Mae Martin: 'We're all just horny monkeys'

Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated Mae Martin chats about addiction, sexuality and honesty

Feature by Jay Richardson | 07 Mar 2018

When Mae Martin performed her 2015 hour Us about the spectrum of sexuality, she found teenagers using it as a conversation opener to come out to their parents. Similarly, when she performed Dope at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, about the various addictions of her life and drugs in particular, an audience member pulled out a crack pipe.

"I had a lot of recovering addicts and, I guess, some not-so-recovered addicts coming as well, which I'm up for," the Canadian comic recalls. "But there was so little ventilation in that room. He was chiming in during the show, just commenting. And it was manageable.

"But when he pulled out the pipe, I worried about causing a panic. Because there was no oxygen in there. And he was right down the front and would have had to go through the audience to leave. So I kind of left him to it. He wasn't behaving badly. Definitely a very Fringe experience."

Judges for the Edinburgh Comedy Award were in too. And Dope was duly nominated, leading to a first UK tour for a comic whose thoughtful, progressive material about sexuality and lifestyle has already spawned two Radio 4 series, a forthcoming book and a loosely autobiographical Channel 4 sitcom pilot.

Candid about her relationships with both men and women, to the extent that as a compere she once introduced fellow comic Jack Barry as someone she'd had a threesome with, Martin used to feel "ahead of the curve" discussing sex.

"But now," the 30-year-old ventures, "when I perform at freshers' weeks, young people sort of accept that everyone's fluid, there's not this rigid cultural identity around it. Human beings, we're all just horny monkeys. I hope in 50 years we'll look back and realise we got it wrong for more than a century."

Although she finds catharsis in being so honest, Martin rejects the notion that she uses stand-up as "my main type of therapy. I see an actual therapist". Nevertheless, Dope required "a bit of distance from my teens to be able to talk about them confidently.

"When you're talking about some quite dark stuff, you want to make sure you're able to bring the audience there comfortably and then bring them the fuck out again because there's a danger you're going to wade into bleak territory. But I feel I'm chill enough now to keep it light."

Martin's absorbing, revelatory show recounts how, since she began performing stand-up in Toronto aged 13, her addictions have become intertwined with her love of comedy. She's also experimented across the spectrum of genre, including character, sketch, musical and improv.

"I wasn't always sure who I was or confident enough in what I had to say" she reflects, "It maybe took me a while to get to straight stand-up, to be so close to who I am in real life on stage". Although she's been weaning herself off using real names and omits certain details that might embarrass those close to her, "it wouldn't feel authentic to me if I wasn't being largely honest.

"In my early 20s, I was always described as 'fresh-faced', 'diminutive' or 'innocent'. I didn't play up to that. But maybe I edited myself a bit. So it's nice to be more open about the layers of who I am now, be a bit more three-dimensional and not worry about freaking people out."

Mae Martin: Dope, The Stand Comedy Club Glasgow, 13 Mar, 6.50pm, £11-13; also at The Stand Comedy Club Edinburgh, 14 Mar, 8.30pm, £11-13 – tickets here