Mae Martin’s Netflix special ‘Sap’ takes aim at transphobia in comedy
“(I wanted to) counter the loud voices who are weirdly obsessed with spreading misinformation about trans people,” Martin tells IndieWire.
As with their excellently scripted series Feel Good, Mae Martin’s first hour-long comedy for Netflix, affectionately titled Sap, has plenty of wisdom and heart. More than the series, “Sap” is a moving dark comedy about addiction and trauma, and “Sap” has a genuine feel-good feel to it, which is especially comforting in the current political moment.
The Abbi Jacobson-directed special opens and closes with a campfire sketch that connects one of Martin’s opening credits with the syrupy title, highlighting the human need to feel seen through the sharing of viewpoints. With effortless charisma and compelling wit, Martin shares the details of the journey to acceptance of their non-binary gender identity and offers a healing distraction from anxiety-inducing headlines about anti-trans legislation.
Born in Canada but living and working in London, Martin prefers the laid-back British storytelling style of comedy to the fast-paced, tight set-ups and punchlines of America. Although “Sap” is their first film hour, they are experts in the form, having performed at least a five- to six-hour show at the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
“The British system is designed so that everyone builds a clock every year and then takes it up to the festival. It’s very beautiful,” Martin said in a recent phone interview. “It’s definitely more theatrical, but that means there are skills that I’m missing, like building a very tight 10-minute set, which I find very difficult because I’m spoiled by those, I’m spoiled in an hour.”
The longer running time also gives the vulnerability more breathing space, as you don’t have to pepper every moment with jokes. At the end of Season 2 of “Feel Good,” which is semi-autobiographical, Martin’s character discovers that they are non-binary after finally confronting the sexual trauma of their past. Towards the end of “Sap,” the real Martin proudly tells the audience that they recently had top surgery and have been taking testosterone for a year.
“And it’s been the best year of my life, honestly, I’m 35 years old and it’s been the best year of my life,” they say, getting a little emotional. “It’s not like I’m that happy, I’m not one to jump around. It really is like the absence of agony, that’s all. And that’s a low bar, and who are we to deny that to anyone?”
Martin joins a small but growing list of trans and non-binary comedians and performers navigating transition while in the public eye.
“I felt a little vulnerable, for sure. But he felt motivated and like he needed to clear up,” they said. “In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to talk about gender at all because it’s not what I think about the most every day. I just get up, take a shower, drink a coffee and live my life.”
But with prominent male comedians like Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais and Louis CK, whom Martin named in “Sap,” targeting trans people in their own specials, Martin was forced to address the elephant in the room.
“I feel like I should talk about it because everybody’s different,” they say in “Sap.” – Comedians, for example. The big multi-millionaire comedians in their stand-up specials are like gunning and knocking down in a time when banner rights are so weak and backsliding…and I watch these specials to be informed when they ask me in every interview. to talk about the specialties of those guys.
It’s a bold move to name the men directly, which they do once and rather discreetly in the special, especially when even Gervais and Chappelle’s most damning specials were produced and distributed by Netflix. The pointed irony—and the possibility of a little poetic justice—was not lost on Martin.
“He felt it would have been a glaring omission considering the participation on Netflix,” Martin said. “(I wanted to) counter those loud voices who are strangely obsessed with spreading misinformation about trans people. But I definitely wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel there was something funny about it.”
The show admits they’re probably “preaching to the choir,” but Martin hopes “Sap” can reach viewers who may not know a trans person.
“When I talk about top surgery, I say it because I want to draw attention to how much happier I am now and how positive it has been for me,” they said. “I’m hoping that by making it personal, it demystifies it a little bit for people, especially if they’ve seen the special up to that point and feel like they’ve gotten to know me. And often all it takes to understand these things is to meet and talk to a trans person. So if I can be that trans person in someone’s living room and show them that I’m not a threat in any way and that I’m exactly like them, that’s definitely helpful.”
“Sap” is currently streaming on Netflix.
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