Recently I had this exchange where somebody said to me, “Okay, you’re a lesbian, I totally get it… but, in your relationship with your girlfriend, which one of you is the man?” I thought that was so funny. It’s like saying, “Oh, you’re a vegetarian, I totally get that. But which part of the salad is the pork-choppy part?”
Candid, quirky and looking more than a little like Justin Bieber, Toronto-born Mae Martin is a rising comic star. Watching clips of her upcoming Global Television special (like the above transcript from her YouTube page), I’m reminded of the first time I saw Elvira Kurt drop the L-bomb on a suburban audience in early-’90s Kitchener. Then, as now, I was struck by the naturalness of these women’s lesbian declarations, and the willingness of their audiences to go along for the ride.
Sure we gay and trans folk made some pretty steep advances into mass media, but spreading your legs and showing what you like to do down there (metaphorically speaking, of course) is still pretty verboten when you’re trying to crack the mainstream. Martin’s own instant likability helps matters along, as she tells folksy stories from a life that many in her audience may never consider. There’s an endearing hesitancy to her delivery that recalls comics like Kurt and Ellen DeGeneres (not to mention Bob Newhart), while the delightful songs she sprinkles through her act are both witty and wickedly funny.
Martin got her start quite young, taking to the stage at the tender age of 13 with some classmates from Second City’s education program. Together they formed a sketch comedy troupe that proved a hit around town. The experience was both elucidating and occasionally daunting.
“I went through puberty onstage,” Martin deadpans. “I started with a ponytail and acne, a typical teenager thinking that I knew everything. I think the novelty of our ages helped us get gigs, but then you stick around, see more comedy and realize you’re totally at the bottom of the ladder.”
This early foray into comedy was inspired by a concert that Martin’s mother had taken the 13-year-old to at Massey Hall. It was the Toronto stop for the Kids In The Hall concert tour, and Martin was instantly hooked.
“It was like a rock concert,” she says. “It was so revelatory for me… that kind of sexual ambiguity they have. I became a fanatic and later even ended up babysitting for [KITH member] Mark McKinney.”
“I’ve always had a very obsessive personality. I had this series of idols that began with Pee Wee Herman, and I completely idolized Paul Reubens. Then in Grade One my mom showed me the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I fell in love with Tim Curry.”
And while we set aside the envy at how fucking fabulous it would have been to have a mother like that, it nicely illustrates the support that Martin’s family showed, not only in her development as an artist, but as a partaker in the love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.
“Coming out to them as a comedian was actually part of me coming out as gay,” says Martin. “They’re pretty great about it. My dad used to be an actor, and my mom likes that I’m doing a three-week run at the Edinburgh Festival next year.”
Martin’s also pulling in crowds with her act in UK comedy clubs and splits her time fairly evenly between Toronto and London. As one can expect, there are marked differences in each country’s comic scene.
“In Canada I’m usually the only musical comic on the bill, but in England I’m finding this huge community of two or three on each night. It’s great, though. I always wrote cheesy songs on the guitar as a teenager, but three years ago I started writing comedy songs. It’s a nice blend of stand-up and storytelling.”
The Global TV special is a big step for Martin, who has previously appeared on the Comedy Network, TVO, The Space Channel and YTV. Even bigger is her excitement at sharing the bill with KITH alumni Dave Foley.
“That’s just huge for me,” she says. “Dream come true.”
Global Comedians airs Boxing Day on the Global Television Network. For more information and live clips go to maemartin.ca.