Swipe right for Mae Martin
“So, funny thing...” I hesitate, searching for the most professional way to say this. Then I realise there is no professional way to bring up the fact you once almost hooked up with your interviewee, so I just blurt it out instead. “A couple of years ago, we matched on Tinder.”
Mae and I are sitting opposite each other in a north London cafe doing an interview for DIVA and simultaneously having one of the most unusual Tinder dates I’ve experienced. Before you assume I’m an obsessive stalker abusing my power to access hot queer celebs, I should point out that I’m now loved up with someone I didn’t meet on Tinder. (It was Gaydargirls.com –I cast a wide net.)
Mae’s response when I drop the T-bomb is to put her head in her hands and exclaim, “This keeps happening to me!” Say what, now? Exactly how much right-swiping is she doing? “It’s happened once recently. This is so funny. I wonder if I could find you.” She reaches for her phone and, shame-faced at my own brazen online seduction technique, I beg her not to, stopping just short of prising the mobile out of her hands.
It’s not exactly the most romantic date I’ve ever been on – it’s 11am on a Thursday and her PR is at the next table – but it is one of the funniest. Onstage, Canadian-born/ Londonbased Mae is a mild-mannered comedy sprite, beguiling audiences with her self- conscious vulnerability, before delighting them with a killer punchline. IRL, she has that same disarming honesty and quirky sense of humour.
“Why didn’t we meet up?” she wants to know. “I think you just weren’t that into me, Mae.” “I’m sure I was. But if it was a couple of years ago I’d just broken up with my ex. I would have been in the throes of despair. I didn’t follow through on many app interactions because I was still hung up.”
We swap stories of finding ourselves post-break-up in the online dating wilderness. “It’s the worst feeling, isn’t it?” she intimates. “You get that weird phantom limb syndrome.”
The same break-up that drove her to dating apps inspired last year’s hit show Us, which earned her rave reviews and a Radio 4 series. In Mae Martin’s Guide to 21st Century Sexuality she tackles the slippery topic of sexual fluidity.
“We’re moving towards a time when we won’t have to label sexuality and be so tribal,” suggests Mae. “I’ve always dated men and women, and I wanted to wave the banner for bisexual people because there’s a lot of erasure. The problem isn’t us labelling our sexuality, it’s when other people label it for you.”
Ever since her first stand-up review referred to her as “Gay Mae”, critics and audiences alike have made assumptions about her sexual proclivities. “For years I had the prefix to my name of ‘lesbian comedian’, but that isn’t how I identify.” Even her friends were shocked when, newly single, she casually mentioned she was dating men as well as women. “You lied,” they told her. “You lied with your hair.”
Her androgynous appearance means she’s used to certain audiences not knowing what to make of her. “When I walk onstage at a club in central London on a Saturday night and everyone’s drunk, I can feel this palpable tension. I have to dispel it right away and joke that I look like Justin Bieber so they can all relax.”
ROXY BOURDILLON GOES ON A LONG OVERDUE TINDER DATE WITH ONE OF OUR FAVOURITE STAND-UP COMEDIANS “For years I had the prefix of ‘lesbian comedian’, but that isn’t how I identify”
Watching Mae at a gig a few nights before we meet, I’m struck by how refreshing it is to see a comic speak so candidly (and hilariously) about her sexuality. “It’s always gonna be part of my material because it’s part of who I am. You know when people are like, ‘ Why do gay comics always have to talk about being gay?’ They’re just talking about their lives. If a straight male comic is talking about his love life we’re not like, ‘ Why’s he talking about being straight?’”
Mae was surprised that Us affected so many audience members, some of whom emailed to thank her for speaking out. “It’s different here. Not to be a downer on England, but in Canada it’s about 10 years ahead. There’s a lot more people who identify as fluid. Even my straight friends in Toronto don’t identify as straight. They’re like, ‘I’m queer. I might meet a woman at any point.’ People are post-labels over there.”
Her onstage honesty isn’t the only thing that prompts a passionate reaction from her fans. When she made a joke about erotic Harry Potter fan fiction during an appearance on Russell Howard’s Good News, she discovered a whole community dedicated to Hogwarts themed porn-lit. “I’ve never done anything that’s ignited more. People were like, ‘ Yes, finally someone’s talking about our thing!’ I’m reading it pretending to be ironic, but secretly so turned on.” Her niche? “Anything with Bellatrix Lestrange. There’s some weird inter-species stuff, which I’m not into. I can’t get on board with a house elf. I can get on board with a centaur, like a really fit centaur.”
So apart from Bellatrix and smoking hot centaurs, who else would Mae swipe right for? In her new show Dope, a confessional hour about her addictive personality, she reminisces about her teenage crush on Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus. My girlfriend sat next to me at the preview and when Mae said she fancied “buxom, vivacious women”, which would have been a cracking Tinder profile for me, she went all alpha, gripping her arm around me territorially. Luckily the rest of the audience were oblivious to my other half’s minimeltdown because they were too rapt by Mae’s comedy gems.
I tell Mae I too was a Hocus Pocus devotee, but my weakness was Sarah Jessica Parker. “Oh yeah, riding that broomstick. She’s so seductive. That
“In Canada there’s a lot more people who identify as fluid. People are post- labels over there”
whole film was boner town, for sure. I’m definitely drawn to strong, funny women. Confidence is so hot.”
She feels a little differently when it comes to guys. “I don’t like a dude – a big, confident, loud man. Nah, tone it down. Maybe it’s a societal thing. When men are being big and loud I’m like, ‘Chill, you’ve had it for centuries.’”
Mae’s wondered if her own sexual fluidity could incorporate polyamory. “I thought it would be kind of ideal because I like men, women and attention, but I’m too romantic. I’m always going to get jealous. I want to feel so safe. It’s scary being a single millennial.”
Despite having played the online dating field for the past couple of years, Mae insists she’s “a serial monogamist, is that the expression?” She admits, “I have a tendency to really make my life about someone else.” In her new show she explores how her break-up “felt so much like getting off drugs. Why do we feel like it’s our whole sense of self and it’s this traumatic event?”
Dope also finds laughs in her unusual start in the comedy industry. She was just 13 when she did her first standup gig. “I brought a cigarette onstage and people were horrified. I thought people would just be like, ‘Oh, it’s another comedian’ and that would inspire confidence. So wrong, so wrong.”
She’s come a long way since that first gig. She’s taking Dope to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer and going on her first UK tour in autumn. And that’s just for starters. She’s currently recording a second series for Radio 4, and has a DVD, a Comedy Central special and a sitcom pilot in the pipeline. She’s even writing a book about sexuality – “a combination of memoir and social commentary, it’s meant to be the book you wish you had when you were 14.”
“I feel pretty excited about work right now so I’m kind of channelling into that. Is that healthy? Become a workaholic instead?” It may be another addiction, but at least it’s a productive one. It’s wonderful to see Mae’s career in ascendance. Her sexuality may be fluid, but her talent is irrefutable.
See Mae Martin: Dope touring the UK from September and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 3-27 August. Find out more at maemartin.net