The creator and star of the queer Netflix dramedy Feel Good has a glut of new projects on the way
Known for: Creating and starring in the queer Netflix dramedy Feel Good
Up next: An Amazon Prime rom-com called Boy Band, a psychological thriller called Gene, a teen series for Netflix and a new stand-up special
Some people spend their whole lives dreaming about performing at Massey Hall. For Mae Martin, that dream became a reality before they even had time to dream it. As a fourth-grader at Toronto’s St. Clement’s School, Martin played the hapless protagonist of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in the student musical. The sweetly neurotic performance earned them the private school’s annual junior drama award, which, per St. Clements custom, involved a ceremony on the storied stage of Massey Hall (good grief!). As Martin strode out to accept the award, they executed an exaggerated pratfall, triggering laughter that echoed off those lofty ceilings.
At 13, Martin saw The Kids in the Hall live on the same stage. “I deeply loved how Canadian they were, how anarchic and queer and, like, rock ’n’ roll they were,” they say dreamily. So intense was Martin’s enduring devotion that, for some time, they used the email address [email protected].
By that point, a career in comedy seemed like an inevitability. Martin’s destiny was part nurture, inflected by their parents’ tastes for bawdy British humour, and part nature—around the time most kids are learning to read, they’d established camp fixations on Rocky Horror and Pee-Wee Herman. Between 13 and 17, Martin spent four or five nights a week at the Second City on Mercer Street—first as a fan and student, then as an employee and performer. “At puberty, I felt different from everyone in my high school,” says Martin. “When I discovered this enclave of weirdos doing comedy, it felt like I had found somewhere I could thrive.” Working in the box office, they were floored when, say, SCTV’s Joe Flaherty would swing by and ask to use the space.
But it was in their 20s that Martin really came into their voice. For two years, they hosted a monthly at Rearview Mirror, a tiny, grubby bar in Kensington Market that was in many ways the polar opposite of Massey Hall. “You could seat maybe 25 people there comfortably, but we’d jam people in,” says Martin. “The ceiling was leaking. Sometimes I’d work behind the bar.” The freedom to improvise, the madcap drunk energy and the claustrophobic intensity amplified and coalesced their strengths as a performer. They would serenade the audience—queers, fellow comics, shaggy Kensington regulars—with weirdly compelling songs about, say, Urban Herbivore’s grotesquely mammoth vegan muffins or a sort-of-sex-dream about Don Cheadle, delivered with po-faced sincerity.
After years of honing their craft in Toronto comedy clubs, Martin broke out with Dope, a 2017 stand-up tour that hilariously recounted their fraught early experiences with drugs, sex and abusive power dynamics. That tour became a BBC radio show, which in turn laid the scaffolding for Feel Good, a charming Netflix/Channel 4 dramedy about a young comic in the UK navigating their newfound sobriety, their evolving identity and a mercurial romance with a woman whose own sexuality is in flux. Martin co-created and starred in the show, which earned them an international fanbase that expresses its devotion through swooning fan art and overzealous IRL encounters. The adoration is in no small part thanks to Martin’s binary-collapsing personal and creative essence, a vibe that is deeply resonant for members of Gen Z.
Now based in England, Martin relishes the experience of coming home. During a recent performance at the Danforth Music Hall, someone in the audience shouted, “We’re so proud of you!” Martin laughed. “It wasn’t even anyone I knew—it was just a very Canadian thing,” they say. “I think people sense a vulnerability in me, and sometimes I want to say, ‘Guys, I’m okay! I’m living my life!’ But I think people connect to the fact that I’m clearly a work in progress in every aspect, and it’s really nice.”