At 14, Mae Martin Was Listening To Pink Floyd & Obsessed With Buffy
The 35-year old comedian also wrote a Friends script in which they got to kiss Joey.
Conjuring up memories of adolescence is easy for Mae Martin. “I feel like I’m still there,” the 35-year-old comedian says as we reminisce over classic early-aughts style and the torturous test of self-esteem that is having braces in middle school. (“People who have had braces, I think, have a different view of the world,” they muse.) Uncomfortable orthodontics aside, Martin describes age 14 as a euphoric period in which they found a sense of belonging through taking improv comedy classes.
“I had this new world at Second City, something that I felt like I could be good at, and a community and new friends who had similar interests and valued being funny, above all things,” Martin says. It solidified their dreams of becoming a comedian. “It is all I ever really wanted to do. I don’t think I had a backup plan.”
That year was a turning point for Martin, a final year of innocence before their life would spiral out of control. About a year later, they would begin dabbling in harder drugs, ultimately dropping out of school and going to rehab in their teens. It’s an experience they riff on in their comedy, from making fun of their rehab nickname in the new Netflix special, Sap, to playing a semi-autobiographical version of themself as a recovering addict on their Netflix dramedy, Feel Good.
But back in 2001, 14-year-old Martin’s biggest problems were of the typical adolescent variety, related to greasy ponytails and getting the attention of boys. “To think that two years later I was living on my own and kicked out [of the house] and dropped out of school ... I was just at the top of this incline of a rollercoaster and about to go insane for years,” Martin says. “I was a match that had been struck.”
Below, Martin talks over-plucking their eyebrows, partaking in The Dark Side of Oz, and wanting to be Jim Carrey.
Take me back to 2001-2002, when you were 14. How were you feeling about life?
I had braces, I had long hair. I only had long hair for a period of a year and a half or two years around puberty: shoulder-length brown hair, greasy in a pony, always in a tight bun because I hated it. When I would take it out of the bun, it would have that crimp in it. It was the worst.
That was a big year because I had just found Second City improv classes. I was doing them extracurricularly — every Friday I would go. It felt pretty seismic and life changing, meeting all these other freaks and discovering improv. I had a very long leash from my parents, so I would go a couple of times a week and watch the shows after. I was basically obsessed with comedy at that age.
Do you remember any of your bits or characters from that time?
It was pretty surreal. There was Frankie and Freddie. They were sort of gay six-year-old boys, and they were very fastidious and always getting into trouble. Then there was a sketch about three teenagers starting a band called Stab Wound. Their mom keeps coming in and ruining their mystique. I mean, none of these would hold up. I feel very grateful that this was before smartphones and YouTube. If there was a living record of any of these, my career would probably be over.
Do you remember when you realized you wanted to do comedy?
Ace Ventura coming out was huge for me. I was eight, or something like that. That performance was pretty electrifying to me, and I wanted to be Jim Carrey. Then [at] camp in Northern Ontario, my camp counselor was the first older person who told me I was funny and that I could do it as a job. I think he’d taken Second City classes and was like, you should do that. He was the funny guy at camp, and I hung on his every word.
I always had boyfriends, but I was the weird kid. I didn’t know that I liked girls. I was way more extroverted then than I am now, and I remember doing a lot of Jackass-style pranks to get attention. I would eat salt, or I remember once dumping a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola on my head in the middle of the day, then having no clothes to change into, just to get a laugh. In a way, provoking a laugh from someone is an involuntary response. There’s something quite cool about that. Maybe that’s what I was trying to do, connect in that way.
What kind of music were you into at 14?
Around 15, everything went dark, and I got into Elliott Smith and cocaine and other bad drugs. But 14, I was starting to smoke pot and I was getting into Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles. I would go to this cinema in Toronto where they would play Dark Side of Oz: They would play The Wizard of Oz [synced up to Dark Side of the Moon]. It was just a blissful time. None of us had phones we were obsessed with, so parents couldn’t tell where were were at all times, and you could smoke weed in this theater. It was a cinema filled with 14-year-olds having these kind of intense, psychedelic experiences with Pink Floyd. It was life changing.
In your comedy special, Sap, you have a bit about how embarrassing it is that adults have rooms we decorate with all our stuff. What was your room like at 14?
It was really weird. I was in the basement. There was a small bedroom, but then there was also the main basement. I moved my bed into the main basement and put a curtain around it, so it was this weird little nook. I had a mini fridge where my parents let me [store] tiny bottles of booze from airplanes. Now I’m like, “Why did you do that?”
I had a godfather who, for every birthday, would get me a framed autographed picture of one of my favorite people. I had framed pictures of Tim Curry, Clint Eastwood, Bette Midler, maybe Paul Reubens. I still had stuffed animals out at that point, a lot of monkeys and bears. I mean, I still have a bear.
Age 14 can be a delicate time with puberty. How you were feeling in your own skin?
I remember feeling absolutely disgusted with myself. I assume everyone feels that way, very greasy, and everything’s changing. Retrospectively, I can see it was more acute for me because of gender stuff going on. I didn’t figure out about wearing bras until I was 19. No one told me, so I had very weird, pointy... it was not a good look. And I was plucking my eyebrows.
Oh, we all over-plucked.
Oh my God, within an inch of their life. They were tiny little lines.
What were your biggest struggles at 14?
I was highly emotional. [Everything] was so visceral, and even the bad emotions were so intense. But it’s sort of a golden moment in my memory because I met my best friends. I laughed probably harder in those two years — 13, 14 — than I have ever in my life. It was this hysteria of puberty and feeling awakened to the absurdity of the world. The most minute thing would happen, [and it would] just make us cry with laughter. I love laughing like that.
You discuss the idea of “sap” in your special — the sticky, sweet, good stuff that saves us from all the other upheaval in life. What was the sap for you at 14?
It was my new friends, and it was comedy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was big. I would watch every Thursday, and when the theme song would start, my mom says my whole body would shake. I miss that level of fandom, which I don’t really have anymore. It was all-consuming.
I was really into Friends. I wrote a spec script for Friends when I was about 13. I think I was Phoebe’s younger sister, and I had a romantic thing with Joey, but it didn’t occur to me that that was wrong and dark. In the episode, people were like, “Joey, stop kissing this 13-year-old.” It was insane. I remember studying Pacey Witter [from Dawson’s Creek] and thinking about how I could copy his personality and be with him. Be him and be with him.
What do you think your 14-year-old self would think of you now?
I think I’d be alarmed at the amount of time I spend on my phone. I was smarter about that stuff then. I think I’d be shocked that I don’t smoke weed, but it just makes me paranoid now. At that age, it didn’t. I think I’d be really happy and overwhelmed. I’d probably wonder where my tits went, but then I’d probably get into it and wish I’d known [about gender dysphoria] sooner.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.