Canadian comedian, writer, and actor, Mae Martin makes their hilarious and unexpectedly poignant hour-long comedy special debut with SAP, launching globally on Netflix on Tuesday, March 28th, 2023. Directed by Abbi Jacobson, the wide-ranging set—filmed last December at the Vogue Theater in Vancouver, Canada—sees Mae reflect on their childhood memories, a mythical moose encounter, socializing again after pandemic lockdown isolation, and the gender spectrum as exemplified by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. You’ll have to wait to find out why it’s called SAP.
Mae received a BAFTA nomination for their performance in the acclaimed, semi-autobiographical comedy series Feel Good, which they created, co-wrote, and starred in opposite Charlotte Ritchie and Lisa Kudrow. It aired on Channel 4 in the UK and is still streaming globally on Netflix. Performing comedy since they were 13, Mae’s acclaimed addiction-focused stand-up show Dope was recorded at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival for a shorter 2019 Netflix special, and last year they were part of the historic lineup of LGBTQ+ comedians, Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration as part of Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival. They also had a memorable role in the second season of HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant. Their book, Can Everyone Please Calm Down? A Guide to 21st Century Sexuality was published in 2019.
Ahead of the premiere of SAP, Mae Martin spoke exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about how the material in the show came together, their friendships with Abbi Jacobson and Lisa Kudrow, the impact that seeing Ace Ventura had on them as a kid, and their enduring love for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: congratulations on SAP. I knew it was going to be funny, but I hadn’t expected it to be deeply moving as well. I think that’s partly because it feels so open and honest. There’s a real warmth and a gentleness and an inviting quality to it. How intentionally were you creating that vibe with SAP?
Mae Martin: “It wouldn’t come naturally to me to be kind of spiky in any way or aggressive, but I don’t think that I intentionally cultivate vulnerability, it just seems to ooze out of my pores. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. I think if I could be a little more aloof I probably would! But I’m glad that it feels inviting. I feel like there’s so much darkness in the world that it’s nice to create a warmer space and also the benefit of that is that people let their defenses down and you have a better chance of changing their minds about things.”
You mention in SAP that you started doing stand-up at 13. When did you first realize that you had the ability to make people laugh, how did that manifest itself and what did that feel like?
“I was a weird combination as a kid of being extremely emotional and self-serious and then also really clowny. My parents are both funny and really love comedy. My dad and I did a lot of bits together. It was a funny house. Then when Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came out, that was pretty big! Obviously, looking back, that movie doesn’t hold up that well in terms of transphobia, but Jim Carrey’s performance in it just blew my tiny mind. That’s how I started, just doing Jim Carrey impersonations at school all the time and then I got pretty addicted to it. A camp counselor I had called Dave Armstrong was the first person to tell me that I was funny and that I should actually pursue it as a thing.”
When we hear the words “Netflix comedy special” as LGBTQ+ folks or allies, we tend to associate that phrase with the transphobic jokes that have been in some of the specials over recent years. Why did you want to address that head-on in SAP and also talk about your own experience of gender in the special?
“I always struggle with whether to talk about gender, because then your content is so easily pigeonholed, even if it’s just a small part of the material. But it felt like it would have been a conspicuous omission, especially as you say, on that platform where there seems to be a weird contingent of massive specials that are punching down at the trans community. It felt like I should probably provide some counterbalance and I hope I did it in a light enough way that I don’t incur the wrath of a bunch of Internet trolls. By keeping it personal and talking about my own experience, the positivity of now at 35 finally knowing who I am and how infinitely that’s improved my life, I hope that’s a good way to frame it for people to demystify it and take out some of the culture war element and the intellectualizing around something that’s actually so simple and not a threat to anyone.”
Often, in the so called “debate” about trans folks, people seem to forget that they’re talking about real human lives and experiences, and the power of you sharing your story was one of the things that I found very moving about SAP. It’s a really beautiful part of the special.
“Thank you. I hope that people respond to it. Often all it takes to wrap your head around things like that is meeting one trans person or getting to know one, so if I can be that trans person in people’s living rooms for a little bit then that’s great. I only talk about that stuff about two-thirds of the way into the special, so hopefully I will have earned some goodwill by then and people will feel like they know me and they’ll be at ease. I hope that it’s helpful.”
There’s a joke about picturing Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle catching a bit of SAP and then suddenly having a change of heart which is very funny, but it’s hopeful too and chimes with what we were saying. Have you had an experience of someone coming up to you after a show and giving you the sense that their ideas about gender have been expanded from watching your set?
“I hope that’s the case. I don’t think I’ve directly had that, but I’ve been doing stand-up for 22 years now so you often have people give you that kind of left-handed compliment. They might be like, ‘I don’t normally find women funny, but you were good’, or ‘I don’t normally find gay comedians funny, but you were good’, or whatever they think you are. Even though that’s affronting in the moment—because you’re like, ‘What do you mean, you don’t find any queer comedians funny?!’—it’s still a step in the right direction I guess and they’ll go away being like, ‘well, I liked that person’.”
At one point you’re telling a joke and you end it by saying ‘there’s no punch line, it’s just a vignette’. When you’re writing jokes, does it feel like there is pressure to have a punch line and conversely is it quite liberating when you know you’re telling a joke that doesn’t have one that you have to hit?
“I definitely don’t have a rigid structure to what I’m doing. I have a long process of improvising when I’m building up material. I was touring England and doing these improvised shows that were basically just the audience writing down questions which I’d then riff off. Often what comes out of that are anecdotes or things that don’t naturally have a punch line, but I get really invested in the clownishness and the silliness and the physicality of it. So there are a couple of things like that in there. They’d probably benefit from a punch line, if I’m being honest!”
How did Abbi Jacobson became involved as the director of SAP and what did you find most helpful about her input as you were preparing to film the special?
“We are recent friends. We were actually introduced by Lisa Kudrow, who paired us up because she thought that we had a lot in common and had a similar vibe, and she was very right. As soon as I met Abbi, I felt like I’d known her for a really long time. I’ve always been a fan of her work. She’s so thoughtful and ridiculous and intelligent. Her book is so amazing. So it was a really great fit. I’d been touring the show for so long that it had become a bit baggy and self-indulgent, so to have fresh eyes on it was really helpful, especially from someone who’s not strictly a stand-up comedian. She was coming at it with a different lens and from more of a storytelling point of view. She came to all the previews and then was giving me feedback. We had a blast together, I laughed a lot.”
Last time we spoke it was about the second season of Feel Good. You were with Lisa Kudrow and I managed to hold myself back from quoting The Comeback at her, even though it’s one of my favorite shows.
“It’s one of my top favorite shows of all time. It’s flawless.”
What was it like having her as your screen mom in Feel Good, and getting that seal of approval from her of your own work simply by her involvement in the show?
“I’ll cherish that approval and continue to appreciate it for the rest of my life. I’ve been a fan of hers for so long and it was so surreal that she even read the scripts. So the fact that she flew to England and did it and was so up for it and game and collaborative was incredible. She was exactly everything that you’d want someone to be and we had such a good time. We’ve stayed friends and I feel really lucky to know her.”
She’s a comedy genius and I think she’s slightly underrated, which seems a silly thing to say about Lisa Kudrow because everyone knows who she is, but perhaps she’s overshadowed by the juggernaut of Friends.
“I agree. There’s real depth to her performances and she is so keenly intelligent. I love how she approaches things. I can’t wait for people to see all the other things she’s about to do. She’s got some really cool stuff coming up.”
Lastly, what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?
“When I was about five, my parents showed me The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It had a family history connected to it because my grandfather was in the stage show in London and my grandma was Richard O’Brien’s agent. My dad always loved the musical and when we watched the film together it changed my life. When I go back to it now I’m still amazed by it because it was so transgressive and boundary-pushing, especially for the time when it came out. It gets written off as this kind of camp, schlocky B movie, but it’s pretty mind-blowing in terms of its fluidity. All the characters seem bisexual and then the moral of the film is “don’t dream it, be it”. There’s no shame associated with pleasure and hedonism. It blew my mind in terms of the possibilities of who we can be. I still rewatch it. It’s just so hot and fun.”
Don’t dream it, be it is a good thing to live by. Have you ever seen the sequel, Shock Treatment?
“Yes, my dad is actually in it! He plays a sort of hick character and he has a crazy, innuendo-filled line in it. So I have seen it and I love it!”
By James Kleinmann
Mae Martin: SAP premieres globally on Netflix on Tuesday March 28th, 2023. Follow Mae Martin on Instagram @hooraymae.
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