Dave Chappelle has most likely not seen Mae Martin’s most recent stand-up special, but they have viewed many of Chappelle’s.
In their Netflix special Mae Martin: SAP, the nonbinary comic avoids defining any aspect of their humor by their gender — in fact, it’s a subject they’d rather avoid altogether. “I don’t really want to talk about gender,” they admit around minute 55, as the set takes on a more serious tone and Martin plainly and non-judgmentally parses through the gender spectrum misconceptions that compel Martin to waste valuable time during their first standalone special on a platform that has enthusiastically and emphatically promoted comics who spread those same fallacies.
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When it comes to the contentious issues of gender identity and transgender rights in America and elsewhere, Martin knows a lot but says very little, in contrast to the approaches of Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, or even Joe Rogan — “let’s throw him in there,” Martin would say.
The Canadian-born comic spends most of Mae Martin: SAP analyzing their own experiences and the small, simple truths they’ve come to appreciate — such as how they can’t unlearn their parents conceived them in the doggy style. Martin only briefly answers questions that have bothered them since Chappelle and other hugely famous comedians chose the transgender community as their favorite target for tasteless bits about bathroom assaults and endless pronoun jokes.
As Martin points out, the “gender binary” isn’t exactly a scientific fact in the way that some comics portray it — intersex people make up as much as 1.7 percent of the population, so “what’s in your pants?” isn’t quite the conversation-ending query that transphobes think it to be.
Martin also investigates how, despite the fact that the idea of the gender spectrum may appear to those who grew up with only the binary, various cultures included third or fourth identities besides male and female in their gender dynamics before the majority of them were erased by the spread of colonialism. Martin even points out how, when India repealed anti-gay laws in 2018, British news outlets snarkily told India, “It’s about time,” which is profoundly ironic given that the British Empire was the one who instituted those laws in the first place.
Martin describes their gender identity succinctly: Gaston is the obvious exemplar of masculinity in Beauty and the Beast, with his rippling muscles and boundless confidence, while Belle is the Stockholm Syndrome-suffering stand-in for femininity. Meanwhile, Martin identifies with Lumiere, who is neither masculine nor feminine, but eventually wants everyone to have fun and “be our guest.”
“I have this fantasy — it’s a really clear image in my head; it’s Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, Louis C.K., throw Joe Rogan in there,” Martin says before describing a vast medieval feast with mead and a whole hog in the theme of Beauty and the Beast before a TV turns on to Martin’s special where their Lumiere explanation of nonbinary gender identity plays, and the four exclaim, “Oh my god! Guys! We were wrong!”
“When you’re someone who’s part of the trans community, it can feel like a lose-lose. Because as soon as I start talking about it, people are like, ‘Ugh, these people are constantly whining,’” Martin told Rolling Stone of their reticence to include the gender jokes in their special. “But it’s also a very crucial time to present a counterargument to the very loud people with huge platforms who are weighing in in bad faith about things that have real-life consequences.”
Transgender people are four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime in America, and the number of transgender persons killed by homicide doubled between 2017 and 2021. During the same time period, multi-millionaire comedians launched an anti-transgender crusade, ostensibly in defense of their own “free speech” on stages in front of adoring crowds and on eight-figure streaming deals.
“It’s a difficult tone to strike because I care so deeply about it and could easily rant for hours about how annoyed I am,” Martin admitted. “So, if it’s in any way helpful for people to see someone speaking about their lived experience and cutting through the never-ending debate about whether trans people deserve to be happy, then it’s hopefully worth it.” What Martin accomplished in SAP was to inject reality and humanity into the exhausting and categorically uninformed “debate” in a comedy about the rights and personhood of trans people, which their peers’ remarks regrettably lack.
“But it’s also not the most interesting aspect of me,” they added of their gender. “And I don’t want to feel that way because I’m constantly defending my identity.”