Just for Laughs Preview: DeAnne Smith

Award-winning Netflix star happy to be “returning home” to live comedy

What: DeAnne Smith
When: Thurs. Sept. 21 – Sat. Sept. 23
Where: Comedy Bar (Sept. 21, 7:00 PM), Rivoli (Sept. 21, 9:00 PM), The Garrison (Sept. 22, Sept. 23)
Why you should go: Cool guy Smith is one of the funniest and most insightful voices in comedy right now

DEANNE SMITH is doing four shows at Just for Laughs Toronto this year – something of a homecoming for the American-Canadian comedian on a busy, world-touring schedule that has included stops in Melbourne, New York City and Oakland.

“I used to run a show at Bad Dog Theatre – which doesn’t exist anymore – with my friend Jess Soloman that we called ‘Soloman and Smith’. And those shows were always absolutely off the rails and really, really fun,” says Smith about memorable experiences when performing in Toronto. “At that show, somebody had emailed me earlier and said that their – I mean, this is the gayest thing ever – their girlfriend had proposed to them, and they wanted to propose back, as a surprise, and they did that in the middle of a show.”

“That’s the sort of thing I love,” says Smith. “The interaction with the audience, the sort of thing that can never be repeated.”

It’s an experience that’s unique to stand-up comedians as performers, Smith says. “I’ve always been aware of the fact that what we’re doing is unique and it happens just in that room, that night. I always like to be improvisational and spontaneous, and I’m very aware of the magic of the moment. It’s just different.”

Coming back to live comedy after virtual shows during the pandemic feels “so good” says Smith. “It’s very much a feeling of being home, or returning home.” The pandemic “had a very big effect on me mentally, in some ways more than other comics that I know. Comedy, for me, is such a special and such a sacred thing, so to have it suddenly taken away didn’t just affect my career, but it effected my mental health, my sense of self – everything, really.”

Melbourne’s The Age referred to Smith’s show as “better than therapy”. When asked about the therapeutic value of their act, Smith says “I really like personal comedy – I’ve always loved Maria Bamford, Andy Kindler – so, I’m always trying to take what’s on the edge of my consciousness, or something I may have just learned about, and to share that type of information and go ‘Hey, I learned this thing about me,’ in the hopes that there might be somebody sitting in the audience who’s going ‘Wait a minute, I’m that same way. Maybe it’s okay to be like that,’ or ‘Maybe I’m not alone.’”

Smith was most recently in Toronto to headline the Gay AF Comedy Pride-a-Palooza at Buddies in Bad Times. “A lot of the audience was gay men, so they hadn’t really seen me before, and I love proving myself to a brand-new audience,” says Smith. The real highlight of the show, though, was that “a friend of mine was sitting right in front of my ex, who happened to show up. And what’s really funny about that was that I was doing a fair amount of jokes about top surgery – I had an elective mastectomy last year – and one thing I return to in that bit is I keep going ‘Oh, but my rack was so sick. It was such a sick rack!’ And apparently my ex kept nudging the person that they brought, and was like ‘No, it really was, though. It really was, though.’”

On what the comedy scene in Toronto is like today, Smith says it “feels pretty inclusive, but then again, I don’t know who we’re missing, or what voices we’re not hearing from. For me, it started with Crimson Wave – I don’t know when they started their open mic, but many, many years ago. I was coming from Montreal at that time, and it was a little shocking to me that somebody could even promote [an open mic show] as ‘This is feminist’, ‘This is queer-inclusive’, ‘This is a diverse line-up, we don’t punch down here’. That was the type of comedy I was doing in Montreal, but it never even occurred to me that you could really market a show that way. I think the culture had changed just enough that people could admit that that’s what they wanted, and they would actually come out for that sort of thing. So, in my experience, since starting comedy ages ago, I feel like I’ve only seen it get more and more inclusive, which I love.”

Smith has a new album out this year, Chiweenie in a Tank Top – though it was actually recorded in 2021, which feels “so long ago” they say. Getting back to live performances was vital to their writing process for the album’s material. “I’ve found that the joke actually lives on stage with the people, it’s kind of a collaboration in that way. It’s not so useful to be alone with a notebook or be alone in a room just kind of jammin’ with my own ideas, you know? I need to see what resonates with people and kind of build and adjust from there.”

As for the audience, you should be getting out to local comedy shows “if you love life, and you value fun!”