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For Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, a Sundance full circle that's more than OK

The married duo talked to NBC News about their new film, "Am I OK?," their next project and Notaro's just-launched, cross-country tour.
Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro attend PETA's 35th anniversary party on Sept. 30, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro attend PETA's 35th anniversary party on Sept. 30, 2015, in Los Angeles.Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic

A decade ago, when they first met as costars of Lake Bell’s indie comedy “In a World…,” little could Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne have known that their reunion at the film’s 2013 Sundance Film Festival premiere would spark the beginning of their new lives together.

Now a courtship, a cancer battle, a blissful marriage and twin sons later, they’re back at Sundance with the premiere of their feature directorial debut, “Am I OK?,” the warm and witty story of Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), whose longtime best-friendship faces a major shift in dynamics after Lucy reveals an unexpected secret.

“Ellen” head writer Lauren Pomerantz penned the script for “Am I OK?,” loosely basing it on her own later-in-life coming out story. Kiersey Clemons costars, and the film features hilarious cameos by Sean Hayes as Jane’s boss, Stu, and Notaro herself as Sheila, the leader of a new age-y hammock sanctuary.

NBC News spoke to Notaro and Allynne about the film, their next project, and Notaro's just-launched, 50-city, cross-country tour.

NBC News: Stephanie, I know ‘Am I OK?’ is based on events in Lauren’s life, but do you feel like Lucy’s coming out story mirrors your own at all?

Stephanie Allynne: Oh yeah, I mean 100 percent. It’s so similar, just that feeling of, "Oh my god, how have I not acted on this? How am I so late to this?" And then the decision to be like, "OK, I’m gonna do this." It totally was my exact experience.

Did you think the process might be tougher for Lucy because there isn’t a particular person involved?

SA: I think that’s a big difference. Also for Lucy, I think she knew she was gay and was in the closet and just didn’t know how to come out and didn’t know how to act on it — whereas for me, I really did think I was straight. Then when I met Tig and fell in love, I was like, "Oh, this feels completely different. Oh, I’m gay." So there was probably an easier route to it. But I think that internal struggle of going, "Oh, is this who I am? And can I be this? And what does that mean, to all of a sudden be this? And how will my world change? And how will the perception of me change? And am I willing to do that?" Just all of those sort of mind games I think are exactly the same.

Is that really what drew you guys to this for your first feature project?

Tig Notaro: I think that was a huge element, and also just enjoying the writing and the dynamic of it all so much — that mixture of comedy and the real feeling of it all, and the drama. I just love that mix.

Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno in "Am I OK."
Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno in "Am I OK?"Sundance Institute

How did Dakota Johnson get involved?

TN: I got a very random email one day from Chris Martin [of Coldplay], her boyfriend, who I didn’t know but I’m a fan of, and he told me that I was her favorite comedian and he wanted to surprise her for her 30th birthday with me performing at the party. My fear was that he misunderstood her, and that it was somebody else. What if I walk out on the stage and she’s like, "What? Why is this person here?" But anyway, we had a great time and connected and kept in touch, and had made comments like, "Oh, we should do something together." And then when this script came along, Stephanie and I felt like she actually might be great for this.

Since it’s the first time for either of you directing a feature, and your first time directing together, was it tough to figure out who would do what?

SA: Because Tig and I met acting in a film together, and we’ve written a lot together, and we produce a lot together, we sort of know exactly how we work. And I would say this was pretty much the exact same, which is we just did everything together. We’re very similar, so I think it was more just us moving through it together and sort of checking in with one another as we went along.

As you guys revealed in ‘Tig’ the movie, Sundance figured fairly prominently in your own coming together story. Are you bummed that you won’t be able to be there in person with the film since Sundance went virtual?

TN: I mean, of course Stephanie and I were excited to go, and we were looking forward to being at the premiere, and then also just having a trip together to go hang out at the festival and in the mountains and the snow. But I think that it’s kind of hard to not understand what’s happening in the world at this point. But it is crazy — I mean, I used to volunteer 25 years ago at Sundance. And then Stephanie and I ended up meeting in that movie "In a World…," and then our documentary "Tig" went to Sundance, and then I hosted the Sundance Awards. And now we’re returning with this movie that we co-directed. So yes, it’s so exciting, and it would have been such a fun trip to do together — but you know, I can’t imagine that this is the end of our relationship with Sundance.

Is there any chance that we’ll be seeing Sheila the hammock sanctuary guru anywhere again soon?

TN: (Laughs) I feel pretty confident Sheila will not ever be seen again. In fact, she might have died.

Oh no!

SA: (Laughs) I love the idea of Tig and I for our next project trying to pitch a Sheila movie.

Are you guys working on more directing projects?

SA: I wrote a feature [called “Time and Space”] that I’m going to direct and Tig’s going to star in it, so hopefully we can get that up and running in the next year.

Oh, fantastic. Can you talk more about that yet?

TN: It’s produced by Judd Apatow. And we have a a very exciting actress attached, though we can’t say yet who that is — but I would say when this movie sees the light of day, and it’s been moving pretty quickly and consistently, I think people will be pretty excited when that announcement is made.

Tig, I know you just started your new tour. Are there any particular themes in your show right now?

TN: You know, I’ve steered clear of the pandemic for the most part in my material.

Interesting. I was going to ask — you’re so famously able to find humor in the darkest of situations, I thought maybe there would be a lot of pandemic stuff.

TN: Well you know, I still have darkness going on in my own personal life, so that stuff will be popping up still. But I just feel like, if people are going to be living in the day-to-day of the pandemic, it might be nice to come and not be thinking about that, and laugh at the medical issues that are ongoing in my life, and the —

SA: The other horrors.

TN: — yeah, the other horrors that have been relentless over the past nine years. And the adorable hilariousness of my children, and my wife, and just observations of the world. You know, I briefly touch on the pandemic, but I like to get that out of the way and then move into some other things. There’s a lot of nonsense and there’s a lot of personal stuff, and it’s really fun. It’s nice to be back in these cities and just walking on stage with brand new material that I’m excited about. And the people are coming out in snow and freezing temperatures, in a pandemic, showing their vaccination cards and wearing masks and pulling together for the greater good. It just feels so fun and positive.

Oh, that’s fantastic.

TN: Yeah, it just feels really nice. And just as a side note, my assistant told me that the past few nights, the venues have offered up on their own to him that my audiences have been some of the most polite, friendly people with zero pushback, that they show up eagerly showing their vaccinations, no issue with the masks, and that it’s just seamless. And that has just — I don’t know, I feel proud of that. It makes me really happy, and it makes me realize that yeah, people do want to come out and laugh and feel good.

“Am I OK?” premieres virtually on Jan. 24, with a second screening window beginning Jan. 26. Tickets are available on the Sundance Film Festival site.

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