Netflix’s brand-new comedy Feel Good — premiering Thursday, March 19 — is the story of fictional Canada-born, England-living comedian Mae Martin. Mae is played by real-life Canada-born, England-living comedian Mae Martin, who also co-created, co-wrote, and produced the series. Mae Martin the Character and Mae Martin the Person are the very DNA of Feel Good.
Since these two personas share a face and a series, it’s easy to assume both Mae Martins are simply the same. However, once you speak to Martin the IRL comedian, you learn the situation isn’t quite so obvious.
“The main difference is, the character of Mae wouldn’t have the self-awareness to write the character of Mae,” Martin admitted over the phone to Refinery29 a few weeks ahead of Feel Good’s debut. Martin penned the series with best friend and writing partner Joe Hampson. “Mae’s maybe where I was at about 10 years ago in her level of mania and romanticism. I think she’s got all my same hangups and things, but she’s dialed up to 150%.”
One of the “dialed up” portions of Mae’s life in Feel Good is her journey with sobriety and cocaine addiction, which Martin said she personally has “pretty much in hand.” TV Mae is not nearly as settled, as viewers learn within the first few minutes of the comedy. In “Episode 1,” we see Mae reject her Narcotics Anonymous meeting, telling new girlfriend George (Call the Midwife’s Charlotte Ritchie), “I had a problem and now I have you.” By “Episode 3,” Mae is stealing George’s pain meds after she is hospitalized for one of the most shocking and darkly funny party fouls captured on film.
Despite Martin’s handle on her sobriety, she admits that Feel Good Mae’s story is colored by her own experiences. “I’ve been pretty open about it. I’ve done stand-up about being an ex-coke addict,” the comedian, whose stand-up special Dope (available in Netflix's Comedians of the World collection) paved the way for Feel Good, noted. “In my teens I went to some pretty grim places. I definitely had those experiences. I can relate to the way that character is really trying very hard to push forward and resisting processing all of that.”
That’s why so much of Feel Good follows Mae’s desperate attempts to improve, only for her to falter. In “Episode 2,” she becomes fixated on George’s absence when she attends a wedding solo (George asks Mae not to contact her during this time). The subtext of Mae swapping out her drug addiction for romantic addiction quickly becomes textual once she locks her phone inside of a suitcase in the apartment she shares with George. Mae unravels over the episode when she can’t access the device due to multiple hijinks, eventually attempting to steal a cashbox from her place of employment in a last-ditch attempt to purchase lock-picking supplies.
“I’m not supporting this!” Mae’s booker/friend Phil (Phil Burgers) shouts. “You’re being creepy… Like a spider.”
Mae is obviously in the wrong — which was Martin’s goal while writing Feel Good. “I was so worried about it seeming like I was writing a 'Poor me!' story that we went out of our way to bring out all of Mae’s flaws and things that make her incredibly annoying and intense to deal with,” Martin, who had never acted prior to Feel Good, explains. “Writing that character was harder than any of the other characters … It is quite hard to think, What’s funny about yourself?”
Despite the difficulty of writing and playing a heightened version of herself, Martin is happy she is bringing a more “nuanced” take on addiction to television.
“As a society we don't really know what to do with addicts. We send them to jail, and that’s the worst place for them. I think there’s the perception that all addicts are just this small group of people who can’t handle their shit,” Martin said. “So [Joe and I] wanted to humanize them and show that addictive behavior can manifest in all forms. Most people can relate to it, I think, in different ways. There’s also humor there and it’s not all ending up in a gutter. There are a lot of functional addicts.”
That’s a statement Mae the TV Character would agree with. Yet, there is still one place Mae the Character and Mae the Person split: “I would love to emphasize that I have a great relationship with my parents,” Mae Martin laughed.