Mae Martin on Her Addictive New Show and Bette Midler Sex Dreams

With her Netflix series "Feel Good," the queer actor and stand-up has turned her painful past into comedy gold. The timing couldn't be better.

Mae Martin can’t believe that people have been telling her how great coronavirus has been for her career.

“It’s so inappropriate!” says the 32-year-old Canadian actor-comedian. “That’s not at all how I feel. Coronavirus is bad!”

But those people have a point. Her new show, Feel Good, co-written with her friend and fellow comedian Joe Hampson, premiered on Netflix last week, when we didn’t have much to feel good about. Since then, the six-episode British series has served as an endearingly funny, binge-worthy balm for these dark times, fictionalizing events in Martin’s own life while rooting them in her emotional truth. “My real life is not quite as manic,” she says. Manic, yes, but the tale she’s told here is also inspiring.
 

In the show, Canadian comic Mae (Martin, playing a version of herself) is living in London and performing at a bar when she meets George (Charlotte Ritchie). Before long—i.e., within minutes of the first episode—they’ve shacked up. Only then do they truly get to know each other: Mae finds out that George has never dated a woman before her, and George discovers that Mae battled a cocaine addiction, an experience Martin herself has openly addressed in her stand-up special Dope. That special is a part of Netflix’s Comedians of the World collection and opened the doors to Feel Good.

Martin recently spoke to NewNowNext about her first addiction—long story short: it involves Bette Midler and some sex dreams—and rewriting her personal pain into a critically adored TV show.

You’ve said your first addiction was Bette Midler. How did that start?

For a girl’s birthday party we all went to see Hocus Pocus, and I just found Bette Midler as that witch to be so insanely magnetic. I became obsessed with the movie, and I was having sex dreams about the witches. Then I just ended up watching every movie she ever made, and my room was plastered in pictures of her. She was all I thought about and, like, my grades in school were plummeting. [Laughs]

What do you remember about the sex dreams?

I was too young to know what sex was, but we were all naked and it was weird and I woke up feeling kind of excited and guilty, you know?

Growing up, did you use humor as a way to cope with being queer?

I’m sure, like everything, it’s a complex combination of nature and nurture. I went to an all-girls school for years, and I wanted some different reactions from some of those girls. Making them laugh was a good way to connect, to feel valued. It was a way to get some social currency.

Netflix
Mae Martin and Charlotte Ritchie in Feel Good.

How does your depiction of Mae in the show compare to your life now?

I’m a lot calmer! I’m sleeping through the night! [Laughs] I was just remembering that 10 years ago I was dating someone and I couldn’t sleep. I’d get up in the night and just walk around from 3 to 5am. I really think that’s where that character comes from—that version of myself.

The scene in which George is high on morphine and pulls a dildo out of her purse in the hospital—was that taken from your own life?

Yeah… I can tell you off the record, but probably not on. [Laughs]

That’s fine. Just tell me why you can’t tell me.

I’m scared! [Laughs] That’s one of the scenes that’s a little closer to real life. I wrote an ending to that event that I wish had happened. That actually happens a lot across the series: taking painful things and then writing the ending to make them work out in my favor. [Laughs]

Netflix

What kind of energy do you hope Feel Good sends into our currently anxious world?

I hope it’s a distraction, a form of escapism, and that it makes people feel seen. I feel like that’s such a cliché, and I hate that expression, and I would never normally say it, but I hope some people who haven’t felt that way feel that way watching it.

What does it mean to you that the show will reach people in 190 countries?

It’s something we had to actively put out of our minds during writing and filming because we found it too scary [laughs], but now I’m so proud and keenly aware that in some of those countries it’s a difficult situation for queer people, so it’s exciting.

And to have the show depicting a modern queer romance…

Yeah, I hope it transcends that demographic. A lot of the stories we’ve seen about addiction have been alienating in their intensity, but I’m trying to humanize it and also break down some misconceptions about queer relationships.

Netflix

Was your intent to break down labels as well?

Because I don’t necessarily identify with a particular label, I guess by default that was going to come up in the show. I just want to have some ambiguity there. It’s interesting that some of the stuff that’s been written about the show is like, “lesbian romance.” But actually, both Mae and George are technically bisexual. One of them is unsure about her gender identity. So it’s more nuanced than that. But it’s crazy how desperate people are to boil it down into a neat box.

What was it about Lisa Kudrow—who plays Mae’s mother, Linda—that made you go, “I want her to be my TV mom”?

I mean, one reason in particular was [her show] The Comeback, which goes from being so ridiculous to so emotionally hefty in the space of a scene. How it can turn like that is exactly what we were going for, even though it’s very different in other ways. That final scene in Episode 6 where I Skype her? I love her in that because she’s so funny in the beginning, but then you really feel it.

Netflix
(L-R): Lisa Kudrow, Charlotte Ritchie, Adrian Lukis, and Mae Martin in Feel Good.

Has Lisa ever said what Linda says in the show: “I haven’t finished ma Scotch egg”?

[Laughs] No, no. She’s more of a pork pie fan!

Where do you see Mae and George’s relationship going if there’s a second season?

Well, we’re not even sure if they’re really good for each other, even though we want them to be together. I think if they’re going to stay together—we’re working on those scripts now—they’re going to have to transform that relationship from a toxic one into a more long-term one, and then we’ll see how that affects their dynamic. We’ve got loads of ideas.

Detroit-ish based writer-editor, Meryl Streep stan. Thought I'd retire after Mariah Carey called me a "dahhling," but here I am.
@chrisazzopardi