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Meet the queer comic behind Netflix's bingeworthy show 'Feel Good'

Mae Martin talks about her semi-autobiographical series and why she’s turning to French crime thrillers amid the pandemic.
Mae Martin and Charlotte Ritchie in "Feel Good" on Netflix.Netflix

Comedian and actor Mae Martin is turning to French crime thrillers, the board game Blokus and her guitar to cope with self-isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s pretty apocalyptic,” Martin told NBC News of the situation in the United Kingdom, where she lives. “People are stressed.”

“I never realized how busy I was,” Martin said of her pre-crisis life. “It’s so quiet and still, and my thoughts are so loud, and there's a lot of stuff I have been postponing to think about for years and now I finally have the time, but I think we will all fully process this in about a year.”

But like many people around the world, Martin has expressed frustration about her struggle to be productive while self-isolating.

“I had big aspirations of catching up on reading and really bettering myself,” she explained. “I mean it’s early days, so maybe I will get there, but right now I am into pure escapism.”

Aside from European thrillers, Martin said she’s also been dipping into some “problematic Michael Douglas movies” to occupy her time.

“These days I need a murder to keep my interest,” she said jokingly. “It’s sad that that is my escapism, but it is.”

Originally from Canada, Martin, 32, has been performing comedy since she was 13, trained in improvisation and sketch comedy at the Toronto outpost of the acclaimed comedy school Second City. Winning numerous accolades for her performances, including two Canadian Comedy Awards and two Canadian Screen Awards, Martin has been labeled by critics as a “quietly radical” entertainer whose work “expertly splices comedy, opinion and enlightenment” into one.

While Martin is seeking her own pandemic escapism, many are turning to her new Netflix series, “Feel Good,” for escapism of their own.

“It’s such a weird time to have a show come out, and I haven’t been able to promote it because the world is ending,” she said. “It feels a little tone deaf to be tweeting about it all the time, because everyone is just trying to survive. But I am so pleased by the response.”

A quick search through critics’ reviews shows that response has been, well, on fire. On Rotten Tomatoes, for example, the series hit the maximum 100 percent rating on the Tomatometer, which is based on 28 critics’ reviews.

“It has some darker themes, but it’s a comedy and just a super romantic love story,” Martin said. “So I hope people find it as a warm place to be right now.”

Mae Martin and Charlotte Ritchie in "Feel Good" on Netflix.Netflix

An intimate portrait of addiction, love and the intersectionality of the two, “Feel Good” tells the semi-autobiographical story of a stand-up comic, Mae (Martin), who struggles with the challenges of sobriety while dealing with a complicated new relationship with George (Charlotte Ritchie). Despite George never having dated another woman before meeting Martin, the pair fall quickly in love and deal with society's preoccupation with not only labeling sexuality, but our experiences with sobriety as well.

“I have a good handle on my life, but this character is dialed up to 120 percent. For me, I’m not a devout 12 stepper, but I have gone over the years and found it’s different for everyone,” Martin said of her own experience as a recovering addict. “I am just trying to write from my experience; I am not trying to write the definitive addict experience.”

“The main thing is not to beat yourself up,” Martin said of the path to recovery. “The worst thing is if you feel like you're failing, and then the guilt happens.”

While Martin’s character is coming to terms with her recovery during the series, George’s character is coming to terms with her sexuality and the strict labels she feels pressured to adopt.

“I have a similar thesis about sexuality and gender — that it’s different for everyone, and you can find your own path through it,” Martin said. “There is so much pressure to be in strict binary categories. Both of these characters are dealing with that. I am interested in all of the ambiguity and fluidity of life.”

Martin said her own gender and sexual identity sit in the gray area: Martin uses both “she” and “they” pronouns and has dated men and women. She embraces the term “queer” to describe her sexuality and identifies as both nonbinary and a woman. She identifies as neither a lesbian nor bisexual.

“Often the boxes are for the benefit of other people,” she said of strictly-defined labels.

While people across the U.S. and beyond are binge-watching “Feel Good” and learning a bit about Martin, Martin said she’s learning about herself during this strange time of self-isolation — including her unexpected level of resilience.

“If you told me six months ago I would be stuck in my house for an indefinite amount of time and everything’s going to change, and you're going to lose a lot of work, I would have thought I would freak out and have a breakdown,” she said. “But because everyone is in the same boat, there’s kind of a serenity about this moment. We are all in this together, and I have freaked out a few times, but for the most part I have kept it together. You really can’t help but feel grateful for what you have.”

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