Laugh Track: Sara Bynoe

Illustration by Serena Chan

Join The Peak as we catch up with and interview some of Vancouver’s finest funny people.

Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve undoubtedly heard of something Sara Bynoe’s had a part in. The Vancouver comedian has been hosting shows for 15 years — from Say Wha?!, where people take turns reading from humorously awful, surprisingly real books, to her new monthly show Novelty Act, co-hosted by Riel Hahn. The Peak caught up with Bynoe to talk about the local comedy scene, dolphin lovers from the ‘70s, and why she thinks people shouldn’t take themselves so seriously.

[Interview has been edited and condensed for print]

Your website says you’re an “Actor, Writer, Producer of Fun Times.” Was your plan always to be this multifaceted?

When I was 14, of course my plan was to be like Winona Ryder and just do feminist movies. I remember having a dream when I was little about being at the Academy Awards and she’s behind me being like, “Good job!” The other story I always tell is from when I was 10 years old, my mom had this psychic friend and she said, “You’re going to be an actor and a writer,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I want to be.” So I’ve been pretty clear for a long time that I wanted to go that route.

How would you describe the comedy scene in Vancouver?

It’s super fun, very integrated. There are lots of people doing stuff and the people who are super active are doing stuff in different facets, whether they’re doing stand-up, they’re doing improv, they’re doing my weird shows, they’re doing podcasts. We’re all guests on each other’s shows at some point or another.

Are there any recurring themes in your comedy? Cringe-worthiness seems to play a prominent role in Teen Angst and Say Wha?!

A lot of the books from Say Wha?! that I make fun of, someone thought this was serious. Someone wrote a dating book on how to pick up topless dancers. People reading this are earnest and think they should date a stripper. Same with Teen Angst, these moments when the world was out to get you and everything was so important. It’s like, hold up, take a step away from yourself for a second, and if you can find a way to laugh at yourself.

Have any of the writers ever found out that you read their book at Say Wha?!

This guy wrote a book called Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover, which is a fictionalized memoir of his time in the ’70s having a relationship with a dolphin named Ruby. He must have had a Google alert on the book and he commented on our video and said, “Oh, I didn’t realize this was so unintentionally hilarious.” You wrote a book about fucking a dolphin. How can you not have a sense of humour about yourself?!

What has been your favourite project over the years?

Teen Angst is the longest running. That’s the show that won’t die. As long as people are having fun and wanting to read, I have fun doing it. It’s one of those things where I’ve been making fun of my teen angst longer than I was a teenager. But I love it. I’m really enjoying Novelty Act now. That’s a huge risk; it’s me and Riel Hahn, and we haven’t performed a lot together. This is my first time duoing with someone on a regular basis. It’s really exciting to get to understand a performer’s dynamic like that.

This month marks the fifth installment of Novelty Act. How did the show get its start?

Riel and I were looking to have a show together and we were like, “Should we have guests? Let’s just try it by ourselves,” and to me that was a huge risk. Two hours, just me, and no gimmicks?! Riel was very trusting and thought we could do it though.

The name came from an encounter with a stand-up comedian who invited us to stay for a show and Riel asked who was on it and he was like “Dude, dude, dude, dude, dude.” That’s a lot of dudes, I don’t know if I’m into that. A lot of women I know aren’t into seeing comedy shows with all dudes. The Novelty Act name sort of evolved from that, where he’s like “Well, I wouldn’t have a lot of magicians on a show, so there are only a couple of women that I would want to have on my show,” and Riel’s response was “Wait, are you saying that women are a novelty act?” And he said yeah.

I don’t think he was really aware of what he was saying though. Riel said, “Let’s do a show with just us and call it Novelty Act.”

It sounds like Novelty Act is pretty unstructured. Do you ever have a set plan for the evening?

We have segments. We start with a check-in where we talk about funny or just weird things that have happened in our lives. Then we have question period with the audience, whether they’re questions about what we’ve been talking about or you have questions about your life and want advice.

They can be totally random. One time, a guy had been stood up on a date and he’s like, “What’s with people in Vancouver being super flaky?” and so we all talked about that. His next question was “Can I buy everyone a round of drinks?” He bought two bottles of champagne and cake that was cut up into little pieces and so we had cake and champagne. Amazing stuff happens at this night, I have no idea what we’re doing that’s creating this environment where people just feel inspired to buy everyone champagne.

The second half is usually more structured, we do some improv games. It really involves the audience. The whole evening, people have said it feels like a super-fun party hosted by your funniest friends.

Any closing remarks?

Get off your ass and come to more shows in Vancouver. You will have fun.

Your next chances to catch Sara Bynoe are on May 26 at The Emerald (555 Gore Avenue, Vancouver) for Novelty Act or on June 7 at Cottage Bistro (4468 Main Street, Vancouver) for Say Wha?! Tickets for either are $10 at the door.