Tig Notaro is a relatable lesbian sex symbol in “One Mississippi”

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Despite the growing number of queer women characters on television in the last decade, there’s a distinction that can and should be made: Most of the lesbian/bi roles are part of greater ensembles as well as being played by straight-identified actresses. The only show to ever have had a major out lesbian lead was Ellen DeGeneres on both the final episodes of Ellen (1997-1998) and briefly on the short-lived sitcom The Ellen Show (2001-2002). 

And now, 14 years after Ellen’s second cancellation, Tig Notaro stars as herself in One Mississippi, Amazon’s dark comedy based loosely on Tig’s real life. 

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“It was a while ago,” Tig said at TCA Press Tour. “So I guess the ceiling is cracking, or whatever is above us, but it’s a fairly very slow process. But what I do enjoy about doing this show is that I think it could be expected, in taking place in Mississippi, that the topic of being gay and coming out and conflict with family would be kind of an easy way to go, and luckily, that’s not my issue in my life. It’s a nonissue. And so that’s been an exciting element to present my life the way it is in that manner, that nobody flinches if I have a girlfriend or three.”

And in this case, she’s not joking. In only six half-hour episodes, Tig has three different love interests played by Casey Wilson, Jill Bartlett and Tig’s real life wife Stephanie Allynne, who was also one of the series’ writers and does not play herself in the show.

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“It’s about that time period where I was going through my breakup,” Tig told AfterEllen, “and then I was having a crazy fling, while I had cancer, with the person that I’d always kind of had a thing for. Overlapping that, I ran into somebody that I was keeping my eye on like ‘I think I could be with you, actually.’ So there will all three of those things happening in that time. The breakup, the hot fling and the ‘I wanna marry you.'”

With Tig at the center of the show, it puts her in the position we’re used to seeing straight male comics inhabit, moving through their daily lives with family, friends, and relationships. Although she’s not playing a stand-up in the show (instead, she’s a radio DJ), Tig is playing a fictional version of herself going through all she did in 2012, which she has publicly discussed in many venues including her documentary Tig and recent memoir I’m Just a Person. (In case you have been MIA for the past few years, 2012 was the year Tig survived an intestinal disease, cancer, her mom’s sudden death and a breakup.)

“In my career, I’ve been asked a million times what my sitcom would be and I never quite been sure what sitcom I could picture myself barging in the door and delivering whatever line,” Tig said. “When I got this deal with Amazon, a local paper in my hometown interviewed a cousin of mine about this show, and I was mortified to read that my cousin was telling everybody in the local paper that it was Tig’s version of Everybody Loves Raymond. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, when this comes out people are gonna be so confused.’ I guess it is my version of Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Tig said there was interest from other networks—including one that offered an immediate series pick-up—but she wanted to take the chance with making a pilot at Amazon because of the freedom she’s seen them give shows like Transparent, where she was a guest star for two seasons. Inspired by “the story they were able to tell and the show they were able to do,” Tig said made her want to “place our bet on that—that hopefully [it’d] get picked up and we can do something as cool as that.” And it did. 

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The relatability of One Mississippi‘s themes—”losing a parent, cancer, break-ups, love, family”—are what have brought more and more fans to Tig and will ultimately bring viewers to the series. These viewers are finally being given the opportunity to identify with an out lesbian lead whose sexuality simply exists without point or question, and they are responding with nothing but positivity, even those who live in the small Southern town where the show is based.

“It feels very different from what people think of as the Deep South, and I think that’s part of what’s interesting about the setting is that it’s in no waythere’s nothing about this show that is a cliche,” said Executive Producer Kate Robin. It’s all very specific and truthful to life, and this, I think, extends to the tone as well and even to the idea to the presentation of Tig’s sexuality, which isn’t even presented. It’s all very life size. And in the same way that I think we all feel like life is tragic and hilarious when seen through a comedy seeking eye, lens, that when people who, sort of, survive through seeing the humor in things undergo tragedy, you get a tone that feels comediotragic and tragic-comic and that that’s not a stylized thing. I think it’s we’ve all the whole creative team, I think, experiences that tone and these sort of specificities as lifelike and as close to life as possible and real. And so there’s no broad stroke. It’s not like ‘the south!’ It’s not ‘lesbianism!’ you know? It’s not a stylized tone. It’s life.”

After the worst year of her life (which is, in the pilot, “85 percent real”), Tig has gone on to become massively successful, both personally and professionally. Outside of her show, book and documentary, she’s had comedy specials on both HBO and Showtime, married now-wife Stephanie and most recently added their two new twin boys born via surrogate to the household.

“I never saw myself having the success that I have and so I think I don’t take it too seriously or invest too much in that,” Tig said. “It all kind of seems like ‘This is hilarious’—that kind of feeling. But I don’t know what it tells me other than I feel like, still, that in life, tragedy and success is around the corner. You don’t know, and I don’t rest comfortably in either place. I know there’s something lurking. I don’t live my life in fear, I just am like, ‘This could change.'”

2016 Summer TCAs Getty Images Portrait StudioPhoto by Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

“I feel like after coming through that time period, I started to realize that not only will everything ultimately be okay,” she continued, “but even if it’s not, that’s okay, you know? It’s just kind of coming to terms with reality and making peace with what’s in front of you.”

Should One Mississippi get picked up for another season or two, Tig says it’s “quite possible” motherhood could become part of the storyline.

“It’s exciting to see, to think of what might be out there in future episodes and seasons,” she said, adding her favorite part of being a mom so far is “their little faces. They’re amazing.”

But for Season 1, Tig is somewhat single and dealing with romance and sex among many other things, including grief, life-threatening diseases and becoming Mississippi’s Mardi Gras Queen.

“The fun element to the show is that we do get to go in directions that parts of my story people don’t know and fictionalize elements that enhance moments that maybe people did know or could have imagined,” Tig said. “So it’s a way to have a little more freedom, whereas everything else has been pretty, like, ‘This is what happened. Here’s the documentary. Here’s the book. Here’s it in every different form that you can get it.’ But the TV show has been a fun freedom.”

One Mississippi premieres on Amazon Prime on September 9.

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