Day 6

Canadian comedian Mae Martin's new show Feel Good examines love, addiction and acceptance

Feel Good is a semi-autobiographical series about and by Mae Martin, a Canadian comedian trying to make it in London while navigating a complicated and funny life that includes battling addiction, trying to understand sexuality and finding love.

'There's nothing more universal than love and sex, right?' says Martin

Mae Martin stars in her new Netflix series Feel Good. (Channel 4/Netflix)

Canadian comedian Mae Martin put a lot of herself into her new Netflix series Feel Good.

She's the star and co-writer of the new show out Mar. 19 in which she plays a fictionalized, semi-autobiographical version of herself — also named Mae.

The show follows Martin as she tries to make it as a standup comedian in London while also struggling with drug addiction, tense family relationships and her romantic relationship with a woman named George (played by Charlotte Ritchie).

Martin spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about portraying herself in a TV show, working with high-profile co-stars like Sophie Thompson and Lisa Kudrow and more. Here's part of their conversation.

Your name is Mae Martin. The name of the character is Mae Martin, and you share some biographical details with this character in the show.

And this is a funny show, but ... there's some stuff that's very painful, and it deals with relationship issues and with family issues and it deals with some of your past addictions.

How hard was it for you to put a character that is, you know, a Doppelganger for you on the screen?

You know, it's been great. And now in sort of the time before it comes out, this is the first time I've felt like, "Oh my God, what have I done?" But it was good.

It's a version of myself, right? So we took the things that I'm stressed out about, and my neuroses, and dialled it up to about 200 per cent. So that character of Mae is kind of where I was at like 10 years ago.

So she's got a really tenuous grasp on her sanity and the world. And I think I'm pretty much sorted now.

But she's very vulnerable, and she seems anxious. Are you as vulnerable, or were you 10 years ago as vulnerable as Mae is in Feel Good?

Vulnerable is an interesting word. It's a weird one, yeah. Because I think everyone is. I'm sure I am, but I also have a kind of core confidence that allows me to get on stage and do standup as well. ...

But she definitely struggles with addiction, which I have in the past and all kinds of other things. But she's definitely more of a mess than me.

Did you get through some of your vulnerability because you were good at standup?

I definitely have found that on stage when I talk about personal things, that's the stuff that people really connect with.

What does it feel like when you get off stage after you've revealed something about yourself?

Well, I mean, the main thing is trying to get a laugh, right? So that comes first. Any kind of therapeutic benefit is secondary and a nice addition.

In Feel Good, you take us to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and there is a performative element to what goes on at those meetings. And there's also a lot of truth telling.

What is the connection between what you're doing in those meetings and what you're doing on stage with your standup? 

Oh, that's interesting. Yeah, I think obviously there's a lot more honesty in the N.A. meetings than on stage, which is always going to be a curated version of yourself. And speaking on stage and getting laughs about heavy topics is not the same thing as sorting those issues out.

So I think N.A. sort of serves that purpose. But I like that the character kind of takes some things from the 12-step program, and doesn't find other things useful.

So it's hopefully a nuanced portrayal of that, because that's what I've found. It's not one-size-fits-all for everyone.

Have you ever tried out jokes at a meeting?

No, I think they would bomb. Actually, there's a lot of funny characters and people that I've met. But I don't go that much anymore.

Martin, right, plays a fictionalized, semi-autobiographical version of herself in Feel Good. (Submitted by Netflix)

How does it feel to be able to portray something that we don't often see on TV, which is sex and love between two women?

It would have been a conspicuous omission not to include it, because it's such a big part of any relationship, and of my life. ...

I hope that people just connect to the characters. And there's nothing more universal than love and sex, right? So I hope that people of all demographics get onboard.

George and Mae have a lot of sex right from the beginning. It's right out there.

It's kind of the only thing they have in common, if you think about it. They're so different. They come from totally different backgrounds, but they're madly in love.

And I think a lot of people have had that experience where you fall in love with someone [and] it's that kind of all-consuming agony and ecstasy. But actually, if that goes [away], what's left?

On your first day on set, you had all of these well-known and extremely accomplished actors around you, and you're doing it for the first time. What did you feel like when you stepped out there?

Oh my God, so scared. Just, I mean, I have this problem where my ears turn bright red. So it was a real problem. Like the makeup lady had to keep coming in and putting foundation on my ears.

And then even in the edit, we had to use the VFX budget to tone down the red in my ears, because it was just so extreme. So I was really nervous.

But luckily I had a really long rehearsal process with them, with Charlotte specifically, so the two of us could get really comfortable. And she's a friend of mine as well, so that was good.

Left to right: Mae Martin as Mae, Charlotte Ritchie as George, and Adrian Lukis and Lisa Kudrow as Mae's parents Malcolm and Linda. (Matt Squire/Channel 4, Netflix)

But yes, [it was] very intimidating acting with Sophie Thompson and Lisa [Kudrow]. They were so nice, though.

Feel Good is about to drop on Netflix. What do you hope viewers will take away from watching this series?

I really hope people like it. I hope they laugh and connect with the characters and I hope that it goes some way towards humanizing addiction a bit.

Because I think a lot of the stories that we see about addiction are so harrowing, they're so intense. And it can be hard to relate. And actually there's a lot of mundanity.

And I think we can all relate to doing something compulsively, despite it having negative consequences for us. So I think that's what I hope that people can relate a bit.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview produced by Laurie Allan. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

To hear more from Mae Martin, download our podcast or click Listen above.