If you have not yet watched DeAnne Smith’s Comedians of the World Netflix special, you are severely missing out on a unique brand of ‘nerdy and dirty comedy, brought to you by a nonbinary queer’. If you do not have Netflix, don’t panic! Fans will soon have the opportunity to witness the magic firsthand, as Smith visits several Canadian cities as part of their Ontario tour, beginning with a stop in Ottawa on March 3rd.
Smith performed recently in Vancouver alongside Howie Mandel at Just for Laughs, opened for Amy Schumer in Toronto, and overall has been crushing gender and cultural stereotypes, one joke at a time. I recently had the chance to speak with Smith over the phone to discuss their humble beginnings, ongoing journey to self-love and care, and what they look forward to most about the upcoming tour.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: Looking back to the beginnings of your career, you started pursuing comedy more seriously when you came to Montreal to pursue a Master’s degree in Poetry at Concordia University, is that correct?
DeAnne Smith: Not exactly. I had been accepted into the MFA writing program at Concordia and then I deferred that for a year and started doing open mics around the city. Once I started performing open mics, I thought “nah, I am not going to go back to that [university].”
Before that chapter began, what kind of role did comedy have in your life, if any at all?
I have always loved and watched comedy, I used to watch stand up a lot with my dad when I was a kid. We lived in a small town in upstate New York, so we would watch whatever comedy was on TV and I always enjoyed that.
“I would listen to it and be envious and excited for people doing it right, and I would get angry at people I felt were not, and I thought, ‘I could do this.'”
Later, I was teaching English in Mexico and my girlfriend at the time burned a CD with a bunch of comedy for me and presented it as something I could give my English students to listen to and help them learn. It ended up totally reigniting my love for comedy and I knew it was my path when I listened to all of it and had an interesting mix of excitement and envy. I would listen to it and be envious and excited for people doing it right, and I would get angry at people I felt were not, and I thought, “I could do this.”
It’s interesting how you grew up with comedy, took a bit of a different route career wise, and then reunited with comedy again later in your life. Was the move from Mexico to Montreal that ended up becoming your comedic start strictly based on being accepted at Concordia, or were there other factors?
The REAL story, and I have talked about this on stage before, is that I was dating this girl in Mexico, and she wanted to go to mime school in Montreal, so THAT’s why I moved to Montreal. Meanwhile, I figured I’ll go to school and do something there, but essentially, I followed a Mexican mime to Montreal.
“The REAL story… I followed a Mexican mime to Montreal.”
Wow, that is certainly a unique situation you don’t come across every day… In terms of the decision to study poetry, did that have some sort of impact on your love of comedy, or vice versa?
I think the connection between poetry and comedy is pretty obvious, they are both short forms of communication that value efficiency and language. I have been interested in poetry since I was a kid and I studied writing and poetry during my undergrad. When I first moved to Montreal, I was doing poetry open mics and just starting to get into comedy, and I realized if I had a room full of people’s attention, I would much rather make them laugh then feel quietly reflective.
I think comedy fans everywhere are very thankful for that realization. I’d like to switch gears and discuss a topic that I believe our readers can all relate to. You appeared on an episode of the podcast ‘Wilosophy’ last Spring, and on that episode, you and host Wil Anderson got into some deep conversations. Something you said on that episode stuck with me—you had said the way you would like to be seen, by others and yourself, is joy manifested in human form. For our readers who have not listened to the episode, could you explain a bit about what that means to you?
When I am on stage, I feel so free and feel so much joy, and find there is really something special in that live performance and the connection between me and the audience in that moment.
In terms of that specific phrase, I believe I had a show right around the time of that podcast episode that had a reviewer in the Melbourne audience and I always find it funny to tell reviewers what to write about me. So, I had this reviewer in the front row, and I was telling him he could write that I was joy manifested in human form, and he actually ended up putting that in his review. It may have been more of a joke on his part, but don’t think I am not going to take that quote and run with it.
As you should! On that same episode, the conversation turned to discussing how important loving others is to you, but also, if not more importantly, to love yourself. Self-love is an extremely relevant topic today and is something that we all work towards and will continue to for the entirety of our lives. Would you mind talking a little bit about your journey to self-love and what that has entailed?
The first thing I can say is that I am in therapy, and I love it. I think it’s really important to have a benevolent witness to your struggles, and in that way, I am really putting the work in.
As I get older, and I do consider myself middle aged by the way, I recognize the value of accepting things about myself rather then fighting them. I can tap into an extroverted side of myself when doing comedy, and that comes very natural to me, but also, I am very introverted who is very quiet and LOVES alone time. So, instead of beating myself up over that like I used to when I was younger, you know ‘why don’t you want to go out?’ or ‘why don’t you want to get that drink after that show?’, I decided that it’s okay if something is not in my nature or is not something I want to do.
“My favourite kind of comedy is when people bring up personal things on stage and you can see the audience’s face when that gut punch of recognition hits them, so I am always trying to dig deeper into myself with my comedy.”
Always working towards self-acceptance is a huge part of that and the journey towards self-love. I am glad we are talking about this because it is something I still struggle with and probably will forever, and one of my aims with my show this year is to try and get specific about the things I struggle with, in the hopes that they are then universal and can help others. My favourite kind of comedy is when people bring up personal things on stage and you can see the audience’s face when that gut punch of recognition hits them, so I am always trying to dig deeper into myself with my comedy.
It’s great that you can use your comedy as a platform to try and help people through different things. Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for our readers who are working through that struggle?
The most radical, yet tiniest thing someone can do is always remember to treat and speak to yourself kindly. There have been times where I realize how I am speaking to myself is not okay and is not how I would ever speak to someone else. I also have a dog now, and sometimes realizing that I treat her with more kindness then I treat myself is mind blowing. I make sure she gets plenty of outdoor time every day, eats on a schedule, and gets enough sleep. All very basic things, but not always courtesies I extend to myself. When would you ever yell at your pet to ‘be better’ or something like that, like we do to ourselves all the time? The most we can do is try to stay aware and try to edge towards treating ourselves better.
Very true, I think that is a lesson we can all take back and reflect on. You recently had the opportunity to open for Amy Schumer in Toronto, how did that come about?
Yeah, so that was really cool. How it all started was that my friend had seen Amy shout out my Comedians of the World episode on her Instagram, as well as a few others who were featured, such as Neal Brennan. I knew Amy knew me, although I am always surprised that she does. We saw each other last year at Just for Laughs backstage and she first said to me “Oh my God, I love you!” I was still surprised when she shouted me out, and then I noticed she was following me on Instagram, so I wrote her a quick DM and thanked her for the shout out and she wrote me a really sweet message back.
When I found out she was coming to Toronto, I sent her another message to say I was going to be at the show and if she had time afterwards for a quick hello and a hug, to let me know. I try to play it cool usually, so at first, I wasn’t sure if I should message her, but my girlfriend urged me to at least let her know I would be at the show. She wrote back immediately and asked me to do an opening set and got me in touch with the right people to coordinate it all. I almost wasn’t going to do it because it was last minute and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared, but I decided to go ahead with it, and it was an amazing experience.
Amy is so inspirational with all she has achieved and how supportive she is of other comics, so it was incredible to be able to spend time with someone like her and feel as though we were peers.
That is a great message for readers who struggle with self-doubt. It goes back to what you previously said about self-love—you could have easily talked yourself out of messaging Amy. If you had not reached out, the experience would not have happened.
Totally. When it comes to self-promo, I have always kind of lagged behind because it feels very unnatural to me and the characteristics you need to tap into to do that successfully are not ones I would like to foster in myself. But sometimes self-promotion is necessary and can lead to great things, even if it is difficult and out of your comfort zone.
“I genuinely love Ottawa and I have lived in Canada long enough that I consider myself a Canadian comic, even though I am from the US.”
Absolutely. Speaking of great things, you are embarking on your Ontario tour next week, first stop being here in Ottawa at Arts Court Theatre. Were you surprised to see that your 7:30pm show sold out so quickly, which resulted in adding a second slot at 9:30pm?
I would like to say I was surprised, but I wasn’t, and I am very excited that it happened that way. I have been coming to Ottawa for years, performing at Absolute Comedy and sometimes at Yuk Yuk’s, or various fundraisers people bring me out to.
I genuinely love Ottawa and I have lived in Canada long enough that I consider myself a Canadian comic, even though I am from the US. I think some feel Ottawa doesn’t have the greatest reputation in Canada when it comes to the arts, but I think it is such a lovely city and people here are really receptive and always ready to have a good time, which is why I am not surprised the first show sold out. If we can get the second show sold out, that would be amazing.
What can attendees on this tour expect from your upcoming shows?
The shows on this tour will be a mix of some jokes that I have had for a while, none of which are from the Netflix special because those are pretty much retired at this point now that everyone has seen them, and some new jokes that I am really excited about.
Performing new material for everyone will be exhilarating and will keep me on my toes, and I really look forward to that. I also have never done an Ontario tour like this. I have played a bunch of these cities and performed in Canada, but I have never done a dedicated week like this where I am playing them all closely together, so that is going to be really fun.
DeAnne Smith kicks off their Ontario tour with two performances in Ottawa at the Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Avenue) on Sunday, March 3rd. The 7:30pm showing is sold out, however, tickets for the 9:30pm show are still available online for $30.
Accessibility: The accessible entrance is located at 10 Daly Ave., just east of the main entrance. Take the elevator to the 3rd floor and turn left. When possible, please try to arrive a few minutes early in case the elevator is in use upon arrival. There is an accessible washroom on the 3rd floor. Turn right after exiting the elevator. Some front row seating is removable in Arts Court Theatre for patrons using wheelchairs upon request. Arts Court is wheelchair accessible by elevator by prior arrangement. Please phone 613-564-7240 for more information.