It hasn't been a typical month for Mae Martin. The comedian's first TV show, Feel Good, premiered on Channel 4 in the UK on March 18 and was released internationally just a day later on Netflix. To launch a show, especially one that is semi-autobiographical and deeply personal, is nerve-racking enough, but to launch during a global pandemic? It's been a strange experience, Martin said.
"It's so surreal. And when it came out, everyone kept texting and being like, 'This is so great for your show.' That feels so inappropriate right now, but it's really surreal. And then you feel really tone deaf promoting it because everybody's struggling and you're like, 'Hey, watch my show,'" Martin said. "It was a shame not to be able to go to LA and America, but it seems like people are watching it, so that's good."
MAE MARTIN IS "MAE"
In Feel Good, Martin plays, well, Mae. Feel Good's Mae, like the real Martin, is a standup comic, a Canadian transplant living in the UK. In the show (and real life), she battled a drug addiction and the show follows her hard and fast fall for George (Charlotte Ritchie), a straight girl with no prior same-sex relationship experience. The six-episode series charts Mae's budding love story with George, which coincides with her reentry into Narcotics Anonymous. It's some of Martin's real story, with a twist.
"I always kind of said that all the feelings and things that my character is worried about her sobriety and relationships and addictive behavior and gender stuff that's all true and autobiographical. And then we kind of narrativized those feelings. So, the specific events those and characters were mostly fictionalized, but there's a lot of truth. So maybe, if I had to give a percentage, I'd say 40-60: 40 percent truthful, 60 percent fictional," Martin said.
Martin co-wrote the series and starred in the show, Feel Good was the first real acting experience for the comedian. Tackling subjects from her real life on the show ended up being a cathartic experience.
"I definitely learned about myself through writing it with my co-writer [Joe Hampson]. We did a lot of soul searching and I think it was probably very helpful to write the other characters in the show as well, because it forces you to consider other people's perspectives on yourself and things like that," Martin laughed. "So, that was helpful. And then during making it, I think the schedule is so hectic and I was juggling so many plates that it definitely didn't feel like a therapeutic exercise, it was just making a show. Then when I watched the final edited version, I think that was the moment where I felt, yeah, some cathartic release because I thought some of these feelings that I've carried around are now out there. I've vocalized them and hopefully people can empathize. That's a really good feeling, especially when there's so little representation. So, having not seen stories that I necessarily directly relate to—although I can obviously connect with Romeo and Juliet and Titanic and all those love stories—it was cathartic to see such a specific story that I could really relate to."
Still, dealing with some subjects proved more difficult than others, especially when it came time to act. When Martin was writing the series, she said she thought it would be fun to play a character doing things like using a strap on a dildo and snorting fake cocaine. "And then when it came to do it, I was like, 'This is actually incredibly grueling and emotionally intense.' Because I've never acted before, I'm pleased that I didn't censor myself," Martin said. "But now I'm writing some scripts for season two—hasn't been confirmed yet, but we're writing some scripts—and now I know what it feels like, l have to really force myself not to censor myself. But the temptation is, oh god, so much harder."
WHEN MAE MET LISA
One portion of the show that didn't mirror her real life were her parents. Lisa Kudrow, she of Friends fame, played Martin's mom, Linda, on the series.
"The characters are super embellished. Like, my parents found it hilarious. Although there are some comic traits in those characters that my parents also have, they're really, really different. So, they were able to really find it very funny and detatch themselves from it. My mom's obsessed with that character and Lisa's performance," Martin said.
Martin called Kudrow's HBO series The Comeback, a mockumentary style comedy about a sitcom star named Valerie Cherish trying to reignite her career with reality TV, "pretty much perfect television," and cited her performance in that show as a reason why they approached her for the role in Feel Good.
"She's so good at walking that line between comedy and drama and real empathy. And so she can say these really absurd lines, like Linda has some really crazy lines, but then the next second she can just hit you with this emotional gut punch…And then [Kudrow] was so supportive and lovely, which is such a relief, because it's scary meeting your heroes because you're like, 'Oh, god. Don't ruin it.' But she was so chill, smart and funny."
Martin said she used her time with Kudrow to talk about The Comeback, Friends and to encourage her to do a sequel to Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. One particularly tense scene between the two was shot on Martin's birthday, giving the rising star another surreal experience on top of creating and starring in her own TV show opposite Kudrow.
"On my birthday, we spent the whole day shooting that scene in the ghost train…We spent the whole day just yelling at each other, but then in between takes we were telling stories. It was good," Martin said. "Yeah, I'm also such a loser about birthdays, like I take them really seriously, so I was constantly reminding everyone that it was my birthday. Like, telling myself that it was birthday and that I was doing this cool thing, so yeah, it was awesome."
WILL VIEWERS FEEL GOOD AGAIN?
While Martin is working on scripts for a second season, it hasn't been confirmed yet. That hasn't stopped the comic from imagining what's next for the TV version of Mae.
"They've commissioned some scripts. We have so much more that we want to see those characters do," Martin said. "I'm really loving playing whether or not me or George are really good for each other. I'm rooting for them, I want them to end up together, but I like the ambiguity of whether that's a healthy or unhealthy relationship, we're getting into that."
The first season of Feel Good is now streaming on Netflix.