Mae Martin's award-nominated show has the Canadian comic tackling both her own and society's addictions head-on
'If I had met Bette Midler, I wouldn't be answering these questions right now because I'd have spontaneously combusted and gone to heaven.' The upward trajectory Mae Martin has been on since the success of her latest show, Dope, hasn't brought her face to face with her childhood hero – and that show's muse – yet, but you wouldn't bet against the Canadian comic rubbing shoulders with Hollywood A-listers in the future. 'Who knows what will come of it all?' she says of her life right now. 'I might become a nun in 2019.'
Martin is currently on tour with the critically acclaimed, Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated Dope after packing out the capital's City Café at last August's Fringe. 'I've done over 75 hours of comedy there in my life,' she says wistfully of the venue. 'My clothes will always faintly smell of chips.' Her fondness for that basement stage isn't surprising. Back in 2015, Martin took Us there, a show which explored sexual identity and the need to label, categorise and oversimplify. A confident hour of great intelligence, crucially it was also a set that didn't compromise on laughs.
Two years on, Dope built upon that show's excellence. A carefully thought-out exploration of human propensity towards addiction, it drew on Martin's own experiences as an unruly (to put it lightly) teenager, and was packed with acute and poignant observations about the human condition. It was also a show of disarming honesty and surprising darkness.
'The show is really personal,' Martin says. 'Talking about darker stuff from my life was definitely very cathartic and at times confronting. And the more I did it the more I had small realisations about what I was saying, which I kept adding in.' Dope, as its title suggests, is a tale of use, abuse, and reliance on drugs. Martin, who's in her early 30s but has the sprightly demeanour and youthful exuberance of someone at least ten years younger, was already a seasoned stand-up in her teens after becoming involved in her local comedy scene as an eccentric, waistcoat-wearing, Bette Midler-obsessed child. In Dope, Martin portrays the wide-eyed innocence of her young self so vividly that the inevitable downfall is one that shocks.
Dope's narrative horizons expand beyond Martin's own remarkable journey, and the show's greatness lies in the way it so easily shifts from absorbing personal tale to non-judgemental cultural commentary. Like many of her North American contemporaries, Martin has a solid grounding in improv, and a series of work-in-progress shows gave her the chance to flesh out some themes. 'I do lots of gigs where the audience write down questions and then I improvise around them,' she states. 'I love doing that because although you do get a lot of questions about sex positions and poo, you also get asked some really thoughtful stuff. And it gives you an idea of what people want to hear you talk about.'
Something that emerged from those interactions was the parallel between Martin's own drug addiction and our collective obsession with social media and technology. It's a cultural shift that, in a sense, gave Martin the push to start talking about addiction. 'One of the things that made me feel emboldened to talk about stuff like drug addiction was that I felt because of smartphones and social media, people would actually be able to relate in a way that they wouldn't have a few years ago. Many of us are having a very real experience of addiction right now, compulsively spending hours scrolling through our phones even though intellectually we know it's bad for us.' It's something that'll ring true for anyone who has absent-mindedly lost hours to an internet clickhole. 'It's pretty crazy! I just spent about an hour watching videos of people doing yoga while baby goats stand on their backs.'
Like the best of us, Martin is still vulnerable to addiction and obsession ('I'm going through a phase where all I want to eat is macaroni and cheese: does that mean I'm pregnant?') but she's found the main defence against that is to keep working. She'd adapted her stage shows for two Radio 4 series and is currently in the midst of putting the finishing touches to a book for teens. Entitled Can Everyone Please Calm Down?: Mae Martin's Guide to Sexuality, it aims to break down barriers and poke fun at gender stereotypes for a young audience with their whole lives ahead of them.
With a TV pilot recently filmed for Channel 4, we can look forward to seeing a lot more of her. That's great news for the comedy-loving public, even if it means there's no rest for Mae Martin. 'Aside from the fact that my phone is attached to my brain and constantly in my eyeballs, I'm trying to avoid getting hooked on anything by staying constantly busy. It's tiring.'
Mae Martin: Dope is on tour until Wednesday 14 March.
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The co-writer and star of Channel Four and Netflix sitcom Feel Good, and star of her own Netflix stand-up special, is on tour! In her brand new stand-up hour, MAE MARTIN looks at the uphill battle of trying to do the right thing in a world that sometimes seems to have lost its moral compass. With her characteristically…