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Feel Good Stills 1
Feel Good stills

Mae Martin’s Feel Good is the queer, drug-addled answer to Fleabag

The comedian behind Channel 4’s rom-com reimagining has a definitive message: ‘girls bang – they’re horny, filthy, weird, and funny’

Mae Martin, the Toronto-born, London-based comedian clung to the stage from an early age. From 11, she was spending most nights working up an audience for laughs; going through puberty on Toronto’s comedy circuit, where highs were chased and drugs flowed free.

After almost two decades on the scene — highlights of which include several triumphant tours, a very funny book on sexuality, and numerous millennial-targeted radio shows — she’s awaiting the release of what’s sure to be the pinnacle of her career so far, as well as one one of this year’s TV highlights. Feel Good, a semi-autobiographical, six-part series, begins with a standup set, and descends into a treatise on drug addiction, codependent love, and monomania, all while offering insight on how the three overlap.

Mae wrote the series with her best friend Joe Hampson (Skins). Alongside Mae is Call The Midwife’s Charlotte Ritchie, who stars as fictional-Mae’s new addiction. With searing detail, quickfire dialogue, and comedic timing, Feel Good makes the ultra-specific (like, not being able to cum unless your lover speaks to you in a low-pitched Susan Sarandon voice, kind of specific) universally relatable. With its well-helmed pathos and lifelike depiction of human desire and romantic powerplay, Feel Good is the queer, drug-addled followup to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag that we deserve. Dazed spoke with Mae the day after Feel Good’s first public screening, where we found her with blushing red ears.

How did it feel watching it back in front of an audience for the first time?

Mae Martin: It was so surreal, because I’ve been watching it for months. We finished the edit in August, so we’ve been in this weird vacuum, not knowing how people will respond to it. The fact they were laughing was huge. My favourite thing is any gasps or ‘oooohs’, so that was such a relief. A lot of adrenaline last night though because it’s quite exposing.

I was sitting behind you and I could see your ears turning red during one of your sex scenes with George (Charlotte Ritchie)

Mae Martin: Yes, they were burning hot. Even talking about it now, involuntarily, it’ll start to happen. It’s really annoying. When we were filming, the makeup lady kept having to come in and reapply foundation to my ears, and even in the edit, we had to dip into the effects budget to tone my ears down. It was fucking hell. 

This show is going to put you on a much more prominent platform. How will you react to the increased visibility?

Mae Martin: Well, I think anyone who says they don’t at least want a bit of recognition is lying. I’ve been doing comedy twenty years so it’s been a long old slog. It’s about being authentic to yourself while trying to please the biggest amount of people possible. What I found is the more specific and vulnerable you are, the more people connect with it, so all the weird things that you’re ashamed of and think ‘there’s no way anyone can relate to this’ but then you say it and people are like ‘oh my god, me too!’

“When men direct sex scenes between women, they’re often very soft and tender, and shot like music videos... but really, girls bang. They’re horny and they’re filthy and they have sex drives, and they can be weird and funny” – Mae Martin

Can you be so explicitly open and vulnerable with your friends and family or it is just limited to the stage?

Mae Martin: No, I’m a chronic oversharer! I tell them to a therapist too, so that’s healthy. It is weird talking about dark things and then getting laughs from them. You sort of think it’s therapeutic to be talking about heavy things on stage, but actually, I don’t know whether that means you’re dealing with those things. You’re getting laughs but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve conquered the things. I think it is also important to be open in your private life.

What made you decide that you *had* to do comedy?

Mae Martin: I remember when Ace Ventura came out, and I remember thinking ‘Jim Carrey is the king’. On my lunchbreaks at school, I used to do this thing called ‘The Mae Show’, I mean, what a narcissist! Everybody at my school would get tickets and I’d do push-ups and they would cheer, and then I’d do scenes from Ace Ventura. I don’t think it’d come out in the UK at that point but it had come out in Canada, so I had this edge because I went to school in the UK for one year, so I pretended that Ace Ventura was a creation of my own. Then when it came out I lost a lot of friends. 

How did you go from Jim Carey goofs to dark and personal comedy? 

Mae Martin: I think the genesis of this show came from a standup I did called Dope, which was dealing with themes of addictive behaviour in all facets of my life – being addicted to Bette Midler as a kid, then to comedy, then to drugs, then to love.

You’ve clearly had this idea in mind for a long time, is this TV show the greatest distillation of it?

Mae Martin: I think so, because I’m not just narrativising my own neuroses. It was also an opportunity to inhabit the perspectives of other people, and to think outside of myself; thinking about how the people I dated might have experienced things and felt.

Is the character George based on a real person or a fantasy?

Mae Martin: Well, we’re fictionalising feelings, not necessarily people. But she’s also made of composites of the people myself and Joe dated.

A lot of people talk about the importance of representation, and that’s been ascribed to your show, but is that a conversation that ever tires you out?

Mae Martin: In the past it’s been frustrating to be pigeonholed in that way. In the early days, you couldn’t have more than one queer person in a lineup, nor more than one woman — so I did feel frustrated constantly having that prefixed to my name — ‘queer comedian’ instead of just ‘comedian’. But I think it’s getting a lot better. 

Do you think viewers would react differently if Mae and George were a heterosexual couple?

Mae Martin: I can’t disentangle the two, because their relationship is coloured by an internalised homophobia which they both carry. My character is maybe non-binary and George is struggling with her sexuality. They’d be an entirely different couple if they were heterosexual. Although we did really try not to lean into any queer tropes. Like when men direct sex scenes between women, they’re often very soft and tender, and shot like music videos, it’s all very exploratory. But really, girls bang. They’re horny and they’re filthy and they have sex drives, and they can be weird and funny. 

If you had this show, with its level of representation when you were younger, do you think you’d be any different to who you are today?

Mae Martin: Yeah. That’s kind of heartbreaking. I think if I’d seen this show, I definitely wouldn’t have stayed in some situations where I haven’t been very happy. There have been a couple of secret relationships I’ve been in where I should have got out sooner. But, you do root for Mae and George, and no spoilers, but they’re sort of alright in the end.

“I did feel frustrated constantly having that prefixed to my name — ‘queer comedian’, instead of just ‘comedian’. But I think it’s getting a lot better” – Mae Martin 

Is the Mae depicted on screen an earlier depiction of yourself, a Mae that you’ve since learned some lessons from? Like, she’s giving to the point of self-effacement.

Mae Martin: Yeah but I think there’s another side to that — the giving — there’s a sort of martyrdom and masochism to it. It can be quite selfish as well, and I think Mae also puts a lot of pressure on George. It’s sort of more about Mae than it is about George, and that comes across in episode four. She has a moment where she realises she could be anyone, that she’s just a mirror to anyone she’s in love with. But definitely in my early to mid-twenties, I was so romantic, and I was so set on finding ‘the one’, while I was just bulldozing my own needs a bit.

Even if it was unsustainable, do you feel nostalgic for that more chaotic time in your life?

Mae Martin: Yeah, definitely! Is that bad? Annoyingly, I know better now, but I do kind of miss those epic highs and lows. Charlotte was saying earlier today that those kinds of toxic relationships give you real agony, but there’s also some real ecstasy in them. They’re so all-consuming. 

Is it possible to curb an addictive personality, or is it all about rechanneling that energy into healthier resources? 

Mae Martin: Hm. I’m trying to think about what I’m obsessed with now. I mean, mainly work. I’m a proper workaholic, I think. But yeah, of course it’s possible. There’s a quote in the show from this addiction specialist called Doctor Gabor Maté, and he says that when you talk about addiction, instead of asking why the person is addicted to whatever they’re addicted to, ask about their pain. Addiction is a form of pain relief, it’s soothing a craving. It’s when you find the present moment unbearable to be in. So, I think if you can get to the root of what that hole is, then you can learn to be comfortable in the moment without running away from it.

Feel Good airs in the UK on Channel 4 Wednesdays at 10pm, with the full series available on All4. The series is launched worldwide (except UK) on Netflix Thursday March 19