In Feel Good, the former Torontonian plays a version of herself, a Canadian stand-up and recovering addict living in London who falls for a straight-identifying woman
FEEL GOOD (Mae Martin). All six episodes streaming Thursday (March 19) on Netflix.
I first met Mae Martin in London last month to record a podcast about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (You should listen to that, it came out great.) Two weeks later, after much finagling between various publicists, we did the transatlantic phone thing to talk about her own thing, the brilliant new series Feel Good – in which she plays a version of herself, a Canadian stand-up and recovering addict living in London who falls for a straight-identifying woman called George (Charlotte Ritchie).
And in those two weeks, COVID-19 ate the world. The first things Martin asked me were whether I made it home okay (I did), if it’s getting weird in Toronto yet (it is), and whether she should be worried about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or Just For Laughs shutting down (maybe).
It’s a weird time to be releasing a television series. But on the upside, Feel Good is arriving just when people desperately need something to get excited about.
So how would you describe Feel Good to people? I’ve been using Catastrophe and Fleabag as examples, but more for the intimacy and the emotional wallop than the tone.
Yeah, I have a hard time describing it tonally to people, and comparing it to other shows. I suppose it’s a comedy-drama in the truest sense, right? I really wanted it to be properly funny when you least expect it to be, and then properly emotional when you least expect it to be. I really want people to cry, but I don’t know if that’s sadistic of me [laughs]. Because there is something cathartic about having people feel things that you’ve felt, you know?
And there are a lot of things to feel: it’s queer, it’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s emotionally loaded. And it’s on broadcast television in the UK, which feels like a miracle in itself. How did it come together?
It’s been a five-year process. It came out of a stand-up show I did called Dope that was all about addiction and relationships, and then Channel 4 approached me about writing a scripted show that dealt with the same themes. I brought in Joe Hampson, my co-writer, and as soon as he came on board it all started moving really quickly. We found we had a shared language in the things we found funny. And we built the world out of like a patchwork of truth and fiction.
How much of you is in the show’s Mae? Are you taking dramatic licence with your own life, or creating a fictional version of everything?
I’m taking dramatic licence with my own life – that’s a good way to put it, I think. If there wasn’t an emotional truth to it then I wouldn’t feel authentic, so all of that emotion is pretty accurate [laughs]. But the specifics, the events and the people have all been massively embellished, of course. There are composites of different people and different events. Mae is kind of where I was at about 10 years ago: she’s pretty manic, she has a pretty flimsy grasp on sobriety, and she’s running around very unself-aware. Hopefully I’m not that anymore, but it was fun to write.
Was it intimidating to have to return to that version of yourself, and re-experience those emotions?
We were lucky in that I’ve never acted before, so when we were writing I had no idea what it would feel like to actually do those things. So I was maybe a little too casual about it [laughs]. We were pretty no-holds-barred in the writing of it, and then when it came time to do it, there really wasn’t any time for me to freak out. And luckily I had Joe there reassuring me that it was all funny and important [work]. But yeah, I found it really challenging, and scary and exciting and fun. And so different to stand-up, because there’s other people involved.
I was just about to ask. Stand-up is a kind of performance, but it’s all about projecting yourself outward screen-acting is all about the give and take. Was that hard to figure out?
We were lucky in that we had a pilot that we did first… like, a dry run at it. Charlotte and I had a chance to find those characters and I got used to the [filmmaking] a bit. And I was really insistent that we had this unusually long rehearsal process. We kind of treated it like a play we rehearsed it in sequence over two or three weeks and found so many things that made it feel real and intimate and fresh, I hope. That really helped me get over the nerves and made it feel real, you know? I mean, it’s so crucial that you believe their relationship.
The teasers make Feel Good seem like it’s going to be Mae’s story, but the show winds up giving George just as much space and time.
It was really important to us that George was three-dimensional and not just a classic girlfriend character, you know? She’s a real person. I actually found George easier to write than my own character. I felt like I really knew George. I don’t know what that says about me [laughs].
The show does stay close to Mae’s perspective in one important way, though – at key points, her whole world sort of flickers and buzzes. How did you come up with that?
We knew that we wanted to have some sort of aural device every time Mae is tempted by a stimulus of some kind, whether that’s love or drugs or whatever. And we knew we wanted it to sound distorted. The director, Ally Pankiw – who’s Canadian, and a friend of mine – I think it was her idea, hers and the DP’s, to do this flicker effect. That’s what it felt like for me when someone would pull out coke at a party or something: it’s like all the sound drops out of the room and everyone else is carrying on like normal while your whole body’s upside down. We wanted to try to get that across.
And how is the real Mae doing? I mean, it’s not like developing, writing and starring in a television show is a low-pressure activity.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve been clean for a long time, so I’m good on that front. And the other pressures… yeah… [makes “eeeeehhhhh noise]. It’s intense. I have a very wonderful therapist, thank god. And I’m watching a lot of Survivor – I love Jeff Probst – and eating a lot of noodles. I’m just trying to stay calm.
When we met in London we talked about the possibility of a second season has there been any news on that front?
I would love the opportunity to delve further into the question of whether these two people are actually good for each other, and whether they can transform an insane, toxic relationship into a long-term healthy one. I think a lot of people have been in love with someone who isn’t necessarily good for them, and I’d love to explore that more.
We also ended up talking about the Kids in the Hall, who’ve just announced they’re bringing back their old show for Amazon. That’s kind of amazing.
Yeah! I didn’t realize they’re bringing back their characters. I couldn’t be rooting for it more – my e-mail address used to be email@example.com. I was a huge, huge fan.