If you’re not watching Feel Good on Netflix, what are you waiting for?! Co-created, co-written, and starring acclaimed Canadian comedian and author Mae Martin, the series is an achingly honest take on the highs and lows of relationships, addiction, and mental health. Very loosely based on their own life a decade ago, Feel Good follows recovering addict and comedian Mae (Martin), who is trying to control the addictive behaviours and intense romanticism that permeate every facet of their life.
Very rarely do interviews feel candid and intimate, and yet my chat with fellow Torontonian Mae Martin was exactly that. In fact, it was a surprise to Mae that we hadn’t known each other previously.
The following is an edited and condensed version our phone interview.
Brief Take: The world these days is…?
Mae Martin: Fuckin’ insane. But I’m doing OK. I just got some groceries and I’m in my apartment. I oscillate between wanting to read every article and be so well informed and then plummet into wanting to go to bed for three months.
BT: Congratulations on the show! I read that you were hoping that viewers would cry watching it but I genuinely did cry during a few of the key scenes. The breakup scene in particular made me weep.
MM: I’m really pleased about that. Is that because you related to it? Have you had a breakup like that? Everyone kind of has. That’s the good thing about writing, is that you can write all the things you wished you had said in the moment, you know?
BT: I know it’s an amalgamation of different moments and relationships with different people in your life, but what was it like to revisit those parts of your life?
MM: The pace was so frantic during shooting so luckily I didn’t have a huge amount of time to wallow or spiral into anxiety, so that was good. Charlotte and I get on so well and we had a really great time. But that breakup scene was really hard. We knew we were filming it in the afternoon and so we were both in a weird mood, even in the morning, just knowing that we were going to film that. I just listened to really sad music and let myself go back to every breakup I’ve ever had, so it wasn’t very pleasant, but I’m very happy with the final product.
BT: I know a lot of performers don’t like to watch themselves on screen. Did you watch the series?
MM: Yeah. I was a producer on it so I was in the edit every day watching it for hours, which I found really hard. It’s very existential. It felt like A Clockwork Orange where they tape his eyes open, because you shouldn’t have to watch yourself like that, it’s bizarre. But I became immune to it by the end. I’m such a control freak though so I put myself in that situation, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m very particular with everything, from the music to the edit…me and my co-writer were really lucky that we were allowed to be involved in all those aspects.
BT: While you were watching it in the edit bay, were there any scenes where you were pleasantly surprised by how they turned out?
MM: It was remarkably close to what we had imagined in our heads, which I think is pretty rare and really amazing. But then also, our director, who is a friend of mine named Ally Pankiw, a fellow Canadian actually, and she brought loads to it as well. There were things that didn’t work that we thought would work and also time is always an issue, so we ended up having to cut a couple of scenes that we really loved. It was such a learning experience.
BT: Would you want to return to producing? Perhaps a project that you didn’t co-write and/or star in?
MM: Yeah, definitely. I’m up for anything! Although I really liked being involved with every aspect of it, so it would be hard to pare it down to being involved with just one aspect, you know what I mean? I think I want to keep writing and performing and producing and all that.
BT: And you wrote a book!
MM: Yeah, man. I wrote a book for teens, which is really crazy. I never finished high school so writing a book is something that I never thought I’d be able to do, so that was awesome. My main thing is that I hope we get another season of Feel Good. We’re tentatively working on some scripts and I have a new stand-up tour, which is up in the air right now because audiences are an impossibility. But as soon as this madness is over, I’m moving into my tour. Another book is maybe a few years away, I think, but if you have any ideas I’m very open. [laughs]
BT: Critics and audiences are really loving your show. What reactions have you received that have really moved you?
MM: Everyone always talks about what a terrible place the internet is and how vicious people are, so we kind of braced ourselves for people to be kind of willfully ignorant about it or really attack it, but we’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful all the articles have been. I was worried that the question around things like sexuality and gender would be kind of awkward or difficult, but actually everyone is up for a nuanced conversation around it, so we’ve been really pleasantly surprised. The nicest thing has been young people reaching out. I try and respond to everyone that I can, especially with that breakup scene and that feeling of ‘I’m not a girl, I’m not a boy’, I think people relate to that and perhaps haven’t seen it before. I’m always wary of tooting my own horn but that’s been a nice byproduct is that some people have found that helpful.
BT: Did your parents watch it?
MM: Yes, they did. I was super nervous about that and they’ve been so amazing. They love it so much. I think they’ve watched it twice now and they really love it, they’re super proud.
BT: I know it’s not autobiographical but how did they feel about Lisa Kudrow and Adrian Lukis playing your parents on the show?
MM: It’s so different. There were elements taken from my parents but in general they’re so different. They just appreciate them as characters. My Mom thinks Lisa is so funny in it and keeps quoting it at me. [laughs] Lisa was everything that I wanted her to be and I’m so pleased that the reviews are saying what I also feel, which is that she’s so good in this and so funny. We wrote with her in mind and she showed up so gung-ho in this small town in England and really threw herself into it. You never know what people are going to be like, you know? We were like “should we prepare something?”, but she was just so low maintenance and great.
BT: Sophie Thompson was so amazing in her role, perfectly balancing the different tones of the show and her arc within it. What was it like working with her?
MM: Yes, I’m so glad that you asked that question about her. She is so good! The minute that she read the script and I heard her read it, we were all in tears. She read that monologue from episode two and then in rehearsals, she has this fragility but then also strength. Everyone – Lisa, Charlotte, Sophie, Ophelia (Lovibond), Pippa (Haywood) – they would all have this ability to say the most ridiculous line but really seriously and then turn on a dime and hit you with this really emotional, unexpectedly emotional, gut punch. They’re all so good at balancing that tone, which can be quite tricky.
BT: I think your work with Joe and Charlotte is just exceptional, and I want to hear all about them, but are there other people that you collaborated with on this project that you’d like to give a shout out to?
MM: That’s a good question. Yeah, I’d love to say that our director, Ally Pankiw, struck a really good balance between totally facilitating our visions as writers but then also challenging me and bringing her own look to it. Our D.O.P, Will Hanke, he just made it look beautiful as well. They were amazing, and the company that we worked with, Objective Fiction, I’ve been working with them for years and they’ve just been incredibly supportive for years. But yeah, it’s been a five year process and it’s been so collaborative and so different to standup in that way, and I love that aspect of it.
BT: You spoke earlier about working on the music of the show. Can you talk a little about what you wanted for that aspect?
MM: I worked with Charles Watson and Rob Jones. I would go to the studio and they’d play me stuff and we’d fool around with it. I played the guitar on one part. I think I just wanted it to be really romantic but never saccharine, with a slightly ominous undertone to it, with the drug threat and the threat of relapse, and they were able to do that amazingly. In terms of picking actual songs for the soundtrack, Rob and Charles did the song that the series opens and closes on as well, it was one of Charles’ songs. Then they did the scoring throughout but we also used songs from a lot of Canadian bands like Half Moon Run, they’re one of my favourite bands, we have two of their songs in it, which I love and listen to a lot. Everyone dreams of turning their life into a music video – I did when I was thirteen. I used to listen to Third Eye Blind and pretend I was in a music video and was super dramatic, so I kind of got to live that reality.
BT: Who are some comedians or performers that you admire?
MM: Oh man, let me see. Obviously Phoebe Waller-Bridge is amazing. In terms of the funniest people in the world, I would say Lisa Kudrow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Martin Short, Conan O’Brien, I mean there are so many. Bette Midler, I’m a huge fan. I love Broad City, Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, Chelsea Peretti. Right now I’m really enjoying this group of people that are comics in L.A. and New York who are doing a lot of online content, and they’re so funny. Meg Salter, I’m a huge fan of hers, I watch her Instagram a lot. Kate Berlant and John Early too.
BT: What do you like to watch on Netflix, other than Feel Good and Comedians of the World?
MM: [laughs] Aw man, I’m so terrified of being so derivative of anything ever and I really wanted the tone of the show to feel unique and fresh, and so I haven’t watched a lot of comedy over the last few years. I mostly just watch true crime, documentaries, and crime dramas. Give me a murder, any day of the week. Also my attention span isn’t great so I need a murder mystery. Right now I’m watching a French murder mystery called The Frozen Dead, and I watch a lot of documentaries. Since quarantine time I’ve been rewatching Pee Wee’s Playhouse and The Muppet Show because they cheer me up. It’s like Prozac for the brain – all the bright colours.
BT: Are you watching some Bette Midler movies?
MM: I’m treat saving Bette Midler for the really dark days, three weeks from now when I’m still locked inside and then I’ll allow myself to watching Hocus Pocus. It’s so good! I love it. It’s really aged well. I’ve been watching some nineties erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct and a lot of those are so problematic now, but they’re still entertaining.
BT: I know you mentioned that you were writing episodes for a potential season two, but have you heard anything official about a season two? I really hope so!
MM: No, nothing yet. But we’re finishing some scripts, so let’s see. I don’t want to jinx it but we’d love to do more. It’s been so interesting hearing the different feedback on whether people think that Mae and George are good for each other and should be together. I’m excited to explore that.
Feel Good is now streaming on Netflix
*Featured image photo credit: Matt Crockett*