Toronto-born standup Mae Martin’s show about addiction is shocking, charming and seriously funny
Don’t let the wide-eyed innocent face fool you – Mae Martin has lived a more hardcore life than most of us. And without wishing to be flippant about some pretty serious stuff, she has at least pulled it all into a brilliant stand-up show.
Dope explores her addictive personality. Her younger self became addicted to Bette Midler and all things related to “Bette”. Her slightly older self preferred drugs. That became a problem. Somewhere inbetween Bette Midler and drugs was comedy, which she discovered when she was about 13. And when I say “addicted” I don’t mean in an off-hand way, like how how the terms “OCD” or “genius” get bandied around. We’re talking full-on, dictionary definition, doctor’s case study version of “addiction”.
Martin doesn’t angle for sympathy or make any boasts about her past, instead she reports it matter-of-factly, aware of the absurdity of it all as it if were another person. That suggests she at least has some closure on that part of her life. For as long as I’ve seen her, Martin’s comedy staples have been self-deprecating anecdotes, balls-out honesty and “my weird upbringing” (there’s an all-too brief appearance from her mum, “Wendy”, who remains a source of comedy gold). But with Dope, it feels like Martin is taking a bigger risk than with previous shows, because of the amount of judgment she’s opening herself up to. As it happens, she’s about as likeable as a comedian can get, so that’s another problem dealt with.
There’s undoubtedly shock value to Dope. The idea of Martin’s rebellious phase going, to quote Superhans, beyond fun and actually getting really really nasty, is so incongruous that it can’t help but be funny. But that under-appreciates how good Martin is at selling her stories to us, and crafting it into an hour of ruddy top-notch comedy. It actually comes as no surprise to hear that she started doing stand-up when she 13, pretending to smoke, apeing her heroes and causing more concern than mirth. It explains why she’s so damn good now. She has the comic confidence, quickness of mind, and the apparent ability to get out of any momentary stickiness, that you can only get after 17 years at the coal face.
There is a wider point to Dope. Her stories aren’t told just for the sake of it – it all relates to a phone conversation she had with Wendy about why she was feeling quite “flat”. Martin floats the tantalising theory that the tyrannical reign of her addictive personality might be, to some extent, over. Part of it, she says, is simply to do with being older, sturdier, less buffeted by the waves. You hope this is the reason, that it’s not just a temporary reprieve.
Comics grow up so publicly that it makes us non-comics feel queasy. They put themselves on stage and make mistakes in front of strangers and just keep going until, hopefully, something clicks. Mae Martin knows this journey better than almost anyone. Thirteen-year-old Mae – fag in hand, troubling the audiences of Toronto – has become 30-year-old Mae, an outstanding comic, the finished product. Somebody tell Wendy, it’s all turned out OK.
Review by Paul Fleckney