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Mae Martin’s Netflix Special ‘Sap’ Boldly Takes Aim at Transphobia in Comedy
As in their excellent scripted series “Feel Good,” there’s a lot of wisdom and heart in Mae Martin’s first hour-long comedy special for Netflix, tenderly titled “Sap.” More than the series, a moving dark comedy about addiction and trauma, “Sap” has a genuine feel-good quality that feels particularly comforting in the current political moment.
Directed by Abbi Jacobson, the special opens and closes with a campfire sketch that links one of Martin’s opening bits with the syrupy title, and underscores the human need to feel seen through the sharing of perspectives. With an easy charisma and compelling wit, Martin shares details of their journey towards embracing their non-binary gender identity, offering a healing diversion from anxiety-inducing headlines about anti-trans legislation.
Martin, who is Canadian but lives and works in London, favors the relaxed British storytelling style of comedy over the American rush of tight setups and punchlines. Though “Sap” is their first filmed hour, they’re an expert of the form, having performed at least five or six hour-long shows at the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
“The British system is set up that way where everybody builds an hour every year and then takes it up to the festival. It’s really nice,” Martin said during a recent phone interview. “It’s definitely more theatrical, but it means that there’s skills that I lack, like building a really tight 10-[minute] set I find really hard, because I’m spoiled by these, luxuriating in an hour.”
The longer running time also allows more breathing room for vulnerability, as not every moment has to be peppered with jokes. At the end of Season 2 of “Feel Good,” which is semi-autobiographical, Martin’s character realizes they are non-binary after finally facing the sexual trauma of their past. Towards the end of “Sap,” the real Martin proudly tells the audience they recently had top surgery and have been taking testosterone for a year.
“And it’s been the best year of life, genuinely, and I’m 35 years old and this has been the best year of life,” they say, getting slightly emotional. “It’s not like I’m that happy, I’m not like, skipping around. It’s truly just like, the absence of agony, that’s all it is. And that’s a low bar, and who are we to deny anybody that?”
Mae Martin in “Sap”
Martin joins a small but growing list of trans and non-binary comedians and performers who are navigating transition while being in the public eye.
“It felt a little vulnerable for sure. But it felt motivated and like it was necessary to clarify,” they said. “In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to talk about gender at all really because it’s not what I think about the most day to day. I just sort of get up and have a shower and have a coffee and live my life.”
But with prominent male comedians like Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, and Louis C.K., all of whom Martin names in “Sap,” targeting trans people in their own specials, Martin felt compelled to address the elephant in the room.
“I feel like I should talk about it, because everyone else is,” they say in “Sap.” “Like, comedians. Big, multi-millionaire comedians in their stand-up specials are like, taking shots and punching down at a time when trans rights are so tenuous and slipping backwards…and I watch those specials so I can be informed when I am asked in every interview to talk about those guys’ specials.”
It’s a bold move to name the men directly, which they do once and fairly discreetly in the special, especially when both Gervais and Chappelle’s most damning specials were produced and distributed by Netflix. The pointed irony — and the opportunity for a little bit of poetic justice — were not lost on Martin.
“It felt like it would’ve been a conspicuous omission just given the platform of being on Netflix,” said Martin. “[I wanted] to provide a counter-argument to some of those loud voices who are bizarrely obsessed with spreading misinformation about trans people. But I definitely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t felt like I had a funny bit about it.”
During the show they admit they’re probably “preaching to the choir,” but Martin hopes that “Sap” can reach viewers who may not know any trans people.
“When I talk about having top surgery, I’m saying it because I want to highlight how much happier I am now and how positive it’s been for me,” they said. “I’m hoping by making it personal that sort of demystifies it a little bit for people, especially if they’ve been watching the special up to that point and feel like they’ve got to know me. And often all it takes to understand these things is to meet and talk to one trans person. So if I can be that trans person in somebody’s living room and show them that I’m not a threat in any way and that I’m exactly like them, then that’s useful for sure.”
“Sap” is currently streaming on Netflix.
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