Mae Martin Is a Master Escape Artist

“Isn’t it crazy that this is how I relax?”

Mae Martin and I are in a dark room styled to look like a suite in an old hotel, fumbling as we try to open every cabinet, drawer, and door with a key we’ve just found. Lamps flicker as clattering and groaning sound effects remind us that an evil spirit threatens to trap us here forever if we can’t find a way out. Yes, to an escape-room novice like myself, this does seem an unusual way to unwind, but as we progress through the puzzles (and scream at every jump scare), the excitement kicks in, and I forget all my concerns back in the real world — just as Martin promised.

“Life is so overwhelming and chaotic,” the comedian tells me over coffee before we sign waivers and enter the Hotel on Road 66, roleplaying as a pair of weary travelers whose car has broken down on the highway. “To have an hour where you have one thing to do, one clear task, is really satisfying,” they say, particularly when you succeed. “And probably the adrenaline I like a little bit. I don’t do drugs anymore, I gotta do something. It’s augmented reality. I like immersive theater as well, where things are not what they seem. I wish life was like that, I wish there were, like, clues under this table,” they say, sweeping a hand beneath the café table like there might be a mysterious envelope taped there.

The Toronto-born Martin, who turns 37 in May, has made the search for answers a theme of their work, from fact-checking their parents’ tall tale about once driving a car through the legs of a giant moose in the 2023 Netflix stand-up special SAP to probing their gender identity through an alter-ego character in their 2020-2021 romcom series Feel Good. (The real Martin is trans and nonbinary.) So it makes perfect sense that mind games would activate their creative potential, and it seems that over the course of attempting dozens of escape rooms — Martin says that by their last count they’ve done close to 50 here in Los Angeles alone — they have unlocked many avenues of expression: apart from live standup, they are at work on an “earnest” music album, co-host the podcast Handsome with fellow comics Tig Notaro and Fortune Feimster (Jennifer Aniston guested on a recent episode about psychic experiences), and are preparing for a supporting role in the upcoming Netflix thriller series Wayward, about two teenagers in a rehab facility that turns out to be something far more insidious.

In the past, “I’ve only played myself, really,” Martin says. “I’ve got to make sure I know how to act. When I write [a character] I have to pretend I’m not acting it so that I don’t edit it so that my character is very cool and chill.” Playing to the higher stakes of a drama will be a different sort of challenge, and they’re planning to hire a coach to prepare for the part

Before that, though, they’ll be taking the stage for the 2024 Netflix Is a Joke Festival, which kicks off May 1 in L.A., for three performances of Mae And Brett Make Love To Each Other Live On Stage. The partly improvised show, also featuring Martin’s longtime friend Brett Goldstein (Roy Kent in Ted Lasso) began as something of a marketing gag. “It was just a new material night,” Martin says, in a regular slot at L.A.’s Largo, a beloved nightclub comedy and cabaret venue, “and they wanted a funny name for it.” After giving it a titillating title, they found it sold out quickly.

“We were like, I think people actually think we’re gonna hook up, and then we were like, oh, we could hook up,” Martin says. “So now it’s kind of escalated” into a sequence of dares, they explain. The two riff on different topics and tell stories about their friendship, occasionally pausing to make out, always “with the promise that we’re going to have full intercourse at the end,” Martin says. “And we’ll see, maybe one day we’ll get there.” They add that it’s “fun being on stage with someone that you trust so much and know so well. We can push each other further and embarrass each other.”

I get a crash course in trust during our stay in the haunted hotel, following Martin’s lead as they sniff out objects and patterns of interest. Beforehand, they had modestly claimed they were still “not good” at escape rooms, but we’re talking about the champion of Taskmaster Season 15; obviously they have a knack for spontaneous problem-solving. At one point, when we’ve gained access to a creepy nursery with a functional piano, Martin experiments with playing some sheet music by sight to see if it unlocks the next stage of the narrative — going above and beyond what’s actually expected of us. Meanwhile, they occasionally apologize for taking me here, yell “Fuck no!” whenever a ghostly shrieking fills the air, and bravely venture alone into pitch-black chambers if a challenge requires us to separate, despite their dread of what lies within. “The faster we do it, the sooner we’re out,” Martin jokes at one point.

Martin races through the challenges so swiftly, in fact, that it’s all I can do to contribute somehow (though my literary credentials come in handy when we have to shelve a bunch of books by genre). The rushing around seems part and parcel of this boom phase of Martin’s career, with its proliferating gigs and opportunities. The irony, they say, is that they’d like the chance to slow down.

Mae Martin says they’ve done almost 50 escape rooms in L.A. alone.


“I’m wildly in love right now,” Martin says, having mentioned their girlfriend, Survivor and Traitors star Parvati Shallow. “It’s weird. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, but it’s also the first time in my life that I’m pretty desperate to just be at home, or that I am not trying to escape my regular life with work.” The comic is also “pretty enamored with L.A.,” two years after moving from London, where they spent more than a decade in the British comedy scene. “There’s tons of people over there that I’m begging to come out here,” Martin says, and they’re excited that some U.K. standups who rarely play in the U.S., including Janine Harouni, will be a part of the Netflix Is a Joke fest.

And while Martin has not hesitated to use their Netflix platform to call out the transphobia of Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, and other comedians partnered with the streaming giant, Hollywood itself provides welcome reminders of how many more are not becoming culture war reactionaries. “I saw Adam Sandler the other day at the Largo,” Martin says. “You’re always nervous when you meet your heroes, especially, for me, if they’re going to decide to take on some hot-button issue in a way that’s a bummer. But he was just so funny and silly, and it was so refreshing. I’m still getting over just being in a city where so many of the people I grew up watching or idolized — or I’m currently idolizing, who are my peers — are accessible to me.”

All that promise back in the real world only adds urgency to our efforts to break out of the accursed lodgings, which lead to a grand finale that has us open a fake gas main and set the hotel on fire as we make our exit through a window. The escape room operator tells us we’ve beaten the clock, with 12 minutes to spare. “We could’ve just hung out in there and had tea!” Martin exclaims.

While I’d never seen the appeal of trapping yourself in a den of riddles, Martin’s adventurous enthusiasm is infectious. I’m reminded of the Buddhist parable that gives their special SAP its title, which is about finding the simplest pleasure amid an impossible situation. At the very least, my two major fears (that I’d break something or look excessively stupid) have not been realized. I can tell Martin is delighted to have initiated me into this, their favorite ritual.

“Are you hooked?” they ask with a smile.