Awkward years make for comedy gold at Vancouver Teen Angst Nights

Sharing cringey teen years leads to self-compassion, says Teen Angst veteran Em Cooper.

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Teen Angst Night

When: Oct. 19, 7 p.m.
Where: Fox Cabaret, 2321 Main St., Vancouver
Tickets and info: $20 on eventbrite, $25 at the door. Must be 19 years or older.

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Your first instinct when coming across a journal you kept as a teenager is probably to burn the thing.

But wait. Those youthful jottings, while likely cringeworthy, may now, years later, be comedy gold and a perfect fit for the Teen Angst Night series, which returns on Oct. 19 at the Fox Cabaret in Vancouver.

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“I started it in 2000, to correspond with the launch of a website called TeenagePoetry.com,” said actor Sara Bynoe, the series’ founder, who also hosts and produces the show.

It didn’t take long for Bynoe to realize there was a lot more than bad poetry floating around. Readings from journals soon became the go-to content at Teen Angst Night.

Each event welcomes around 10 people willing to laugh at themselves while spilling their teenage souls to an audience.

“There is a bravery to this act,” said Bynoe. “I mean, of course a lot of the people are artistic in some respect, that’s my community. I came from theatre and improv, so there are comedy people. Artistic people are the main thread. But artistic people also have boyfriends who are in forestry (who get up).”

There are rules you must follow to get a crack at some stage time. It has to be your own work and you have to have written it between the ages of 10 and 19. Another important requirement, Bynoe points out, is “you cannot be proud of it; you need to be embarrassed by it.”

Em Cooper knows these rules well as she has graced the Teen Angst Night stage many times.

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“Sara makes the vibe and the intention of the show really clear. You want to be real and vulnerable but, also, we can kind of pull out the threads of what was silly about you as a kid and that is a little humbling,” said Cooper, who also does standup.

“I wasn’t a really dedicated journaling person but, every so often, when I was full of teen angst then it would be time to be like grrrr. I would just be turning to it when I was having a hard time.”

When asked about her own specific teen angst, Cooper said she was living a life of “unsustainable overachievement.”

“I was doing all the sports, all the students’ council, after school jazz band. You know, pick a lane, champ. I was doing everything,” said Cooper, who moved to Vancouver from Halifax in 2015. “It was normal for me to be at high school 12 hours a day, going non-stop.

“So, a lot of my teenage journal is that very honest regret about not feeling like I was being a teenager, in terms of like hanging out in the smoke pit or having a beer in the bush or whatever you think you should be doing at that time.”

While Cooper has leaned into some journals for material, actor/trivia host Joe MacLeod’s teen angst comes alive in one of the most teen-angsty ways possible — song lyrics.

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Despite knowing Bynoe since his college days, the Oct. 19 show marks the first time the Vancouverite will get up at a Teen Angst Night event.

“I was recently in Calgary, my mom lives there, and going through some old stuff,” said MacLeod. “I never kept journals as a teenager, so I thought that was a barrier. But I found a bunch of lyrics I wrote — I’m a musician as well. I had a book of lyrics I wrote as a very angsty early teen. I felt like this was the perfect time to do something with those.”

The lyrics he chose were created when he was 13 or 14 and grunge was God.

“I grew up in the ’90s, so it was very angsty, Nirvana-esque. A lot of grunge,” said MacLeod, who wrote a song called War is War. “It was trying to be political, but with nothing really to rally against. I feel that is kind of a through line for teenagers. You feel like you have to be rebellious. You feel like you want to stand up for something and be your own person.”

photo of Joe MacLeod and Sara Bynoe
Joe MacLeod and Sara Bynoe are seen out front of the Fox Theatre in Vancouver. The venue is host to the Teen Angst Night series that returns Oct. 19. MacLeod will be getting up onstage for the first time that night and will be reading out loud a selection of song lyrics he wrote when he was 13 or 14 during the 1990s. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

MacLeod, who was in bands all through high school, says he isn’t freaked out about exposing himself onstage because the vibe of the shows, of which many he has attended, is equal parts support and silly.

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“It is very cathartic. First of all, it is very entertaining. It’s super-funny and I think it is really great because you’re laughing with the people. No one is making fun of anyone. Everybody is making fun of themselves. I have never been to one where somebody hasn’t seen themselves onstage, you know what I mean? There is so much to relate to,” said MacLeod. “I love them.”

The events have welcomed a wide range of ages, which prompted MacLeod to note that, while times have changed, teenage angst hasn’t.

“Technology has changed and the generations are different but the through line is identical,” said MacLeod. “You’ll see somebody from Gen X get up then someone from Gen Z, and they are talking about the same things. It’s just in different packaging.”

Outside of getting some laughs, Cooper sees a bigger value in the chance to come clean about your teenage thoughts and dreams.

“I think, as an adult, it helps with self-compassion to be able to look back and spend a little time with your teenage self,” said Cooper. “In hindsight, you were trying to do the most and you were dealing with feelings and hormones and other life factors. And it was harder than you were giving yourself time for. So, in terms of self-compassion, I think that’s a big takeaway.

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“It feels like you go back and give the younger version of yourself a little bit of a hug.”

Future shows in the series are slated for, Nov. 23, Jan. 12, Feb. 2, March 1, April 5 and May 3. Readers can sign up in advance through a form available on the ticket page. If you’re interested in attending, book early as these shows sell-out.

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