Andrew Johnston plants an innocent (to him) smooch on the smitten Sara Hennessey in episode four, “Sara is Not a Gay Man Enough,” of her Goodbye Sara Hennessey web series.
“You just can’t sit around and wait for a TV series, especially in this country. So I decided to make my own.”
Sound advice from Sara Hennessey, a Toronto-based stand-up comic who’s been playing backrooms and showcase sets around Toronto for eight years now (she started young), and currently runs and co-produces three shows herself: Hour of Power at Laugh Sabbath, Comedy at the Ossington, and The Parkdale Comedy Experiment.
But it’s one thing to say you’re going to create your own series, and another to find the time, money, and—especially—the talent and supporting team to do so. Hennessey spent most of 2010 doing just that: writing all spring, shooting all summer, and working with director and editor Phillip Berg through the fall and winter to create her six-part web miniseries Goodbye Sara Hennessey.
In each episode of the series, the comedienne’s flighty and self-focused character is dumped by a different man, and seizes on perceived shortcomings to focus on for self-improvement, with unpredictable results. The final two episodes will premiere this Sunday at Laugh Sabbath.
“I had to call in a lot of favours,” admits Hennessey, who drew on a wide assortment of fellow comedians to appear in her project, such as Sketchersons alumni (and Comedy Bar regulars) Pat Thornton and Bob Kerr, fellow Laugh Sabbath members Chris Locke and Kathleen Phillips, and MuchMusic Video On Trial pals like Debra DiGiovanni and Andrew Johnston.
Each episode took an average of four days to shoot, spread out over the course of two weekends. Filming wrapped in October 2010, but it took months to edit the episodes together. “There’s a lot of different shots and sequences per video,” explains Hennessey. “It’s really ambitious, the way Phil (Berg) shot it. He’s such a thorough guy, so we shot a lot of takes.”
It was fellow comic Deborah Robinson (the waitress Hennessey demeans in Episode 3, “Sara Becomes a Feminist“) who linked Hennessey up with Berg, co-founder of The Wrong Box and one of Toronto’s most prolific comedy filmmakers. Hennessey emphasizes that the two complemented each other well over the year long project: “He’s my complete opposite—hilariously so. He’s really technical, focused, and details-oriented, whereas I’m all over the place. So he was the perfect person to shoot—and direct, and edit—because he’d question everything, like, asking ‘What does this mean?’ I’d go, ‘Nothing! It’s just random, and funny!’ But it was good to have someone challenging me.”
Hennessey also relied on fellow writer Steph Tracey (who directed her well-received 2009 Fringe show, Sara Hennessey Town), particularly when she was writing material. “We’ve known each other since I was sixteen, and she really understands comedy—especially mine. Like, she’ll call me on it when I start to sound too much like, say, Amy Sedaris. I can’t tell that sort of thing, but she always calls me on it.”
Another key collaborator was musician Ken Farrell, better known as the “Party Leader” of Gravity Wave. The series is Farrell’s debut as a composer for film or televison; although some of his existing songs are used in background and montage sequences, Hennessey had him create new music for many scenes. “I’d ask him for something, like, banjo-picking run-away music, and he’d go, ‘OK,’ and totally do that,” she says. “He has a unique sound, which helps make the series stand out, as well.”
For her part, Hennessey is hoping the public showing of the last two episodes this weekend will lead to increased exposure for the series; she’s looking to secure funding for a possible second season, and properly pay all the talent next time around. “I’d done the two Fringe shows, and they were good, but I wanted to reach a larger audience. The best way is word of mouth online—if people start Tweeting about the series, or re-posting videos, I’m hoping that’ll help something come of this.” She recently opened for Maria Bamford (who’s become a fan), and has a series of shows planned with Debra DiGiovanni this spring; she intends to to visit Los Angeles this August, where many Canadian comics have found success. Goodbye Sara Hennessey may encourage producers in that town to welcome her with warm hellos.
Goodbye Sara Hennessey Episodes 5 & 6 screen at Laugh Sabbath this Sunday March 27, with performances from Pat Thornton, Kathleen Phillips, Conor Holler, and Tim Gilbert, plus a musical set from Gravity Wave, and your host, Sara Hennessey. The Rivoli (332 Queen Street West), 9 p.m., $5.