’t gonna live in the past. My mother was definitely a presence in the second season, but not a physical presence. It was nice to make our way through that initial, heavy hell and get to that next level of, OK, we’re coming out of the tunnel now. What’s waiting for us in life?

Bill and Remy’s romances are so affecting in different ways. Was it important to build out the ensemble of the show this season, and why do it through romance?

I asked my stepfather if he would ever date after my mother died, and he said absolutely not. My brother and I were really bummed to find out that he didn’t want to be with anyone, and this was such a fun opportunity to see him date. You know, the what-ifs. As well as my brother: He’ll go out with people here and there in real life, but he still hasn’t had anybody long-term.

We know people like Carly [Jibson]’s character. We wanted to put some real life into our house with that character. Because, between me and Remy and Bill, it’s kind of … [sits stiffly] like this. And my mother was that character of liveliness. It’s funny to have this person be so alive and, polar opposite of my mother, but there’s life in the house again. I was glued to the screen every time she was on. Like, this woman is hilarious.

How did you find her?

Just through auditioning. We had some really great options, and it was down to the wire, but I was like, “I really feel like it’s her.” I know this person. Even though I just met her, I know this person. She’s from Alabama. There were certain little hints that came out in her speech or just knowledge of things where I was like, “Are you Southern?”

I’ve always loved how Bill could be laughed at, but he’s treated with sensitivity. How do you walk that line?

I mean, the best part about Bill is that he’s funny accidentally. To go back to casting, when people came in to audition for that role, knowing it was a half-hour comedy, most people tried really hard to make certain things funny, but it was usually just delivering the lines very earnestly that was the funniest part. Giving him some emotion here and there, tweaking things a little bit, is fun. I feel like we’ve given him a little more this second season, for sure.

One Mississippi is its own story, but you’re playing a nascent romance with your real-life partner. How do you approach that?

We have moments that we think are touching or funny or interesting, and we’ll throw them out there into the room. There’s a lot of things, of course, that we haven’t shared, but the things that we have shared, there’s a different spin on them, slightly. It’s funny, because you could describe a situation that happened between us, and you can have an idea of what happened, and you could have seen that situation happen between us. Then you watch One Mississippi and you see that same situation happen, but it’s a completely different spin—a different situation, a different environment. Somebody’s like, “Oh my God, that’s the moment where you did this or that? That’s so funny! I was there, and it’s crazy to see it in that kind of setting.”

We’ve kind of layered and disguised, as we’ve done with each relationship and part of the show. It’s really fun to do, and it’s fun to watch myself fall in love with Stephanie.

Could you give me an example of one of those recontextualized moments?

When I tell Stephanie that every time I’m with her, I picture growing old with her, and her just taking that moment in, realizing where I am with things. That was one of those moments. We weren’t sitting in a diner [in real life]. And being able to use those prosthetics and see ourselves old was such a fun moment, because it was one of the most vulnerable things for me to say to her—to just give her that context: you as an old, old person is the most appealing thing to me.