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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