DeAnne Smith Takes the World

May 19, 2019

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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When Valerie Lopez put DeAnne Smith on her list of must-see Moon­tow­er 2019 comics, I wasn’t the least bit sur­prised. In Gen­tle­man Elf, Smith’s half-hour spe­cial on Net­flix, she drops a joke about mil­len­ni­als doing math, and at that moment I could lit­er­al­ly hear the sound of Lopez, miles away, heed­ing the arith­metic siren song, scrib­bling an equa­tion on the back of Han­di-Wipes wrap­per in Pavlov­ian ecstasy. 

In a move that will frus­trate any math­e­mat­ics major, Smith refus­es to be reduced to any one def­i­n­i­tion or solu­tion. In Gen­tle­man Elf, part of Netflix’s Come­di­ans of the World, she lays down some­where between 2 and 200 iden­ti­fi­able per­son­al char­ac­ter­is­tics, and wears them all in seam­less turns. In sub­tle shades of an accent, you can catch hints of her ori­gins in upstate New York, but Smith is arguably bet­ter known as a Cana­di­an com­ic, with her per­for­mance in Austin this year high­light­ed in Moontower’s show­case Cana­di­ans of Comedy.

Before emi­grat­ing to the Great White North, Smith took up teach­ing Eng­lish in Mex­i­co, and got an ear­ly taste of comedic great­ness when a friend loaned her a burned Maria Bam­ford com­e­dy CD as an aid for mate­r­i­al for the class. In the evenings, while draft­ing poet­ry and sub­mit­ting it to the pub­lish­ing gods, Smith was ignit­ed by Bamford’s delight­ful­ly man­ic mate­r­i­al – espe­cial­ly com­pared to some of the more mun­dane, yet osten­si­bly more suc­cess­ful, acts of the time. 

In what can only be called for­tu­itous tim­ing, the move to Cana­da – dur­ing the Bush admin­is­tra­tion – start­ed open­ing new doors for Smith. She faced her first open mic. In a sto­ry she shares with Valerie that almost makes this tra­di­tion­al­ly momen­tous occa­sion sound like an after­thought: she made the deci­sion, she per­formed, she con­tin­ued on with life. It’s a fac­sim­i­le of relax­ation and lais­sez-faire that Smith admits is a dai­ly bat­tle to main­tain. I’m equal­ly uncom­fort­able every­where,” she jokes, whether under the lights, or in a pass­ing conversation. 

I’m equal­ly uncom­fort­able every­where” DeAnne Smith

Giv­en Smith’s col­lec­tion of pass­port stamps, you would eas­i­ly believe it’s a bat­tle she’s since com­fort­ably won, trot­ting the globe for shows in Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Scot­land, and Ice­land. Watch­ing close­ly, you can see the sea­soned trav­el­er still danc­ing the knife’s edge when per­form­ing. She exerts a sense of con­trol over the act and audi­ence, assur­ing them that she’ll be in charge of the ride, but the real mas­tery is the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty she read­i­ly doles out at stops on the way. Her mate­r­i­al can be deeply per­son­al, yet shared in a way that says that what you think about her makes no matter…as long as you find it funny.

Build­ing a nar­ra­tive like that is one of the most dif­fi­cult things in com­e­dy, nev­er mind on top of admit­ted con­stant anx­i­ety, but cre­ative writ­ing and sto­ry­telling is well with­in Smith’s wheel­house. From the ear­ly days of poet­ry, to TV tap­ings and fes­ti­val crowds, to unique out­ings like her lyri­cal­ly intri­cate Nerdy Love Song YouTube video, it’s obvi­ous that a love of curat­ed struc­ture and lin­guis­tics per­me­ates her cre­ative core. Speak­ing to the lat­ter, casu­al­ly strum­ming a ukelele duet with a feisty kit­ten, Smith nev­er breaks stride even whilst break­ing down the mar­vels of aba­cus­es (or is it abaci? we’re not sure, but are will­ing to wager Smith has stud­ied the sub­ject). And while she’s played to mass­es the world over, It’s clear she finds just as much joy in bring­ing that expe­ri­ence to those that haven’t yet heard of her. That some peo­ple hadn’t seen that style of com­e­dy, or some­one like me doing com­e­dy,” Smith says, is some­thing that nev­er gets old, whether on the big screen or from the front row. 

That some peo­ple hadn’t seen that style of com­e­dy, or some­one like me doing com­e­dy [nev­er gets old]” DeAnne Smith

That’s per­haps the most intrigu­ing thing about Smith: you tru­ly haven’t seen some­one like her before, and the next time won’t be any­thing like the last. Valerie recounts chat­ting with Smith before anoth­er show­case dur­ing Moon­tow­er with Smith ask­ing in earnest should i change my set from what I did last night?” Who you see, and how you see her, is in Smith’s hands alone (poet­ic license in the lit­er­al sense). Calm, col­lect­ed, or elec­tri­cal­ly chaot­ic, there are sto­ries that need telling and she’s here to car­ry you through them.

DeAnne Smith’s col­lec­tion of projects that might inter­est you include:

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