‘I’m that candlestick!’: Mae Martin on their unlikely cultural icons | Television


People often ask me about “queer representation” in media and why it is important. I am a queer person and, like other minority groups, I’ve been so excited to see more queer characters and stories being told in recent years. It is long overdue, and there’s still a long way to go, I think.

Growing up, there was a real dearth of people who looked like me, or loved like me, on TV, which can be an isolating feeling. Luckily, queerness is just one small aspect of who I am and so growing up I was able to think abstractly and feel “seen” in other ways, so that I didn’t feel excluded from mainstream culture. Here are my top four characters in TV and film I identified with.

Gordie, Stand By Me

The greatest coming-of-age film ever made, Stand By Me follows a group of 12-year-olds on a camping trip to see if they can find a dead body, rumoured to be in the forest. I related to all those boys, really, being the same age as them when I first saw the film. Like any great ensemble of characters, each one reflected a different shade of human nature. They were all recognisable: Chris Chambers’s good intentions, Vern’s fear of being left out, Teddy’s self-destructive rage … but it was Gordie who really spoke to me. A gangly little lad with big wide eyes, devoted to his best friend Chris the way I was devoted to my cooler and more confident friend Susie at the time, Gordie feels like an outsider in his family and in the world. There’s a moment when he and Chris are walking side by side and Gordie turns to Chris out of nowhere and says: “Chris, am I … weird?” Chris looks at him and shrugs: “Yeah, but so what, everybody’s weird.” Yup.

Lumière the Candlestick, Beauty and the Beast

Lumière and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast.
Lumière and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast. Photograph: AF Archive/Alamy

Disney movies, although I loved them, always threw me for a loop. Being somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum my whole life, and not fitting the ideals of masculinity or femininity that Belle/The Beast, Aladdin/Jasmine, Eric/Ariel possessed (I mean, does anyone?), I found myself relating to the anxious, sexually ambiguous sidekick characters, such as Lumière, the French candle in Beauty and the Beast who is simply desperate to please and wants everyone to “be his guest”. “I’m that candlestick,” I thought. Zazu, that flustered bird in The Lion King who chases everyone, telling them to stop behaving recklessly, was also my vibe.

Dr Allan Pearl, Waiting for Guffman

Waiting for Guffman follows a group of amateur actors putting on a play in the small town of Blaine, Missouri. In general, all of the characters in this movie (expertly played by Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey and more) possess a kind of spellbinding lack of self-awareness and an utter earnestness which I really relate to. I was 13 when I saw the movie. Teenagers (and indeed most adult comedians) value irony above all things, which was stressful to me because I was totally incapable of projecting that kind of mildly cynical feigned detachment. I couldn’t fake it, couldn’t begin to pretend not to care with every fibre of my being about things like new romance or friendships, being liked … my cheeks would flush and eyes fill with tears at even the suggestion of an emotion. I felt deeply earnest and sensitive. And by felt I mean “currently still feel”.

Pearl of wisdom ... Eugene Levy in Waiting for Guffman.
Pearl of wisdom … Eugene Levy in Waiting for Guffman. Photograph: Moviestore/Alamy

Like Eugene Levy’s masterfully crafted character Dr Allan Pearl, I also suddenly felt like I had “found my people”. A local dentist, in the film Dr Pearl has just discovered amateur dramatics, and I had just discovered the world of professional comedy. There’s a scene in Waiting for Guffman where Dr Pearl has just had his first rehearsal for the production and he reflects to the camera, quivering with emotion: “I’m … I’m walking on air. You know, this is a sensation which is … forget it. When I became a dentist I thought I was happy, but this … ” I. Felt. So. Seen. To me, discovering the comedy community – where people were permitted to say on stage the things that were weird/different about them and be applauded for it, the complete inverse of the high school experience – was a similarly emotional revelation.

That kid in the Spice Girls music video for Viva Forever

An absolute classic from the era of bizarrely fantastical music videos, Viva Forever features a geeky kid being led through an enchanted forest by the Spice Girls, who are sort of animated fairy creatures. I attended an all-girls school at the height of the Spice Girls’ fame and was constantly having to answer the question (in lip-sync groups, games at lunch etc) “Which Spice Girl are you?” Well, none of them. To me, the Spice Girls were mysterious goddesses. Actually, a lot of the girls in my school seemed that way. They always knew what lip gloss to wear, how to dance, what stationery to buy. I felt like my body was made of sticks and string and glue. So I really related to that kid who blinks in wonder as these magical Spice Fairies guide him inexorably towards puberty.

Series two of Feel Good is streaming now on Netflix

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