Imagine you’re in a Canadian forest, filled with dark spruce trees, roaming wild moose and chattering bugs. Now, imagine that forest was on a stage, and Canadian comedian Mae Martin is there to make you laugh.
This is the setup for the comedian’s intimate and earnest special, which released on Netflix Tuesday.
The comedy special, Sap, starts and ends in a forest, in both the set itself and in small pre-filmed skits surrounding it. The first pre-filmed skit starts off with Martin and a man around a fire in the woods, exchanging items and throwing their phones in the fire, before the man turns to introduce Martin. This then cuts to Martin on stage.
Throughout the approximately one-hour set, Martin explores familial, platonic and romantic relationships. They also dive deeper into the overwhelming emotions they feel on an everyday basis — rage, embarrassment and nostalgia to name a few — and where many of these feelings are rooted.
Starting in the woods, Martin rolls into a bit about their dad and his mystical behaviors, including having a large interest in birds, becoming friends with animals and making Martin and their brother pray to the moon.
While jokes are whittled into long stories and shorter bits with a quicker punchline, Martin also takes moments to teach the audience something and have heartfelt revelations about emotions, gender identity and life in general.
At one point, Martin jokes about how embarrassing it is that adults have rooms. And how we put things in these rooms that represent ourselves. They then relate that to life, with our experiences being snowglobes we share with other people.
While it is hilarious to imagine yourself handing over your snowglobe collection to someone at a party as you share your memories and experiences, it’s these well thought out metaphorical jokes that get the audience thinking while laughing about the silliness of life.
This is Martin’s biggest strength, on top of their ability to captivate the audience with genuine performance that had me questioning whether certain moments were planned or improv. Martin mentions they’ve been performing comedy since they were 13, so it’s no wonder they’re able to exist so comfortably and charismatic on the stage.
Martin has also worked with Netflix in the past with other content, including the second season of a semi-autobiographical show they wrote and starred in that was released in 2020 called Feel Good.
The show addressed similarly challenging stories about dealing with a youth of misusing drugs, romantic relationships and strained relationships with parents in a serious manner that also felt slightly playful from Martin’s energetic, sometimes self-deprecating humor.
The end of the special loops back to where it started — in the woods.
Martin tells a story about someone who gets stuck on a well with beasts above and below, but hangs on to a branch and finds golden tree sap. This sap is a metaphor for life.
Despite all the horrors in the world, Martin urges the audience to find and enjoy as much sap as possible in life, leaving the audience not with a laugh, but in a feel good mood. And, despite being an unusual ending for a comedy special, I kind of liked this sappy but sincere approach.