As an eater of stand-up comedy on Netflix, I finally encountered Mae Martin for the first time recently watching Sap, their post-lockdown stand-up special filmed in Canada on a set that may well have been nicked out of a skip containing leftover bits of a production of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem (they emerge, David Bellamy-like, through real trees, probably some real bugs crawling on their skin). Martin is a motormouth who has no problem sharing their addiction, emotional and relationship troubles in the most self-deprecating, rapidly vacillating (pessimistic one minute, optimistic the next) but always quirkily charming manner.
Having been blown away by that engaging hour of television and drawn to their likeable character, I naturally did a google and realised that two series of a sit-com written by Martin and collaborator Joe Hampson had completely passed me by. The first series of Feel Good aired on Channel 4 in March 2020, while the second and final series was commissioned by Netflix, who released it in June 2021. Proper Covid-era TV, for a locked-down audience. I must’ve been busy coughing my insides up or something. The totality of Feel Good comprises 12 half-hour episodes so I made up for the absence of it in my previous life by consuming all of it over four days.
Feel Good is a semi-autobiographical romantic tragi-comedy starring Martin as a fictionalised version of themself, alongside a TV crush of mine – English rose Charlotte Ritchie – as Mae’s girlfriend George.
The fictional Mae Martin’s life is pretty well aligned to the IRL version – they are both from Toronto, both did stand-up as young teenagers, both got kicked out of the family home and both explore gender identity, gender dysphoria, sexual orientation, sexual fluidity, sexual abuse, addiction, rehab, trauma and romance (and the impact of all of the former on the latter). Which, when you look at the list, doesn’t look like the stuff of too much laughter but it is very funny. It is also a moving and heart-warming love story that takes highly complex topics and issues and approaches them with sophisticated levels of intelligence.
Whatever gender and sexuality, Feel Good will resonate with any romantic human that has lived a life and experienced the dualities of pleasure and pain before finding someone that they’d happily spend the rest of their days with, while also battling inner demons and internal and external conflict. Feel Good is a masterpiece of a show that is emotionally mature, emotionally realistic, occasionally painful to watch and packed full of empathy. It will most definitely make you feel something and, more often than not, that feeling will be very, very good.
Mae Martin has written about their own, often humiliating, adventures in sex, dating and identity in their guide to 21st Century sexuality Can Everyone Please Calm Down?, which you can buy at the link below (which will take you to my virtual bookshop on bookshop.org)