Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Last queer comics standing

Andrew Johnston and Sara Hennessey gab about why so few queer comics stick it out

Comics Andrew Johnston and Sara Hennessey perform at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

After a decade making names for themselves by playing in Toronto’s dingy comedy pubs, running the popular Bitch Salad comedy nights at Buddies in Bad Times, and invading homes across the country through dozens of appearances on MuchMusic and the Comedy Network, Andrew Johnston and Sara Hennessey have earned their reps as mainstays in Canadian comedy. As they prepare to record their first live comedy album at Buddies, Xtra chatted with the pair about the life of a comedian, getting noticed in Canada and why so few queer comics have achieved Johnston’s staying power.

Xtra: Why record an album now?

Andrew Johnston: Someone found out that the clips on satellite radio actually get you royalties that are very favourable.

Sara Hennessey: It’s one of the only ways to make money from your work.

AJ: Certainly not from television in this country any more. In the last 10 years, things have changed so dramatically about this business. It kind of sucks, because I came up with the old-guard method where you go and pitch a show.

SH: Now they don’t make anything.

AJ: Now it’s like, “Make it yourself —”

SH: “— And if you go viral, maybe we’ll talk to you.”

AJ: Fuck you so hard, everyone saying that. We were regulars on Video on Trial. Those fuckers were lucky to have us create their content for a fucking decade. And then everyone got canned when they actually needed to create the content, because they couldn’t. MuchMusic was a feasible thing for Canadian comedians to get on and get exposure. The Comedy Network in this country is only concerned with being sycophantic to American comedians.

SH: They’ll air the American Comedy Awards but not the Canadian Comedy Awards, because “why would we?” That’s a perfect example.

So what’s your advice?

AJ: What advice do I always offer younger comics? Quit. Especially younger gay comics. You won’t stick at it, you’ll drop out after a year, so don’t even start. It’s like they expect that there’s going to be a pat on the back or there’s affirmative action that’s going to work in their favour.

SH: They’re waiting for a break that’s not gonna happen.

AJ: You’re not going to find a lot of like minds. That’s why so many shitty white straight guys do it. It’s a social activity for them, because they’re going to have their buddies out there. Gay guys don’t get a social trajectory and they drop out.

What’s kept you going?

SH: There’s nothing else. You can’t have a single fall-back plan. If you do, you’ll fall back on it.

AJ: But you do need some kind of frequency of success. To be perfectly honest, I think you can see in three years if a comic gets it or not.

SH: If you’re authentic, people will connect with that. If you’re funny, that’s better. For me, I found my comedic voice, then I learned joke writing — literally the set-up and punch line, whereas before I’d just be like, “HERESSOMETHINGFUNNYOMG!”

When did you realize you’d made it?

AJ: (Laughs) I don’t feel like that’s happened. I don’t think anyone does.

But what was your moment where you knew that you got it?

AJ: When I started getting paid, I guess.

SH: When you start getting invited to do shows.

AJ: When you don’t have to ask people.

SH: You just become confident in yourself and your act.

You’re always fresh, whereas so many gay comics are floating on the same material they’ve been doing for years.

AJ: A lot of gay comedians are horrible. They have gay airplane jokes, just hack material, like, “When I came out to my father he was like, ‘Wha?’”

SH: For me, it’s the girl comedian thing, but there are a lot more girl comedians. Although, I still do get the odd request to be on a show because they need “a” girl.

AJ: You don’t get that request as a gay comedian. In fact, it’s a liability. I can tell there are times when I’ve been onstage and I’ve done gay stuff and I see a disconnect.

Why do you think gays love you, Sara?

AJ: Don’t say you relate with them as an outsider, because that’s all bullshit.

SH: I would never have thought to say that. It’s like in high school when you find someone you really get along with in the smoking section.

What about you, Andrew?

AJ: I don’t! Gays don’t embrace our own unless they’re pornstars. I never believed that I’m a gay comic, so I’m going to have gay fans. Every gay guy thinks they’re a comic. They’re like, “If I wanted to I could, because he’s doing well, but I’d be doing better.”

SH: I get that from girls sometimes. It’s a compliment to say you make it look easy.

AJ: I wish it got me laid more often.