Heather McMahan Eloped And Is Now Planning a Sequel Wedding

"Our accountant told us to do it, so we did," says our latest cover star.
kristen maxwell cooper editor in chief the knot
by Kristen Maxwell Cooper
kristen maxwell cooper editor in chief the knot
Kristen Maxwell Cooper
Vice President & Editor in Chief
  • Kristen oversees editorial content for The Knot’s national magazine and TheKnot.com.
  • Kristen represents The Knot at industry events, as well as in the media and has appeared on shows including TODAY, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight and more.
  • Kristen has also held editorial positions at People StyleWatch, Ralph Lauren, Shape, InStyle and MTV.
Updated Dec 21, 2020

I first started following Heather McMahan on Instagram when a friend of mine shared one of her Instagram Stories on our group text chain. Another friend chimed in to say her podcast, Absolutely Not, was a must-listen. Next thing I knew, I was hooked. McMahan's brand of humor—whip smart, relatable and just plain funny—has been the perfect antidote to this very heavy year. So when it was time to choose our cover star for the last issue of 2020, McMahan, also a bride-to-be, seemed like the perfect choice.

When we jumped on the phone on a Friday afternoon in September, McMahan laughingly admitted, "I kept thinking, what am I going to say in a bridal interview?" Then went on to joke, "Well, wedding planning was great until we got to the point where we don't even know if we'll ever be able to have a wedding."

Like so many engaged couples across the U.S. and the world, McMahan and her fiance Jeff had to postpone their 2020 wedding, originally set for September 26th in Italy, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Nobody knows what the next step is. I think you have to be flexible and just go along for the ride," said McMahan about her postponed wedding, and essentially, the entire year. "Basically, just grab a bottle, hunker down and pray for daylight."

Fittingly on the longest night of the year, the 2020 winter solstice, McMahan announced her elopement. "Our accountant told us to do it, so we did," she wrote on Instagram. "Don't worry, Italy party is still happening." There are, of course, numerous legal benefits of marriage, and the couple was clearly incentivized to make it official by a certified tax professional. Like many others who moved forward with minimonies and elopements this year, McMahan and her husband are now in the process of planning a sequel wedding. Read all about McMahan's year of planning amid COVID and more wedding details below.

Kristen Maxwell Cooper: How are you doing? How are you feeling about having to postpone your wedding?

Heather McMahan: Listen, I've got to be honest with you, this whole bridal thing has been a shock to the system. I'm an entertainer, right? I enjoy entertaining and being in the spotlight but usually I get to set and tell the narrative. Being a bride has kinda been an out of body experience for me because it's all about attention that's on you but I'm not really controlling the situation. (Jeff and I) haven't had an engagement party, we haven't really celebrated anything. Shit, we haven't even had a dinner together with our families. So for me, I'm kinda like, it doesn't even feel real. And now that the wedding has been pushed back again I'm just...listen, it's first world problems. I'm so grateful that I have a healthy, happy family and that we're all safe. But the fairytale of being a bride is completely lost on me right now. Which I know sounds a little pessimistic, but frankly it's just kinda the truth that we're living in. I'm a comedian, I have to take really shitty situations and try to find the humor in it. And I was like, the Lord just doesn't want me to wear white. He's like, 'Heather, it's not your color.' He's like, 'you look good in animal print or some sort of Black number, so this just isn't going to happen the way you want it to.'

KMC: Will you be doing anything different with your new wedding plan?

HM: I'm hoping, if everything goes right, that by the time our wedding actually rolls around people are going to be so amped to travel and feel normal again and to celebrate again, that I have a feeling it's going to go from zero to one hundred real quick. In the aspect of everyone just going balls to the walls party, you know? And I respect brides who may have gone smaller and done things in backyards, but to be totally honest with you, being in the public eye, even if you have 10 people in your backyard, there's a level of "COVID shaming." I'd rather just wait and do it right. Do it big. I've been with Jeff for 10 almost 11 years, and at this point I can wait another couple of months.

KMC: Is Italy a non-negotiable?

HM: Yeah, Italy is where I want to get married. Even if it got to the point where it was just Jeff and I and we maybe eloped just the two of us. Jeff's Italian and I'm Italian. It's like if I'm going to marry the Italian Stallion, I've got to marry him in Italy over a bowl of bolognese and a bottle of Chianti, it's just how we roll.

KMC: Do you have advice for other COVID-couples?

HM: You know, don't put so much pressure on the whole situation. The whole world is trying to figure out what's next, right? So take the pressure off yourself for everything to be perfect and just go with what feels good to you. I'd rather do it when everyone can just sit back without a mask on, drink a cocktail and enjoy themselves, then feel the pressure of having to walk on eggshells. I want everyone to have a real carefree, safe experience. Listen, we may get a year down the road and still be in this [expletive] up situation and have to adjust, but at the point, I'll take all the money that I was going to use for the wedding and go on like a 3-year honeymoon. Tell brides to be patient with themselves and be kind to themselves, you're going to have to adjust. I'm in show business, the show must go on in some form or fashion. I'm just waiting for when I'm allowed to have my stage time as a bride, and I'll be ready to go. But until then, I'm going to hang out and just drink some wine and not try to stress myself out about it because, guess what? There's not a lot you can do.

KMC: What did wedding planning look like pre-postponement?

HM: I have an incredible wedding planner, Jill Romanelli of Tuscan Wedding, and I just really trusted her. I was like, 'listen, I just want everyone to have the best time.' I'm telling you, I'm the last one of my friends to get married. I have probably been to over a hundred weddings and I've been a bridesmaid 25 times. I basically took notes from all the other weddings and grilled my friends on what stressed them out, what was worth it, what wasn't worth it. And I just decided I wanted to bring people to a beautiful place and a place that brings me so much joy. I mean, there's no way you can't have fun in Italy. There's no way that the food is going to be bad in Italy. It's a little more expensive for your guests, but really I just want my guests to have an experience. I mean, when all my other friends got married, I was broke as a joke. I was a struggling comedian. I was lucky if I could make a grilled cheese sandwich. So now I'm like, 'screw it. We're all semi-adults now, so we're going to do what we want to do.'

KMC: Plans for a bach party?

HM: It's funny, I joke with my girlfriends when they ask what I want to do for my bachelorette party. I don't want to go to a strip club or run around with a white sash on, I want to go to a spa somewhere like in Sedona and get rubbed down for four days and drink fancy champagne and then rehydrate. You know?

KMC: You and Jeff moved in with your mom, Robin, in Atlanta. How is living together under one roof?

HM: You know, it's been a fun experience. Honestly, it's kinda been like summer camp in the best way possible. My mom's widowed—I lost my dad a couple of years ago—and I just always want to make sure I keep an eye on her. I think about what the future looks like when I'm able to get back on the road, and I'm like, she's going to have to come to every show with me, and be on the tour bus! It just feels so good to have everybody under one roof because I know that we're all going to be ok and if shit hits the fan, we're all in it together.

KMC: Does Robin give you wedding advice?

HM: Robin is just like, 'do whatever you want and just have fun.' And listen, I would not be surprised if somehow my mom shows up in white on my wedding day and walks down the aisle to like Britney Spears and shows me up. Like I've prepared myself for that. But honestly and truly, no. My mom was like, 'Go. Go wherever you want. It's your time to travel. Just do what you want to do.' And one of the reasons why I loved Italy is that it's not all about the chachkis and the favors and all this stuff. It's about having amazing food and amazing wine and beautiful scenery and having people come together. My love language is spending time with people and I can't think of anything better than getting all these people together in a vineyard in Tuscany.

KMC: When the wedding dresses started to arrive for our cover shoot, you shared on your Instagram Stories about your dress shopping experience...

HM: I did one day with my matron of honor, my best friend since kindergarten, of going to these bridal boutiques to see what they had. And it was so disheartening. Even if they had something that was going to be in my size eventually, it was still cut for a size two. And there just wasn't something real and tangible for me to touch and try on. And I was like I have no idea what this crepe is going to look like on me! So this is my best advice: I found my favorite dress in my closet that I wear to a lot of formal events because it just fits me incredibly, and then I found a designer, Xay Vongphachanh at Watters, and I said make me something like this. I don't mean to dissuade others from using designers, but (dress shopping) was such a pressure cooker situation. They just didn't have what I wanted, and then I'd have to picture what a dress in a size 8 was going to look like on me, who is a size 12/14. It just became super disheartening. Dress shopping should be such a personal and exciting experience. There's this whole idea of 'say yes to the dress' and it just did not happen for me. And at the end of the day of bridal dress shopping, I was so hungry—I was like give me a taco and a glass of wine, I'm freaking over it.

KMC: So there's a lot going on in the world today­—how do you personally process it and approach it all?

HM: I'm a woman in comedy and my whole job is to take things that make people feel uncomfortable or that they don't understand and to break it down in a humorous way for us all to find a common thread and a human connection. We've either got to learn from things, grow from it, or adjust. So I can only hope that the world is going to become a kinder, more gentler, more patient place, but there's also got to be equality for everybody. There is so much unknown and as long as you're not being an asshole and you're doing your part to treat everyone kindly and justly and sticking up for those who need you to have their back, then that's all you can ask for.

KMC: What's your and Jeff's secret for a successful relationship?

HM: At the end of the day, I say that we invest in each other, like people invest in a start up. Jeff and I met when we were 22. We both had big dreams and it has not been glamorous along the way but I think it's just finding somebody who's going to be your [expletive] cheerleader. I just think that if you're independent and the other person is independent, then when you come together you're just that much stronger. But you've got to have your own thing and you've got to have your own passions. If you're staying in your lane and doing what fulfills you, that only makes you a better person to your partner.


PHOTOGRAPHER AB+DM
FASHION STYLING Shelley Brown
WARDROBE + PROP STYLING Tamara Connor
HAIR + MAKEUP Jamila DeBow, CrewsInc.net

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