The first thing I notice about DeAnne Smith is that she is small. She’s waiting just inside the entrance to her stand up comedy show at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville, and greeting people as they come through the door. Her outfit combines a black button up shirt, green tie, jeans and hipster glasses; she’s petite, boyish, and by all accounts, pretty damn cute. I am particularly interested to see her show because approximately two weeks earlier, I interviewed DeAnne over the phone, in the midst of her performances at the Adelaide Fringe.
DeAnne is American, lives in Montreal, and is on tour for about six months of every year. When she’s not touring, she’s living and breathing comedy. “I’m just always performing stand up. Performing and writing stand up is all I do, really.” She laughs that she was “pretty old!” when she started doing comedy at age 28.
And life before then? Another laugh. “Bummed around, man.” After graduating university, DeAnne lived in Baltimore, working as an editor and a street outreach counselor. Then she moved to Mexico. “That was when I was really bumming around. I learned Spanish and was teaching English and those days I was writing and publishing a lot of poetry.” A move to Canada came next, and DeAnne considered going back to university to study creative writing – but an open mic night got in the way.
“There was just no turning back.” She pauses. “The truth is I didn’t have any direction or goals before stand up. Suddenly I was like ‘Oh right! This is something worth dedicating my life to!’ Before that I didn’t really know.”
Onstage, DeAnne’s humour is self-deprecating and topical, with an evident love of the absurd (the only question on the FAQ page of her website is “Why are there no questions on your ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page?”). She is wholly likeable, the kind of person you immediately want to be friends with.
She tells me that the name of her show comes from a friend who pointed out that one of DeAnne’s unintentional catchphrases is “Let’s do this!” The other? “It’s all happening!” Despite the confident enthusiasm the title conveys, DeAnne says that she still can’t quite say what ‘Let’s Do This’ is all about: “I’ve just done the third show in Adelaide and I’m still kind of figuring out what it’s all about. We don’t really go on a journey… we just tell jokes and have a good time.” So there’s no theme, no common thread at all? “I always leave that to reviewers and stuff to decide what the overall theme of the show is.”
I am not, strictly speaking, a reviewer, but still: challenge accepted. The first theme I pick out of ‘Let’s Do This’ is DeAnne’s self-proclaimed social awkwardness. At the Factory Theatre, we’re five minutes in when DeAnne confesses that she’s a shy, insecure person. She says that people think it’s weird that she’s insecure, considering she, you know, gets up on stage to tell jokes for a living. But her explanation is simple, and surprisingly convincing: “I’m equally uncomfortable everywhere!” In DeAnne’s world, being on stage talking is no less awkward than having a conversation one on one.
There’s also a definite, if not overt, focus on topical social issues. The most excruciating part of the show is when she asks the audience to clap and cheer for a man who ‘had never raped anybody’, while playing the song ‘Celebration’ by Kool & The Gang and throwing confetti. Obviously, it was meant as a mockery—DeAnne is a self-proclaimed feminist— but it seems the ‘rape jokes are never funny’ mentality was pervasive among the (mostly female) audience; a number of people declined to participate.
DeAnne is also an out lesbian, and doesn’t hesitate to joke about it. She muses on feeling conflicted as a feminist who regularly objectifies women, and at the end of the show reads out erotica, penned by herself, which portrays a sex scene in which two lesbians are continuously interrupted by cats, and eventually abandon sex altogether in favour of a trip to IKEA.
I ask her what it’s like being a gay woman in the world of stand up comedy and she groans. “I don’t know. I don’t know what it is to be anything else!” Fair point. “I will tell you there is a disproportionate amount of lesbians in stand up. I’m not sure what that’s all about.” Does she see herself as a role model? “Ah, no.”
For someone so shy, DeAnne sure does a lot of interacting with her audience. In ‘Let’s Do This’, she crowd-surfed and got the entire room up slow dancing to a Phil Collins song. It’s one of these moments of interaction that she picks as her “recent best moment” (she tells me she can’t possibly pick an overall one). During a stand up set in Montreal, DeAnne convinced 15 out of the 50 audience members to take off their pants. “After a while we all forgot that they had their pants off, and it wasn’t until the end of the set when I looked out and I saw these adorable, vulnerable naked little legs and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, that just happened!’”
When quizzed on the bad aspects of stand up, DeAnne struggles. She mentions that the travel can be tiring, but immediately retracts, saying, “I’m not complaining— that’s just both sides of the coin.” Finally: “It’s like if you asked somebody what the worst quality of their child is. You’d be like ‘Yeah, they have some bad qualities…but they’re awesome!’”
It’s obvious just how much DeAnne loves her job. One of her initial thoughts on doing stand up was that it’d be easier to get up and talk about funny things instead of writing them into articles, which she was doing at the time. She was wrong. “I discovered it’s not at all easier. But it is a lot more fun.”