Comedians Andrew Johnston and Sara Hennessey know how to keep busy. Both spent the year touring the country separately; this summer, Hennessey performed at various Just for Laughs shows in Montreal, while Johnston mounted his annual cabaret, Bitch Salad, to a sold-out audience as part of WorldPride. The two Toronto comedy mainstays have decided to close out the summer together by performing as a double bill for a live taping this Friday, August 22, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre with special guests Emma Hunter, Tim Gilbert, and Heidi Brander.
Comedy has the reputation of being a cutthroat industry, and it’s a refreshing oddity to see funny people who actually support each other—so Torontoist decided to investigate. We caught up with Johnston and Hennessey as they’re preparing for their show to chat about the Toronto comedy scene, touring, HPV of the face, and why they make each other laugh.
Torontoist: How did this project come about?
Sara Hennessey: First of all, AJ and I get a real kick out of each other, and since we both wanted to record separate comedy albums anyway, it just made sense to collaborate. This is like the prom of comedy shows. Just think of our sets like the longest prom king and queen acceptance speeches of all time. Corsages may be a thing.
Andrew Johnston: Pretty much this week three years ago we teamed up for a joint video taping of our headline sets and called it Big Business. We’re remounting the night as a live taping of our individual comedy albums.
How long have you known each other?
AJ: The first time I saw Sara was on this CTV show called W5, where they were profiling a handful of students at Humber College’s comedy program and she was one of them. Anyway, she was like this spastic, 19-year-old version of Tia from Uncle Buck and they followed her pitfalls through Toronto open-mic nights and it is just something I’ll never forget. A few years later, she came up to me after a show I was on and was like, “I love you!”; then, a few months later we were on the same show and I got to see her do a set that was considerably more realized than she did on W5 and I was absolutely in love.
SH: That W5 episode was about “up-and-coming comedians.” They had “edgy” footage of me writing in my notebook on the subway, wearing a man’s hat, then bombing at The Rivoli. AJ saw past this and befriended me. I first saw him performing on Fresh Meat back in 2006; his material really filled me in on what his life was like thus far—thus setting us up for a speedy friendship.
Sara, what about Andrew’s comedy makes you laugh?
SH: Andrew should have his own TV program, goshdarn it! He’s a true showman, incredibly sharp, and makes sitting in a makeup chair look like he’s sitting in a hot tub. I laugh long, loud, and clear at all his “isms” every time I see him; his highly referential sense of humour coupled with his Hitler-youth haircut is a winning combination. He’s excellent.
Andrew, what about Sara’s comedy makes you laugh?
AJ: If I had to give a sitcom-ready description of Sara’s comic persona, it would be “spastic slacker,” but that really over-simplifies her. The thing I find most remarkable about Sara is that she speaks from such a distinct point of view and rafts down such a particular stream of consciousness, yet she’s able to communicate it to whatever audience she’s in front of and they’re completely with her—it’s almost psychic. What makes me laugh about her, though? I can never, ever expect where she’s going with a bit and it always kills me.
Fill in the blank: the Toronto comedy scene is…
AJ: Drowned with talent, thriving with possibility, starving of opportunity, will suck dick for food or cigarettes.
SH: So good it’s tragic. So much talent, very little opportunity.
What’s the best part about going on tour? What’s the worst?
SH: Best part is making rooms of new people laugh and the worst part is the lack of greens—both money and veg.
AJ: Best part would be the change of scenery, and I’m not just talking about my Grindr homescreen, but, yeah, mostly I am. It has been really cool getting to see the country and get paid to do it, though. The worst is the packing. I’m a creature of both habit and comfort and it never takes me less than four hours to pack to go anywhere.
Does having an encyclopedic knowledge of comedy make you more or less funny?
SH: I think being a comedy nerd does help shape your sense of humour. We all have comics and shows we grew up watching, and being inspired or learning or knowing more wouldn’t make you less funny. But it doesn’t automatically make you a comedian either. Can a music nerd noodle the most righteous ditties? Not necessarily, but they can dream. And I’m not here to take that away from them.
AJ: I’ll say less funny, just because it’s been my experience that people who are overly concerned with being students of comedy don’t focus on the doing of comedy enough, and confuse lording knowledge of who’s done what for clout instead of developing their own point of view. They also really, really love referring bits that other people have done to get laughs in a captive audience because they have none of their own that will do the same. It’s going to be so cliché coming from me, but I remember listening to an interview with Beyoncé a few years ago in which the interviewer was pressing her to name Diana Ross and others as influences and she was like, “Not really; I listened to what my mother played in her hair salon and just kind of did my own thing”—and I kind of relate with that. Being “encyclopedic” with comedy and capability of doing comedy are just in different universes.
Is Rob Ford a gift or a burden to the Toronto comedy scene?
AJ: Talking about Rob Ford on a Toronto comedy stage is like talking about the weather. It might have been a “thing” for a month or two but now people are just violently bored of it. However, it’s been my experience that people love hearing about it on the road, because everyone outside of Toronto hates Toronto and he validates that, I guess.
SH: Calling Rob Ford a gift in any way feels wrong. He certainly helps generate material but so does a horrible snow storm.
What are the only acceptable reasons why someone would not attend your show on August 22 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre?
SH: I guess—like a rotting dick situation? Yes, you can stay home if you have a rotting dick situation. Or HPV of the face. So if you don’t show up, our condolences regarding your rotting dick and your HPV face.
AJ: Whitney Houston’s resurrection. Otherwise, you’re the Poussey to my Vee, and then eventually, the Vee to my Miss Rosa.