Cancer, stomach ailments and a mother’s death may not seem like the basis of comedy but Tig Notaro has been mining exquisite deadpan humor from her own circumstances the past few years. First in a striking standup routine, then a documentary and now in an online series.
“One Mississippi” (Amazon, streaming) has Notaro starring as a barely disguised self, who is a radio DJ and podcaster instead of a standup comedy, who returns to her home in the South to deal with her mother’s sudden death, her strangely aloof stepfather and her brother.
Her girlfriend comes out from L.A. to provide support, but it looks as if Notaro will stay a little longer down South, if only to justify the name of the series, the third strong comedy to premiere this week (after a pair on FX, “Atlanta” and “Better Things”).
While the show sometimes strays to familiar territory, it is Notaro’s voice that continues to make “One Mississippi” amusing as she adjusts to her new surroundings. Reflecting on her own life gives the show a steady footing in reality and it doesn’t hurt to have Louis C.K. and Miranda July on board to help shape these episodes.
At the TV Critics Association summer press tour Notaro said it wasn’t exactly Mississippi where her mother died.
“That’s where there’s fictional and all of the layered elements that aren’t exactly as it was, but my mother actually my mother and stepfather had moved to Spring, Texas, which is outside of Houston, but I still have all of my close family is in Mississippi and Louisiana, and my hometown is in Mississippi where I consider it home, and that’s where my mother is from and where my brother and I are from, originally.”
Also, she got married in Mississippi — “the obvious choice for a gay couple,” she added.
“But, yeah, in my real life, after my mother died, I was too sick to return home. I was deteriorating, and so I just stayed in Texas until I came back and felt better, but it just takes place in Mississippi rather than Spring, Texas.”
And it’s likely it will stay there, says producer Kate Robin. “The process has been very alive and very vibrant and fluid, and so I feel like anything is possible and anywhere it’s possible, but that’s where we are now and plan to be for a little while.”
Notaro said she made her character a podcaster because it would aid the storytelling.
“For some reason, it didn’t excite me to follow my own story of a standup. I wanted to do more storytelling, which I felt could be serious at times if I wanted to tell a more serious story, and I could also tell a more comedic story. It felt like it left more options. And I love music, and so that’s kind of a fun element to add into it.”
It wasn’t a problem to bring comedy into subject matter that could be depressing.
“The humor, I think, is in the real moments,” Notaro said. “I think it would be harder to take everything so seriously. I think that would be, actually, more of a challenge to eliminate comedy altogether and just move forward in a strictly dramatic and sad way.”