Need a little optimism? Mae Martin has some for you in the Netflix comedy special ‘SAP’

Mae Martin is photographed at Fancy Studios in Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 1: Mae Martin is photographed at Fancy Studios in Los Angeles, CA on May 1, 2023.
(JJ Geiger / For The Times)
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Mae Martin is used to being modified. “And that’s evolved as I’ve evolved,” notes the comedian, whose career started at 13. “It was ‘teenage comedian,’ ‘female comedian,’ ‘lesbian comedian,’ ‘bisexual comedian,’ and now ‘nonbinary comedian.’” Such descriptors are far too shallow for the writer-actor-performer in question.

Martin is perhaps most widely known for starring in the Netflix comedy “Feel Good.” Co-created with their best friend, Joe Hampson, the series is loosely based on Martin’s life as a Canadian stand-up comic living in England, wrestling with addictions and trauma. Working on it “was very rewarding but so personal, and it felt like everyone coming to my live shows suddenly knew me very intimately,” Martin says in a Zoom interview. With “SAP,” their new hourlong Netflix special, “I felt keen to remind people that I’m a stand-up comedian. And I had a lot of changes this year, and I’m in a new place, so I felt full of optimism.”

Mae Martin


After completing “Feel Good,” Martin took to the road for a year of improvised shows, answering audience questions and shaping the material to create the funny and endearing “SAP,” directed by Abbi Jacobson (“Broad City”). “It was my first hour special, and Abbi’s first time directing stand-up, and I like that a lot, because you make your own rules and there’s no kind of dogmatic rigidity,” says Martin.

Instead of bracketing the filmed stage show with the usual arty backstage shots, the show begins and ends in an odd forest encounter between Martin and a character played by Phil Burgers (“Feel Good”). “My style is slightly unorthodox, so I felt it would be jarring to have a classic stand-up intro,” says Martin. “I really wanted a campfire, and to set people up to settle into an intimate gathering.”

“SAP” then moves with Martin to a Vancouver stage festooned with trees and twinkling stars. The setting suits Martin, who exudes a kind of wry wood sprite energy, if wood sprites wore black T-shirts and khakis. The Toronto native spins yarns about mystical parents, mythical Canadian moose, wild outliers and everyone’s efforts to connect. At one point Martin says, “We’re experience hunters,” capturing and hoarding incidents like little snow globes. “All human interaction is just basically taking turns showing each other our snow globes.” They prefer theirs gently shaken.

A portrait of comedian Mae Martin, looking directly at the camera.

Martin shares their efforts to cope with feelings in a healthy manner. One therapist suggested they try observing overwhelming emotions with detached curiosity. “I’m experiencing … rage. How curious!” They find escape rooms helpful; one memorable story involves a scary Edinburgh dungeon tour and an overzealous stranger who decided to ramp up the chills.


Their deceptively guileless onstage style belies years of craft. They know exactly how to play the crowd and can weave seemingly disparate tales into a coherent whole. Late in the show they spend a few minutes talking about gender identity, reluctantly. “I don’t really want to talk about gender, because it’s lose-lose,” they say, and yet they manage it lightly and with tender-heartedness, even toward some famous comedians who don’t return the favor. At one point Martin says, “You just have to take my word for it that I know who I am,” a statement as simple as it is heartbreaking. They add that they’ve had top surgery and are taking low-dose testosterone. “This has been the best of my life,” they add, defining “best” as “the absence of agony. It’s a low bar. Who are we to deny anybody that?”

Martin moved to Los Angeles to work on their next project, “Tall Pines,” a genre comedy they created for Netflix.

“I’m interested in the ‘troubled teen industry’ and how we deal with teenagers and get it wrong, and how we seem to not know what to do with them,” they say. “It sounds sad but it’ll be funny, I swear.” Think “Booksmart” meets “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” with a cult thrown in. Martin will co-star as well.

Comedian Mae Martin leaning against a wall with their legs outstretched.

In addition to the series, they and Hampson are developing a couple of movies.

Martin performs stand-up on occasion at Largo and Dynasty Typewriter, two local venues that feel “like a little home away from home.” And they’re even fulfilling a lifelong dream, recording an album of songs they wrote. “They’re not great, but it brings me a lot of joy,” Martin says. “It’s exciting to be starting from scratch in a new discipline, and learning a new language. Now I just want to keep getting better at it.”


As the title “SAP” suggests, they feel free to embrace sincerity. “I like people who aren’t afraid of emotions,” Martin says. “I also feel there’s a real appetite for that right now. The younger generation especially can smell inauthenticity. It’s not as frowned upon anymore to have feelings.”