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The spit take: A comedy roundtable with Mae Martin and Sam Jay

Fefi Orentas

April 16th, 2024

Wherein we discuss how to bomb well, pee in a bucket, and find serenity on stage.

When it comes to your deepest desires, we have a recommendation: spit them out (a terrifying suggestion, to be sure). 

For courage, we like to  see how others spit out their desires—and no one puts on a show like  comedians. If to swallow our desires down is human and to spit them out is divine, then this week on Feeld is our dedication to all things divine and comedic. Below, we have a roundtable with Feeld's very own Fefi Orentas, taped live at a Feeld Social in Los Angeles.

Humor, as a daily practice, encapsulates so much of how I try to navigate my life. When I’m feeling embarrassed I embrace humor as a perspective that saves my self-esteem from tanking,  and when I’m looking to connect, a funny story can bring people closer through laughter and shared experience. Laughing my way through life helps me to never take myself too seriously, and creates specific points of connection where vulnerability thrives. 

To harness its magic on a stage, and platform these moments of sensitive truths, is a skill I’ve always admired: stand-up is storytelling at its most joyful. So once I had improv 101 under my belt—a novice in the professional field of comedy, maybe, but a lifelong student of its powers—it just felt natural to interview two of my favorite comedians. Without further ado, not to mention journalistic experience, I spoke with Mae Martin and Sam Jay late last year to help me wrap my head around just what I love most about the art of laughter.

Years ago, I took a chance on a random comedy night at Moth Club in London, and that’s where I saw Mae Martin doing stand-up. It was a refreshingly open and honest set, and Martin’s jokes were met with a high chorus of laughter in the room. This kind of resonating honesty is something I search for in comics—I’m struck by the power of sharing a hard truth on stage and translating it into an accessible, soulful, hilarious experience where for a moment the audience is connected by joy and levity. Sam Jay is another one of those artists that holds such a space of hilarious truth, as seen in her latest special, “Salute Me or Shoot Me.” She shares her own personal stories while guiding the audience through her process and perspective. She’s not telling you how to think, she’s offering her unique, and often hilarious, point of view for your consideration. 

A clear dynamic arose in our conversation, and I wondered at first if it was something about professional comedians holding a room rapt—but then we got around to star signs and the real answer was clear. I’m an Aries, a fire sign, and with Mae being a Taurus and Sam being a Capricorn, the vibe was frenetic meets grounded. It’s in my nature to run in different directions, wanting to know absolutely everything, and these two Earth signs remained steady and true to themselves, with the occasional wink, raised eyebrow, or punchline. Surrounded by the buzz of the Feeld Social at Mama Shelter in Los Angeles, we discussed everything from what the future of comedy holds, to the intimacy of laughter, to the unexpected pleasures of bombing a set (or rather, missing the opportunity for that precious “exchange of energy.”) 

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Can both of you tell me who you are and what you do?

Sam Jay: Can you give me one second? Hey, Kara, is there a way to get in touch with the driver? Or is someone still around? Because I left something in the backseat.

Mae Martin: Oh, I thought you were going to go, "Hey, Kara, who am I? Please, help." Okay. I'm Mae Martin. I'm a comedian, a writer, an actor, and a nice person I think.


Can you talk about who your community is? Maybe some of your favorite comedians as mentors, or some mentees that you see coming up on the scene?

MM: I love the comedy community. It gets a bad rap, but I think--

It gets a bad rap?

MM: The comedy community? Yeah. But I love it. I feel's the sense that a green room is a scary place. But I've been doing it so long, I've had so many great mentors. In Canada, people like Carolyn Taylor. And then here, I'm doing a podcast with Tig Notaro and Fortune Feimster, and I'm a big fan of both of them.

Sam, I was asking if you can say who you are and what you do.

SJ: I'm Sam Jay. I'm a comedian, writer. Actor of sorts, I guess.

Why of sorts?

SJ: I don't know. I don't believe it yet, but I'm doing it.

MM: Imposter syndrome.

You're like, "I'm an artist. Maybe."

SJ: I'm an artist for sure. I believe that. I believe I'm a stand-up comedian. I'm an actor of sorts. That part I'm still learning and growing in my confidence. I feel like you know you're doing it when you understand why it works. I don't always fully get the mechanisms of why it's working because I don't know the art form yet. Whereas comedy, I know what I'm doing at all times. I'm very dialed into that. I'm not that dialed in with the acting yet. Some of it's just luck. Some of it is choice. And when that stuff really starts to align itself, then I think I'll feel like, "You're an actor."

So how do you know when it's working for you?

MM: When you're in that kind of flow state—you're not on autopilot, and you're responding to the energy in the room. That's when I'm blissed out and feel like I'm doing it right. You can just tell when the audience is engaged and invested. And I feel like the closer I've got to myself on stage, the more people have responded. When you first start out you're just, or at least I was, impersonating a lot of comedians, without meaning to. Like trying on different things.

Finding your voice.

MM: Totally. And then as soon as you stop trying to be cool, basically, people start responding more I think. 

Do you feel like, as comedians, you've used this medium as a channel for your own self-discovery?

SJ: There's definitely been moments on stage where I've been talking through something and then I go, on stage, like, "Oh, that is the problem."

MM: "Oh, I am the problem."

SJ: I'm up there just processing as I'm delivering a little bit. 

MM: Definitely in my Netflix series, I was processing stuff in real time, and that definitely helps.

I asked that question because I'm not a comedian, but every time I do attend a standup show and I hear somebody sharing something very vulnerable, I just become very myself also in that moment. I just really resonate with somebody sharing that cycle of your life and talking about something that is deeply personal. 

MM: Oh, that's so nice.

And also standup can be very vicious! Just no exchange of energy…or what is that called?

SJ: Bombing?


SJ: Wow, I'm going to start calling it “no exchange of energy.” I'm never going to say I bombed again. "How was the show?" It just wasn't an “exchange of energy” that night. The energy wasn't exchanged, in a nutshell.

MM: Yeah, I like that a lot.

SJ: We actually call it something very violent. It feels really bad when it's happening to me.

MM: What's so weird is it feels really bad, but I actually love watching people bomb.

SJ: Depends on how you bomb.

MM: That's true. 

SJ: I like a good bomber, a person who knows the bomb is happening, acknowledges the bomb, but doesn't give into the crowd, kind of rides the wave. A person who's feverishly fighting against the bomb, I don't like that. That's painful to watch.

MM: Or when they turn on the audience.

I'm actually thinking of doing standup classes, but that's for another day.

MM: Oh, you should. If you have that impulse, you should try it. Everyone should try it.

SJ: I think you should definitely try anything that you think about. But if you get up and you feel really, really, really bad, you should probably do it two more times. If you still feel really bad and you're like, "I'm never doing this again," and you don't, then it wasn't for you. But if you keep going, then you'll find your way.

Mae, I saw you live in Hackney two or three years ago.

MM: What was I doing?

You were doing standup.

SJ: You was peeing. "Come see Mae Martin pee live tonight!"

MM: You must have really enjoyed it.

SJ: And you came out and there was a bucket, and it was an invisible bucket, like a see-through bucket. And so every time you pee, we could see the volume.

See, I work at Feeld, so that's not weird to me. We don't kink shame.

SJ: And you didn't have enough pee. I'm going to let you know that. You disappointed everybody that night. Your pee was like work.

MM: Oh, God. And like we're sweating thinking about people being like, "We paid a lot of money for this." And they start walking out. Oh, no. 

Looking back, how were you always changing into the person that you are today?

SJ: Are you in a relationship?

MM: I am, yeah. Nearly a year.

SJ: It took a lot, but I really feel like I figured out peace. That's the main thing. When people ask me, "Where are you at? What is shit? How are you feeling?" My first answer is, "I'm good. I've really figured out a work-life balance." I think when you first start this shit, you get into this shit, you're chasing so much. It's a chase at first. You don't think it's yours. You're trying to catch it. Then you get it and you're kind of coveting it like a fucking Smeagol.

MM: Yeah, yeah. And you think everyone's better.

SJ: And so you think everything matters so much and every event is a big deal; every place, if you don't show up, somehow you're fucking ruining your career because you weren't there. You're being shitty to your partner, like, no, "I absolutely cannot be there for the birth of your child. I have a show with Adam Sandler and that might change my life." You know what I mean?

MM: Yeah.

SJ: So you're just living like a fucking psycho. And then at some point you get confidence in this thing, and you get confidence in your place in it because you've worked it so long. You've built it and you've been in the clubs and you've met people and you've shaken the hands and you've done the specials and then you're like, "I could not show up tonight, and it all won't burn down. And if it does, then I really didn't do my job." And then you start to carve out space for your fucking life eventually. I think I'm there.

MM: That's the scarcity mentality. There's enough for everyone.

SJ: I spend two days a week with my fiancée. I don't do standup. We go out and do something cool. I make sure that we do that. But if it's an important thing to her, I'll move a date.

MM: When are you getting married?

SJ: I don't know. We're not in a rush. We've been dating off and on for like 17 years. We met in college.

Oh my God!

SJ: We really know each other. We really love each other. I feel like one day we're going to wake up and be like, "You want to go to the courthouse today?" And she's going to be like, "Yeah." And it's going to just happen. 

MM: I love that.

Speaking of people we love: Who is the person whose laugh means the most to you?

SJ: This is the most intimate interview I've ever done. My brother Michael is my favorite person to make laugh, because he has the best laugh. It comes from his gut. It's giggly. It's full of giggles.

MM: The best.

SJ: It comes from his gut and he holds his stomach. When he's laughing, he's laughing. And he's also very funny and he's very witty, so he laughs at the right stuff. He laughs at the stuff everybody misses, and he laughs hard. That's my favorite person.

MM: I have two best friends I've had since I was 13 and if I can get them cry-laugh laughing [I feel good]. But they make me laugh way more than I make them laugh. Those two, Gabby and Nicole. And then Tig and Fortune because I've loved them for so long. I love their comedy. Tig's laugh especially is like...because she's so deadpan, it's super satisfying. And then my friend Charlotte in England as well. You don't know these people, but...

I love them if you love them. What other projects do you hope to do soon? Do you have any other thoughts about other avenues for your work?

MM: I have a music album that I made and it's not very good. And I know that and I don't care. I fully just had the best time making it and I want to learn more. And I've always played the guitar.

SJ: It's so tough when you achieve some level in something else, to allow yourself to try something else and maybe be okay and maybe be not that great.

MM: That's what I'm trying to do.

SJ: It's so hard the first time. It's hard to get up and do stand-up and not know what you are at it and then just be like, "Uh."

MM: Totally. When I first started my voice would shake. I went to a voice coach. It's a whole other muscle.

SJ: Oh, I know the feeling. I would look down a lot. I look at my old, old sets, like old sets from when clubs was giving me DVDs to upload for a festival, and I was fucking looking at the ground the entire time and fidgety as fuck.

MM: I have a friend who closes his eyes, and he didn't know that he did it. And I was like, "You're like this on stage." And he's like, "No, I'm not."

SJ: So it's cool that you're giving yourself space to grow in a thing.

Is there music in your future, Sam?

SJ: No. I don't know. I just want to keep doing shit. I want to direct eventually, but I really want to know what I'm doing. I feel like you can step into shit because you're adjacent to stuff and people will just let you, but I don't want that. I want to know what I'm doing. So I'm like, this is going to require some education. This is going to require me kind of at some point taking a step back and taking some space to actually learn another skill. I want to know the lenses. I want to know the frame up. I really, really want to know. And then I want to make something fucking fire.

MM: It’s giving Capricorn.