Photo by Tommaso Boddi / Stringer via Getty Images
I interviewed Mae Martin for the first time at the end of March 2020. The first season of their show Feel Good had been released as the early days of quarantine were threatening to last much, much longer.
It says a lot about how the world responded to that pandemic and the recent rise of transphobia, that three years later things feel even more challenging. But that’s why Mae’s new standup special, Sap, is such a relief. Netflix has taken a break from their regularly scheduled transphobic comics to make space for someone who is not only trans, but also really, really funny.
Mae’s comedy doesn’t avoid the seriousness of the moment but it does de-prioritize it in a way that feels important. The title of the show alludes to finding the good in a bad situation — Mae’s comedy is some of that good. They talk about gender, but they spend far more time talking about their ex and a moose.
I hope you enjoy my third chat with Mae for Autostaddle where we do not talk about their ex, but we do talk about gender and the moose.
Mae: Hey Drew!
Drew: Hi! You’re in LA now, right?
Mae: I’m in LA! I feel like we should’ve hung out by now?
Drew: Yeah, but now I’m in Toronto.
Mae: Oh fuck! When did that happen?
Drew: I mean, I still live in LA. Sort of. I was in Toronto last summer and now I’m here for the spring. But the plan right now is July I’ll come back to LA and find a new place and then stay for a bit.
Mae: Okay cool. And is this all relationship based?
Drew: (laughs) Yeah.
Mae: (laughs) Okay, okay, okay. Well, it’s so easy to work from anywhere now.
Drew: Yeah. Are you liking LA?
Mae: I’m loving it. But there’s stigma attached to loving LA. Like what does that say about me?
Drew: No, that’s a good thing!
Mae: I’m in the honeymoon phase. The sun, the Mexican food, it’s all good.
Drew: Yeah, I mean, it’s still so cold in Toronto.
Mae: Is it?
Drew: There’s nothing more boring than being in Toronto and complaining about the weather but I’m just like it’s April, I’m ready for it to warm up.
Mae: Yeah, it’s intense.
Drew: Okay, so obviously you’re from here. And your special starts around a campfire and has a woodsy aesthetic on stage. Are you outdoorsy?
Mae: No. (laughs) Well, it’s a complicated answer, Drew. I crave nature. When I’m in it, I love it. But I’m not a good camper. I’m good for the day. Maybe having some drinks by the fire. Then I need to go into a bed and have four strong walls. But when I was a kid I went to summer camp for nine summers in a row and they were the happiest times.
Drew: Oh wow! What kind of summer camp?
Mae: It was a canoe tripping camp. I went on like a twelve day canoe trip where you’re just camping and carrying your canoe on your back sometimes and canoeing all through the Canadian lakes.
Mae: I was a real camp kid.
Drew: I do think as a kid I was better at being crusty than I am now.
Mae: Oh totally. Now I’ve got to wash my face twice a day. I need my products.
Drew: As a kid, did you ever see a moose?
Mae: I did! On those canoe trips I saw a bear and a moose and a lot of beavers. Insert joke there. But moose are fucking massive. They’re huge.
Drew: That’s still on my Canadian to-do list. I would like to see a moose. Obviously not too close. But I’d like to see one at some point.
Mae: They’re really majestic. But moose are kind of like the hippos of the land. They’re aggressive. They run really fast.
Drew: Speaking of moose, how do you construct your standup material? What’s your writing process like for standup?
Mae: It’s always evolving. It depends what I’ve been doing that year. In the past, for instance, I was working on a radio series and some of the writing for that turned into standup. This time a lot of it was from improv.
I finished Feel Good and was really craving light silliness and something slightly less gruelingly personal. So I went on tour doing an improv show, improvised standup, improvising with friends, and then a lot of stuff came out of that. I think this has a lighter feel to it. You can tell I’m having fun.
Drew: Yeah definitely. When approaching the special, what kinds of conversations did you have with director Abbi Jacobson?
Mae: Well, the first thing was just whether she wanted to do it. (laughs)
Drew: (laughs) Sure.
Mae: Then she came to a bunch of previews I did in LA and gave notes on bits that weren’t working. I’d been touring the show for awhile and had gotten a little complacent with it. There was stuff that wasn’t working that I was still doing. It needed a shakeup. I think we reordered some bits.
And on the night, we discussed things like camera positions and worked together designing the forest stage. And with those bookending scenes by the fire, Abbi’s just a great director. We have a really similar taste. And I love that she’s not a standup, so she’s coming at it from more of a storytelling angle.
Drew: That’s interesting.
So I almost decided to do a bit where I didn’t ask you a single question about transness.
Mae: (laughs) That would’ve been a great bit.
Drew: I was like I’m really tired of thinking about it and talking about it, I’m sure Mae is really tired of thinking about it and talking about it. I’m not going to stick to that bit, I’m really sorry, but I will at least keep things a bit meta. So first I want to know, how have the pressures of discussing transness changed since doing press for Feel Good?
Mae: Oh I’d say they’ve amped up tenfold. First of all, I’m further along in that journey. I feel more solidly part of that community. So I feel more qualified to have thoughts about it. But it’s also because of all the legislation and hysteria around it. I’m sure this won’t be the case with Autostraddle, but it’s just been the pull quote of every interview. 1
So then it looks like I’m obsessed. I mean, I expected it a bit because of the content in the show. But I just keep waving the banner of like it’s just one part of the show and I say pretty much everything I want to say about it in the show.
Drew: Look, I know from talking with you before, and from Feel Good, and you even see it in the special, there’s a begrudging acknowledgment that everyone is waiting for you to talk about this thing.
Mae: Yeah and I’m always interrogating where that reluctance is coming from. But I think it’s mostly because it gets taken out of context. And because I have so much more I want to say. Plus the fear of being pigeon-holed. But like I say in the show, it feels important. And I do appreciate the platform to talk about it.
Drew: One of my favorite storylines in Feel Good is when fictional Mae is trying to decide whether to call out the abusive comic. I think so much of being in the industry is navigating when to speak up and when to just ignore things. And I would imagine it’s similar with comics who aren’t necessarily abusive — well, maybe they’re also abusive —but who are just constantly talking about transness. Trying to decide when to wade into it and point out that what they’re saying is wrong and when to just be like this has nothing to do with me.
Mae: Totally. It’s a lot to navigate. And I liked that storyline, too. It was interesting to me how little press focused on that storyline even though it was a pulsing thread throughout the series. But there was one scene where I talked about being nonbinary and that was the main takeaway.
Drew: (laughs) Of course. In all the years you’ve been doing comedy, was there ever a time where you questioned if there was space for you in the standup world?
Mae: Well, I had no backup plan or other qualifications. So I kind of had to make it work. (laughs) But I always had such amazing comics around me and such an amazing community. It brings me so much joy. I would never have given it up. I’m lucky. I’m sure some people have worse experiences than me and then don’t continue. But I was always able to surround myself with good people and I just love it too much to stop.
Drew: Speaking of, what comics are you loving right now? Who are you really excited to watch and perform with?
Mae: So many! It’s been really nice living in LA and getting to perform with so many people. I do a monthly show at Largo and that venue is amazing. It’s a real hub. I’ve gotten to meet some of my idols. I’ve been performing with Brett Goldstein a lot. And then like Tig Notaro, Sarah Silverman, Fortune Feimster, Zach Galifiknakis. I’ve been doing a lot of improv with Stephanie Allyne and Alana Johnson. Also John Early and Kate Berlant. Meg Stalter. Jes Tom. Who else…
Drew: I’m going to interrupt you because you’re naming all of our faves. But is there anyone queer or trans who is maybe less famous that our readers should know?
Mae: I’m not on the circuit the way I used to be, but definitely Jes Tom, Nori Reed, and Sydnee Washington.
Drew: They’re great!
There’s a moment in the special where you talk about being asked as a kid to pick which Spice Girl you identify with. It made me realize that’s kind of where a lot of conversations around gender have evolved to. Like it’s no longer two options, but it’s still only five options. And that’s the challenge when words and labels change but our cultural attitudes around gender don’t. Like great, we don’t have to just pick between Baby and Sporty. We can be Scary or Posh or Ginger. But what if [we want to be a] sixth Spice Girl or no Spice Girls or multiple Spice Girls.
Mae: Yeah it’s the same old story of labels being important in terms of fighting for legal rights, but being so inadequate in terms of expressing nuances of existing. And as soon as you choose a label it ends up inflating that part of your identity above other parts that are just as important. I hope one day we… I really thought… You know, I think I was slightly naive. And now I’m like it might take a hundred years for this system to be deconstructed.
Drew: I know, I was also feeling pretty good for a while there.
Mae: Yeah. (laughs)
Drew: Okay, but since owning your trans identity and feeling more settled in that part of yourself, do you have more people in your life that are also trans? Because in my experience that is one good thing about labels.
Mae: Yeah, definitely since moving to LA. In London, I had so many amazing friends, but I was very much just in the comedy community. I definitely feel more of queer community here in LA and have more nonbinary and trans friends. It does feel good. It feels reassuring.
Drew: That’s one thing I love about LA. I’ve found such great queer community there.
Mae: I mean, I’m sure it exists in London. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to find it yet. But it’s really nice.
Drew: How do you focus on the sap, so to speak? It’s obviously not the best time to be alive, but how are you finding the balance between staying informed and present while still focusing on the good stuff?
Mae: It’s a daily struggle, but I think scheduling in actual vacation time. Even if it’s just a day to be off my phone, not responding to emails. Be in nature or something. And just focusing on that stupid list I do at the end of the special. Things that make me feel good. I love playing the guitar and making music. I just recorded an album of like, serious music.
Drew: Oh shit!
Mae: Yeah, yeah. But I’m a real workaholic, so just taking enough time off to live a life. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing to write about. And, you know, a low dose of SSRIs and exercise. Exercise is key for me to just stay connected to the ol’ bode. It’s tough. Even though we know how to feel better. We know all these things. We just don’t do them. Everyone knows if they were on their phone less they’d be happier and more fulfilled. But it’s hard. Everything is designed to keep us distracted.
Drew: Yeah I started putting my phone outside my bedroom before like 10pm and it’s so annoying how much better I’m sleeping and how much better I feel.
Mae: Really? Okay I need to do that. I know I need to do that.
Drew: It’s so annoying. I wish it didn’t work.
Mae: I know it’s so annoying.
Drew: Okay one last thing. As far as your family debate goes with the moose, my immediate reaction was that a moose must have jumped over your parents’ car.
Mae: Ohhh interesting.
Drew: Like a big moose — but not the biggest of all time — leaped over and it felt like they just drove under it. That was my read. I don’t know what it says about me.
Mae: That’s a really interesting read. And it would explain the sound of the fur grazing the roof of the car.
Drew: This is my theory.
Mae: I’m going to bring this up to them.
Sap is now streaming on Netflix, you can also read Autostraddle’s review about it here.
1. Author’s Note: Please look at the pull quote I chose for this piece.