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Mae Martin Wants Queer Sex to Be As Funny on TV As It Is Off

Mae Martin. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Netflix’s Feel Good is a show that touches on a lot of issues — sexuality, gender identity, drug addiction, sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress — but it is not a show about those issues. Co-creators Mae Martin (who also stars) and Joe Hampson wanted to make a funny yet grounded romantic comedy based on Martin’s real life and experiences. They wanted to make something small that tells a personal story, not make a grand statement. The result is a complex portrait as opposed to an easy-to-digest statement, despite the media’s interest in such things these days.

With Feel Good’s second and final season premiering on Netflix this Friday, June 4, Martin joins Vulture’s Good One podcast, in which they discuss wrapping up the show, writing funny sex scenes, and not providing easy answers. You can read an excerpt from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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There’s a big role-play arc in season two, which started in season one with the Susan Sarandon sex scene. How did that start?
I really was so attached to the scene and fought so hard for it to be as long as it is. It’s partly because I’d never seen anything like it. It makes me laugh — the character can only come when they’re being told not to come, and I think people can relate to that. I rarely see that kind of slightly dom energy. I see a lot of queer sex scenes that are very tender and beautiful; my sex life isn’t always that tender. Sex is funny, and it’s weird. And I like that [the show’s other main character] George is so horny in it. I don’t think you get to see girls being horny and weird enough. I like how specific it is. I’ve seen a lot of stories where, for instance, someone that’s previously been straight then starts dating someone of the same sex or not the opposite sex and then it’s like explosive fireworks. And I’ve rarely seen people struggling to come. I’ve seen a lot of things about men struggling to come but not so much women.

It feels like, with a lot of your work, you’re trying to flip the idea of “the personal is political” in that you take these things that are treated as politics and make them personal. You try to give them a human scale.
I hope so. It’s definitely been interesting promoting season two. A few conversations have been amazing, but especially in the U.K., there’s a real hysteria around gender right now. So all of the interviews have been centered around gender, and it’s really kind of a small thread in season two. It’s just one small aspect of a show that’s a love story about addiction and codependency and all kinds of things. I guess what’s frustrating is you spend all this time trying to make the point that I hope I’m trying to make — which is that these things are nuanced and complicated and we don’t have to come down so hard on one side; I want to show the ambiguity, the gray area, the uncertainty — but then you end up having to discuss the show within the very narrow parameters of the public discourse around those things. You end up having to undo all that hard work and just give a sound bite. And then that becomes the headline.

Was there a pressure to be more explicit on where you stood on certain issues you were touching on?
Yeah, there was a little bit of pressure. Netflix is pretty good at walking the walk in terms of authored stories, I think. There’s one thing they pushed back on: Without giving too many spoilers, there’s a thread about me grappling with a trauma and a relationship with a much older guy, so I think there was some pressure to come down hard on him at the end of the final confrontation, like have her kick him in the balls or something. And I really wanted to push back against that because that’s not what it’s like in reality. It’s so messy. There’s no winners. So yeah, we stayed true to our intentions.

With Me Too–type stuff and sexual assault in general, I think we know that this is most commonly happening with people that you know and care about, people you have an existing relationship with, whether that’s a friend or a partner or a family member. It’s not pleasant to cut someone out of your life or to get revenge on someone. It’s a lot messier than that. So that felt important. It would have been nice to write a revenge fantasy, but it would’ve been, I think, less effective and less realistic.

It was interesting watching the show while at the same time listening to and reading old interviews with you. The result is, with the show, you can feel both you and Mae, the character, processing, where a lot of television or movies tend to feel like, “Here is where I landed.” There’s a scene where your character is wondering if there is a word that represents how they feel about their gender, and George says sweetly, “It’s nonbinary. I do think you should Google it.” And you are just like, “I probably should Google it.”
George definitely is a useful mouthpiece for my inner monologue about myself. Even when George is like, “You know, this stuff happened 15 years ago,” that is definitely something that I say to myself, for better or for worse, in my head. I wonder what it would be like to listen back to interviews because I’m quite open in interviews, and my opinions do change, I think. And I probably do say things that other characters then say to me.

Also you see the vocabulary change and people’s familiarity and comfort with the changes.
Yeah, it’s weird — even, like, genderwise, talking about the character. I guess I’m now saying I’m nonbinary, but the character in season one was not there yet. Yeah, it’s a bit of a head fuck. Like the other day in this interview, I kept fucking up my own pronouns, but the interviewer was really on point. I’m comfortable as “she” or “they,” so it’s fine. But it’s also insane. I haven’t spoken to my parents about this stuff. I haven’t been home to Canada since before season one came out. A lot of the things in the show are things I haven’t said to my close friends and family.

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Mae Martin Wants Queer Sex to Be As Funny on TV As It Is Off