Mae Martin interview
Mae Martin is a wildly talented Canadian who’s been performing comedy in one way or another since she was 13 (13, guys; 13). Based in the UK, she is currently beetling about the UK comedy circuit. I met up with her to ask her a few questions, and gently accost her regarding her absence in the North…
Hi Mae, any plans to visit the North this year?
Oh? Maybe I am coming to Manchester? I’m opening for this band, they’re on tour so I’m doing three dates. Sometimes people don’t know that I’m going to be there, and they’re huge fans of the band. So I come out and they’re like ‘oh! Get away!’
And you’re doing comedy?
Yeah. It’s my friend’s band, so.
Oh, so it all ties in.
You’ve just done The Mae Martin Experience at The Invisible Dot – how was that? I’ve seen you MC – was that very different to that?
Yeah, I MC a lot. No, it was very similar to that. I did it there in the spring, as well, the same thing. It was really fun, I had a kind of Canadian theme and I did games with the audience, and I’d booked all of my favourite acts. Yeah, so it’s more like an authored show, you know what I mean? So I had a game where I had two audience members, and they had to guess the next line of the Alanis Morissette song, to win a pint. Whenever I compere it all gets a bit messy, sloppy; but I like that.
How different is the Canadian, or Toronto comedy circuit to the UK circuit?
First of all, just in scale and size it’s so much smaller. So much smaller. I mean, it’s one clique, whereas here, just within the comedy circuit there are so many different cliques and circuits within this scene. Yeah, it’s pretty small. So a trend will catch on there, because it’s so small. If one person starts using sound effects or something, it’ll catch on. I think there’s more room for lots of different styles in England. Also, people – because the scene in Toronto isn’t based around Edinburgh – people are just polishing twenty minute sets.
Not working towards something…
Yeah. So there’s a huge turn-over of material in England; that was really new to me when I moved here. Just the fact that people write a new hour every year… I’m still getting used to that, it’s crazy. And then retire it after a year!
Yeah, and then it’s done.
Yeah! That’s why I recorded an album. I don’t want that material to die yet, you know?
I think that’s a really good thing to do. A lot of people record albums now and it’s a really nice way to preserve something. Like you said: if it’s gone after a year, it’s almost like it never happened.
Yeah, and you worked so hard on it. I can’t listen to it, though. I hate the sound of my own voice.
Surely no one likes the sound of their own voice?!
Yeah! I will never listen to it.
Is there one you prefer, then – UK or Canadian circuit? Or is it just that they’re two completely separate things?
… I don’t want to piss off Canadians. I think Canada is an amazing place to learn, because it’s supportive. But it’s difficult, there’s just not at much work. So yeah, if there was as much work there [in Canada] then it might be different. But it’s also hard to get people out to shows in Canada. You end up doing shows for other comics and your friends, whereas here people seem to really go out.
I suppose if, like you said, there’s more of it, then people are more aware of it.
Yeah, totally yeah. It’s a huge thing here. And there’s also a peripheral industry here that supports it: promoters, producers, venues. But in Toronto it’s very much people doing it for themselves. So if I were to put on show, I have to find the venue, I have to produce it.
So it’s all down to the act.
Yeah. So, that’s nice here.
What made you want to start comedy so young? Because, you did start comedy very young – did you do a lot of drama at school, or were you a big comedy fan…?
Yeah I was a huge comedy fan… I think about it a lot. I don’t know why I thought it was a viable career choice. I don’t know who told me that was an option… It’s bizarre. Because I think… I was obsessed with Jim Carrey. So, Ace Ventura had just come out, and I was obsessed with that. And then my godmother actually took me to a comedy club when I was eleven, I begged her to take me. And then the comic got me up on stage, and started using me as a ventriloquist’s doll.
Because I was so young, all the comedians were just taking the piss. And I got a laugh, because he thought I was a boy; and I said ‘I’m a girl’ and I got a big laugh for it. Then I started taking extra-curricular classes, like improv classes and stuff.
It’s just such a high, I guess. My dad was an actor, and I really loved his stories about it. So I dropped out of school shortly afterwards to do it, I got so addicted to it. I think I had a lot of success – not success; but because the novelty of me being so young, I got a lot of work early on. So I would get a lot of gigs because I was like, thirteen. And then I dropped out of school and once you do that there’s really no going back. So you have no other qualifications.
You said your dad was an actor – were your parents quite supportive of what you were doing?
They were initially; and then when it really started to consume me in my teens – because I really feel in love with it the way you fall in love with a person. I was obsessed, it was all I could talk about. I was hanging out with older comics and getting into trouble, so they were not pleased about that. And then I left home quite young. But they’ve come back around to it now that I’m making an honest living out of it.
Now that it’s a career.
Yeah, exactly. So they were really into it, then fell out with it and now they’re back on board.
There’s a video of you on YouTube from, I think, 2003; doing Cream of Comedy on Canadian television doing a character. You’re very young. Did you start out doing character comedy as a way to build confidence on stage?
Yeah, I started doing sketch comedy. And then my sketch partners were like ‘oh, well, we want to go to school and have a normal life’ so they went to university, and I started doing character stuff. And I had that really nervous character, and that was definitely helpful to do a really nervous character because I was so nervous. And then I transitioned into stand-up, when I was about sixteen, seventeen.
Do you think character comedy is something you would do again?
I would love to. I want to get back into it. I was really into musical comedy for a while, and now I’m really, really into classic stand-up, because I’ve been watching this documentary about Joan Rivers. So it’s really nice to be able to show up with no instrument and not have to sing.
Do you think your style of comedy has changed a lot, then, since you started? So, not necessarily how you are on stage, but the comedy you’re doing.
Yeah, both I think, definitely. It’s taken me ages to find my… When you’re a teenager, even in real life your personality is something you’re performing, you have no idea who you are. You’re totally winging it in life. So now I’m a little bit more self-aware, and that makes it easier. But I think I’ve always done stuff that’s really personal, and that’s always a risk. It’s not just observational comedy, it’s usually about my life, or my own thing so it’s usually a reflection of what’s going on with me at the time.
I suppose that’s the good thing about it; because there’ll always be something going on, so you’ll always have something to harvest.
Yeah, and I think my favourite type of comedy is personal stuff, honest stuff. I really like that. But my new show is going to be a change, a shift in direction I think. It’s about labels and it’s a bit more political, and it’s about stuff that I’m angry about. So, it’s going to be different.
I wanted to mention, in your 2013 show (that you have the album of) you talk about ‘being a little bit gay’ and your sexuality and stuff like that – how much do you feel you have, not a responsibility… how important is it do you think that you talk about those elements of yourself? For you, and for an audience.
Yeah, the response to… Whenever I’m… I’m always surprised when I do material about sexuality, the response I get online and stuff. I get so much great support, and so I think it does feel like there’s a gap there. But it’s tough because I think, for years I always avoided – I felt like I was making more of a statement not to discuss it because it’s not really a huge part of who I am. So I felt like it was more of a political statement not to…
Because sometimes it feels like, I do resent if I’m doing a club gig and I feel like as soon as I walk on stage I have to address that I look different, or else there’s an elephant in the room. And that annoys me. But the recently I’ve been thinking, I do care about it. I do feel some strong opinions.
And I want to try to… I mean, I think… What am I trying to say? I need to get this clear so that – I mean, I need to write my show. It’s like, I think it wasn’t until I started to do a little bit well that I started noticing that everything that was written about me was ‘lesbian comedian, Mae Martin’ or ‘gay comedian’; and I find it interesting that that happens. I don’t necessarily identify as a lesbian. My new thing is: why should anyone identify as anything?
Also, I didn’t want to ask that as a… generic question. I didn’t want to put it in the interview because I felt like I should mention it, but genuinely I’m interested to know how – rather than, like you mentioned, writing ‘gay comedian’…
No no no! It is interesting. No no, that’s what I’m thinking about these days. So now that I’ve noticed that I want to address it, and say stuff about it. Because I’ve just been thinking recently about the whole way that we think about sexuality is backwards, and we just aren’t getting it right, the way we think about it. The way we think about it like distinct populations of narrow… you know what I mean? I think it’s a lot more fluid and complicated. And I think for a long time… I don’t know.
Anyway. I’ve got to figure it out. I’ve got to figure how to write it! I think it’ll be good because I think when you care about something it’s going to come across in new material. I should talk about things I feel strongly about. But it’s going to be a departure for me, because I usually just talk about my family or my neuroses and stuff. It’s going to be personal, I think.
So you’re doing an Edinburgh show this year, then?
Yeah, I’m so excited. I did a work in progress last year so I feel a bit more prepared.
And that’s the idea you have set out?
How do you set about writing a show, then? You have a theme – do you just set off and see where it takes you? Or do you have bits that you’ve done before that you know will fit it, that you want to use?
I improvise a lot. So previews are really important – just having an hour on stage. Some of them are atrocious, really bad. I think it’s important to do that, because if you’re just doing ten minute sets everywhere and trying to polish new material that way, it’s hard to then piece it together into an hour. I’ve got lots of previews where I’m just going to be floundering; and then I record them and I listen back to them and then I have a vague idea. Because it’s hard to just sit by yourself and be funny, because there’s no adrenaline in your body. But yeah. I’m excited about this one, and I’m never excited about anything.
So you said before that you were really into musical comedy, and now you’ve moved away from that a little bit: did your doing comedy songs come from your love of comedy, or from a love of music first?
Maybe a love of music, I think. Yeah, I think secretly a lot of comedians want to be musicians, and a lot of musicians want to be comedians. Yeah, I just went through a few years where the songs were just coming really easily. I think it’s a nice change of pace in a longer set. It’s not so much that I’ve made a conscious choice not to, it’s just that stand-up is coming a lot more easily now.
So that’s taken the fore.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, the gaps between songs were just getting longer and longer and now, they’ve been pushed out a bit. There might be a couple of songs in the new show, we’ll see.
The songs that you do – I was thinking (it’s not actually a question), if you were describing your act to… an alien –
Which I often do.
Exactly. But it would sound reasonably similar to Bo Burnham. Because the songs you do… A lot of the time, comedy songs sound like –
Yes! Yours don’t, but they’re very funny, they’re very clever. Like Bo Burnham.
Thank you. I think Bo Burnham’s great. That show what. was amazing.
I know. He’s touring again this year, and I’m so hoping he comes to Edinburgh.
Yeah, I’m sure he will. He cleans up in Edinburgh.
Are you going to be up in Edinburgh?
Well yeah. I worked at a venue last year, so hopefully will do the same. And see things.
Ugh, yeah. It’s so exhausting, I never see anything in Edinburgh. I always have such great plans to see everything and then I just get too tired.
You just sort of… coast.
Yeah. I was in two shows last year, too. So it was a lot.
Oh, what was the second show?
Natasia Demetriou’s show. So, character comedy. I was doing that I the evening. This year I’m in the latest slot I’ve been in, at 8:50pm.
So do you think this year you’ll try and see more things?
Yeah, I already have a list. I see more things in the fall, though, in London. Because that’s when they’re all polished.
And I suppose that’s when everyone’s really happy with their show.
Yeah, and everyone’s rested. It’s a very strange system, to invite everyone that matters to see your show when you’re exhausted.
Given you’ve done songs, and you do storytelling and anecdotes: is there a kind of comedy that you don’t think you can do, that you perhaps really enjoy watching other people do?
So much, yeah. So many types of comedy that I wish I could do. I wish I could write better one-liners, I think that’s a real art. And it gets a bad rap, like it’s tacky or something.
I feel like it’s getting more popular, though. With people like Bec Hill.
Yeah. They’re really hard to construct, really good one-liners. Or, do you Tig Notaro?
Yeah, I really admire her pacing. Because she’s so slow, she takes her time.
She’s incredibly relaxed.
Yeah. Where I feel like I’m a mile a minute and I have to fill every silence with, like, ‘uh, do you guys like me?!’ but she’s so chilled out, and I wish I could do that. Sometimes she goes on stage and doesn’t say anything for twenty seconds. I want to do that. It’s never too late to change your style, so maybe.
I think that you don’t necessarily have to have a style.
Yeah. I mean, one kind of emerges, but yeah. You’re never glued to it. Totally.
What recommendations would give for comedians that you really like that you think other people might not know about yet?
I saw [Ellie White and Natasia Demetriou as] Sexy American Girl Cousins last night.
Oh did you? Oh, yeah yeah! At…
This is like The Invisible Dot crew.
Pretty much, yeah.
Do you feel like – you said before about cliques – do you think that’s the clique you’re sitting in?
Yeah, kind of. Yeah.
It’s a nice one to be in.
It’s a really nice on to be in. Yeah, I hate… I mean, I don’t think it’s like an exclusive clique with borders, but there’s definitely a group of friends that populate one venue.
Pockets of comedians.
Yeah. But there are other ones as well. I host a monthly show at the Camden Head, and that’s become kind of a fun clique as well. Jack Barry is great. I could go on, man. Phil Wang. Who else? Kieran Hodgeson. Sheeps. Yeah… Tom Allen. Tom Allen is so underrated; he’s higher up my list than I’ve just said. Tom Allen’s the best.
What was the last gig you saw?
I mean, these days I’m out five nights a week probably. Being in was last night at The 99 Club in Piccadilly Circus, and it was all Canadians in the audience, weirdly. Tourists, yeah. So that was nice, because all I had to do was make a local reference to Canada and they’d all cheer. The last show I saw was… What did I see? If Tash and Ellie are playing somewhere, I’ll go and watch them. I really like them, I think they’re amazing. I think they might do something in Edinburgh.
Claudia O’Doherty is amazing. I wish I could do what Tim Key does, and write poetry. He’s great, he’s such a nice guy, too. Yeah, there are nice people in this country! There are very few dickheads. There’s maybe two dickheads in this whole circuit. I really love it. I feel like I’ve rambled. You’re going to have to distil this into some kind of sense.
Keep your eyes peeled for Mae Martin – she is definitely a comic to snap up should the opportunity arise, so look out for her at the Edinburgh Fringe this year… You can find more information on her website, and by following her on Twitter. Molly Stewart blogs at komodie.wordpress.com