Interview: Mae Martin On Her New Sitcom Feel Good

Feel Good is a new semi-autobiographical comedy for Channel 4 from Mae Martin and co-written by Joe Hampson.

The series follows recovering addict and comedian Mae, who is trying to control the addictive behaviours and intense romanticism that permeate every facet of her life. Life is further complicated by a new and all-consuming relationship with her new girlfriend George...

Feel Good is a deeply personal, poignant story about the unique pressures of navigating the modern-day fluid landscape of gender and sexuality.

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

 

What was the genesis of Feel Good - how did you and Joe Hampson come together to tell this story?

Channel 4 approached me about writing a scripted pilot off the back of a stand-up show I did about addictive behaviour. Joe was the natural choice as co-writer because he has a brilliant and rare brain and we spend all our time together anyway.  We filmed a pilot, which nobody will ever see, but ultimately got the greenlight from both C4 and Netflix. 

How autobiographical is the show?

The show is sort of a patchwork of real and fictional experiences. We narrativised emotions rather than specific events and people, so there's truth there but it's all been dialled up and every bit of drama has been distilled from it. 

How did it feel to portray a comedian called “Mae Martin”? How was playing a version of yourself doing stand-up?

It's very weird trying to imagine yourself as a "comedy character". I found it a lot easier writing the other characters, so it was very helpful having Joe who could remind me what is funny about the way I conduct myself, if that makes sense. I just detached and tried to imagine “Mae” the character as a separate and very manic entity but with all my same problems. 

There was a significant rehearsal process prior to the show - how unusual was that and how much did the roles shift during those rehearsals?

We made sure that we had an unusual amount of rehearsal time mainly so that Charlotte and I had enough time to get comfortable. The whole series rested on that relationship feeling real and natural. We found lots of funny things in rehearsal and laughed a lot so when we came to filming we really knew the dynamic of those characters.

This is a comedy drama in the truest sense, in that it can turn on a dime from very funny to really very emotional, how did you strike that balance?

We were very conscious of really earning our emotional moments and never letting it become maudlin despite some of the heavier subject matter, so we were constantly undercutting drama with comedy and vice versa. I hope it works!

Lisa Kudrow plays your mum. How did this happen?

I'm still in shock. It's crazy, right? She read the scripts and watched some stand-up of mine and was very supportive. Joe and I are still on cloud nine about it

Feel Good introduced Lisa Kudrow to Blackpool - how did she take to the Las Vegas of the north? Did she fall for Blackpool or any aspect of British life?

I wish we'd had some time to hit the casinos of Blackpool. We didn't have much to offer her, just some stale digestive biscuits but luckily, she loved digestive biscuits and now orders them to LA.

How was it spending your birthday filming with Lisa Kudrow?

I had a hard time not grinning from ear to ear the entire day, which is not helpful in a scene where you're meant to be very upset. 

How authentic is the show’s depiction of the stand-up world? Were many of your experiences incorporated into the show

The stand-up world depicted in the show is similar to the club circuit I was doing when I first moved to the UK about 10 years ago. I think it has evolved since then. But it's quite a male environment and full of both real friendships and some element of threat. I love the comedy world and really grew up in green rooms, so I wanted to show the positives and negatives. 

The story is so specific yet feels so universal and relatable. How did you achieve that?

Love is universal, luckily, but also in general I've found that whenever I've been the most specific in my stand-up, revealing some weird neurosis or quirk I'm ashamed of, that's what people relate to the most. Specificity is key!

When the audience watches Feel Good, what do you hope they take away from the show/what do you want to say about addiction?

Most people can relate to the idea of doing something compulsively despite knowing that it's not good for us. That's very human; reaching for a glass of wine; our phones; a bad relationship; a shopping spree when we need to be soothed. So, I hope in relating to that people can then relate to addicts and pull them closer rather than pushing them away. 

How important is the concept of gender fluidity? How is it addressed in Feel Good?

Mae's gender identity is just another thing she's trying to wrap her head around, hopefully not in a way that's too heavy, but that reflects my own experience.

Feel Good doesn’t hold back in its depictions of queer sex. How important is queer and LGBT representation to you?

If you never, or rarely, see your experience depicted in art or pop culture then you can begin to feel isolated or separate; Othered. So, representation is super important. I hope that people of all demographics see how, regardless of labels or identity, we all struggle with trying to find and hold on to intimacy – it’s very universal.

Has there been anything that surprised you about people's reactions to the show?

One thing that's been interesting is lots of the journalists I've spoken to have said "there's TONS of sex in this show..." when really there isn't! It's much, much, more tame than, say, Fleabag, Sex Education or Girls, so it's interesting that it's stood out to people and just shows how rare it still is to see queer sex scenes.

You and Feel Good’s director Ally Pankiw are both Canadian. What impact is there on a British set to having a fellow Canadian in-charge?

Mae (the character) is a bit of a fish out of water, and we wanted to occasionally see the absurdity of British culture through her eyes, so it was helpful that our amazing director was also having the same experience. 

Do you feel the comedy landscape has changed over the last decade for the better?

I think comedy is thriving at the moment and it's very exciting. There are so many styles and voices and there's space for everyone and a real appetite for it.

Roxy Music once sang Love is the Drug. Is Bryan Ferry right?

I guess that's the central question of the show! Is what Mae and George are experiencing real love that can be transformed from a mad rollercoaster into a lasting and stable relationship, or is it a sort of mad infatuation and addiction? Time will tell. I think love can be lots of things.

Is it true that the work of Martin Scorsese influenced Feel Good? Can you talk about your influences?

There's a kiss in a kitchen in episode six that was inspired by my favourite scene in The Departed, when Leo and Vera Farmiga are drinking tea and the sexual tension is insane. 

 

Interview supplied by C4.

 

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