Mae Martin 'Feel Good' Interview
Photos: Bekky Calver
TV

Mae Martin's 'Feel Good' Reimagines the Rom-Com

We spoke to the Canadian stand-up about queering the romantic comedy, writing from experience and working with Lisa Kudrow.
17 March 2020, 9:44pm

It’s grey and wet in Westminster, and the view from the window of the office I’m standing inside shows London in its truest sense: grand and historic, certainly, but also washed out by the pissing rain.

I’ve made my way through the downpour to speak to Mae Martin, the comedian whose debut TV show – a sitcom-drama called Feel Good – debuts on Channel 4 on Wednesday. The series follows stand-up comic Mae – a fictionalised version of Martin, whom she plays – over the course of her relationship with George, played by Fresh Meat actress Charlotte Ritchie.

Despite, or even because of, their differences – George is English, posh and has previously only dated boys; Mae is a comfortably queer Canadian stand up comic with a history of cocaine addiction – they start dating after an encounter at one of Mae’s standup gigs. What follows is a funny, sad, hopeful, complicated meditation on what it is to be queer, addicted, in love and anxious – which is to say, Feel Good is a show about being human in the world right now.

Though we’re still a few weeks out from the Feel Good’s launch date when we meet, Martin – who is wiry and pairs her white Champion hoodie with an anxious half-smile – is nervous.

Mae Martin VICE

Mae Martin photographed by Bekky Calver

“I’m so on edge all the time just waiting for it to come out. I feel sick. I feel absolutely nauseous,” she says, laughing and running a hand through her spiky blonde hair. She needn’t be worried. When the trailer for Feel Good was released a couple of weeks before our interview, it was met with a wall of praise and anticipation on social media, as people tweeted their excitement about the realistic and funny queer love story making its way onto screens.

Martin was reassured by the response (she calls it “amazing” with wide-eyed gratitude), but she's quick to undercut her own sincerity. Watching the show, which she co-wrote with her friend, the comedian Joe Hampson, you soon learn that this is fairly characteristic. "There were so many comments that like, genuinely thought it was an Ellen DeGeneres biopic," she mock-informs me. "They were like, ‘Finally!'"

The commenters will be disappointed to learn that Feel Good is actually based on Martin’s experiences. The project started life when she – like her fellow comics Aisling Bea and Jamie Demitriou, who have also recently made sitcoms with Channel 4 – was identified by the channel as a talent they wanted to work with, giving her free rein to create a TV show in her own image.

“It kind of came from a stand-up show I did called Dope, and that was about relationships and addiction,” she tells me. “And so [Channel 4] were like, ‘Can you narrativise those feelings?’ basically. They wanted something authored, so from the beginning they’ve been totally supportive and not trying to impose any weird restrictions on it. And also they were supportive of the tone. It’s quite a weird tone,” she muses.

Certainly, Feel Good does strike a difficult balance between "properly hilarious" and "actually deeply sad in a way that is pretty relatable thus making it even sadder". In doing so, it is part of a wave of BBC female-led comedy-dramas like Fleabag and Back to Life, and Bea’s This Way Up, which blur genres to better reflect the nuances of real life.

Mae Martin Feel Good VICE

Mae Martin: "I found that the more personal I was getting – and the closer to my real self I was getting – the more people were responding to it."

Martin’s approach wasn’t always so personal. Previously an award-winning writer for Canada’s Baroness Von Sketch Show, she tells me that she’s been pitching scripts for other original series for ten years. “None of them got made, thank god,” she laughs. “Because I would pitch weird genre stuff – sci-fi things. I wrote a murder mystery that takes place on a Martian colony, and everyone was like, ‘Why are you the person to tell that story?’”

She soon found that a story she was good at telling, though, was her own. “With stand-up as well, I found that the more personal I was getting – and the closer to my real self I was getting – the more people were responding to it. So this is like an extension of that, I’m like doubling down. Revealing stuff has worked out.”

Part of why Feel Good hits such a nerve is because of its specificity, rooted as it is in Martin’s own life. The central relationship has its own web of problems, and the comedy and drama are mined from the characters’ neuroses rather than seismic events (Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel Normal People is a good point of comparison). In one early episode, Mae is so anxious when George leaves town she locks her own phone inside a suitcase to stop herself from texting George over and over again. It’s these quotidian but very real scenarios – if you haven’t had to put your phone in a drawer and walk away from it at a time of romantic crisis are you even really a millennial? – that make the relationship and the show so believable.

“You don’t need a murder on a Martian colony,” Martin now realises. “What is more dramatic than love? There’s highs and lows, especially in your twenties, when it completely takes you over. Most people have had that feeling of like, being obsessed with someone, and losing self control a bit, and that hopefully humanises addiction a bit.”

One of Martin’s great hopes for the show is that it helps people relate en masse with communities they hadn’t thought they could, like queer people and those with substance abuse problems. The former is especially important considering that the show can be viewed as a pretty modern type of rom-com. “Queer people haven’t got to have those yet!” Martin exclaims. “Those tropes work, right? I’m a real romantic, big time. I hope it’s authentic – queer people have been watching and relating to straight love stories forever, so it’s insane to think that a straight person couldn’t relate to this love story.”

Like all good sitcoms, there’s something for everyone in Feel Good – including a member of sitcom royalty. Lisa Kudrow, i.e. literal Phoebe Buffay from Friends, stars as Mae’s snippy, sharp-bobbed, Scotch egg fanatic mother. Martin and Hampton wrote with Kudrow in mind, but never dreamed she’d actually read the scripts.

Mae Martin VICE Feel Good

“In describing the character it was always like, ‘With the strength and power of Lisa Kudrow’. And Channel 4 were like ‘Why don’t you just send it to Lisa Kudrow?’ She got back in touch so fast, and she was so nice, and it was relatively magic. She’s a true hero of mine. I think I wrote her too gushy a card at the end of the process,” Martin remembers, rolling her eyes at herself. “She’s super clever – she has a degree in microbiology! So she approached it quite scientifically. She just has a really unique syntax, vernacular – she would surprise us all the time. I ruined a lot of takes from laughing.”

Kudrow’s involvement sets Feel Good up as a new entry in the canon of great sitcoms. It’s a new spin on a classic format – a single-camera, romantic houseshare comedy that effortlessly expresses so much about age-old human questions of identity and love, while also exploring live, contemporary issues like communication and anxiety.

“I want people to see how universal experiences of intimacy are, regardless of demographic or label or whatever,” Martin says when I ask her what she hopes viewers will take from Feel Good. “And I really hope that people start to recognise that we live in a very addicted society, and that behaviour permeates everyone’s life whether it’s your phone, your relationships, whatever. And hopefully that can humanise the hardcore addicts who are just at one end of the spectrum that we’re all on, of self-soothing behaviour.”

Careful not to get too earnest, however, she throws out a final punchline: “But mostly I hope they don’t hate it and that they tweet about it.”

So, you know, tweet about it.

The full series of Feel Good will be available, free to view or download, on All 4 after the first episode airs on Wednesday the 18th of March at 10pm on Channel 4, where the series will also air weekly on Wednesdays.

@hiyalauren / @bekkycalverphoto

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.