"When I was growing up and being teased a lot by kids I was trying to think of funny things to say to combat the negativity coming at me. And I thought, 'Someday this will come in handy.' And I didn't know why."
– Tanyalee Davis
Guy MacPherson: You are Canadian?
Tanyalee Davis: Yes, I am.
GM: Where are you from?
TD: Born in Thompson, Manitoba; raised in Winnipeg. Lived in Calgary for a little bit, then Vancouver from, oh, '85 to '87. I miss Vancouver!
GM: Move back!
TD: I wish I... You know, if I could do what I do and live there, I'd so be there. I miss it, and now that my sister has a baby, it makes it even worse.
GM: She lives here?
TD: Yeah, my sister and her husband and kid live in Langley and my mom lives in White Rock. It's more my sister. Especially with the baby. I'm living vicariously through her. He's so cute! He just turned a year. I'd like to be up there to see him walk. He changes so drastically. I saw him about three weeks ago and now he's too big for me to grab onto. He's running around and I can't keep up. He doesn't recognize me so he's like, 'Get away from me!' When he was a baby, I was his favourite. Now I feel rejected! (laughs) 'Who's that strange, creepy little lady?'
GM: But you're still bigger than him.
TD: (laughs) Probably for another few months. He's growing like a weed.
GM: You said if you could do what you do, but you travel a lot, right? You play clubs all over.
TD: Yeah. Well, I work all over the world. It's just the cost of travelling from Canada to wherever I needed to go would be pretty severe. Given the nature of my business, I'm not at the point where I can demand a lot of air travel. Some clubs do give me money for travelling. But living in Las Vegas, it's such a major point I can fly in and out of Las Vegas fairly cheap to almost anywhere because there are package deals. So it's a good centre point.
GM: Where did you start your standup career?
TD: In Winnipeg, believe it or not. They had a Yuk Yuk's there. In 1990 I was in university in Winnipeg and I was doing a children's play. We were doing a Christmas play. There were four of us in the production. I played Perry the Penguin. It was my first lead role because I walked like a penguin anyway, naturally, because of my wobble.
GM: You were typecast.
TD: Yeah, believe it or not. Nobody else could capture a role like that. I couldn't sing worth a damn but I squawked out a pretty mean tune. The only other adult in the play was a guy who I guess did comedy on the side. So we started hanging out. I went and saw him, and I had never actually been to a comedy club before. But for some reason I knew that entertaining was what I wanted to do. And so I went and saw him at Yuk Yuk's and thought, 'I could do this!'
GM: He was that bad?
TD: Uh... yeah, pretty much. So I thought, 'Yeah, I could do this,' and he said, 'Oh, really?' Well, here's a comedy book. You better write some material. You're going on January 23rd.
GM: And when was this?
TD: This was probably early December.
GM: So he gave you a month or two.
TD: Yeah. I think I was ragging on him going, 'Holy crap!' I think I had things built up in my head already. It's so weird. I don't even know how to explain this because I had never actually been to a comedy club and I was never one of those people that studied comedians or anything like that. I didn't even know who Lenny Bruce was or Bill Hicks until, like, five or six years ago and I had already been doing comedy forever. But I like to laugh. I just knew I had sort of an entertainer thing in my head. And also I think when I was growing up and being teased a lot by kids I was trying to think of funny things to say to combat the negativity coming at me. And I thought, 'Someday this will come in handy.' And I didn't know why. So when I started writing material... When you get a comedy book it gives you ideas on how to come up with material. Some of the things are, look at your life, look at your past. And I was like, 'Hey! Here we go!' So I tapped into some of the things like kids teasing me. My rear end always seemed to grow faster than the rest of my body. I've got a big ass. Now it's a great thing but as a child it was rather torturous. I'd be out on the playground and the boys would come up and say, 'Tornado! Hold onto something heavy!' Then they'd all grab my butt. When you're eight, six, five, ten years old, that's awful. But as an adult, nowadays I'm saying tornado. I don't know if it's funny now, but it worked at the time. So those are the types of things I started thinking about to generate material. So I went up and did three minutes and it was a very successful three minutes. And the club owner said, 'Do you want to come back?' And I hadn't told anybody that I was doing this. But Yuk Yuk's had called my house to ask me if I needed any special arrangements. So they blew my cover. And my mother was like, 'What do you mean?! Why can't we come?' And I'm like, 'I don't want you there! Argh!' But my mom and my sister and husband were moving to Calgary in a couple of weeks that year and I didn't want them there. But when I was invited back there the next week, my mother decided to show up with the neighbour and my aunt and a whole shitload of people. And I got up there and I said my first joke and heard some familiar laughter and it really through off my timing and I think I stood up there for the rest of the time going, 'Ah, ah, ah....'
GM: And they thought, 'What is she doing?'
TD: Yeah. They went, 'Good thing you're in university because you suck.' And about three or four months later I was in Calgary being paid to perform. I had already established my act and they were like, 'Wow!'
GM: That was quick.
TD: Yeah, I think it was three months after I started that I got my first paid gig. You know, probably like a ten-minute spot, if that. There's not a lot of work in Canada, but I just started taking off from there. I started in 1990, then I graduated in '93 from U of W. When I moved to Calgary, I moved back in with my parents, which for any person that's lived on their own, moving back home is a horrendous experience. I didn't have the ability to get around. I didn't know Calgary that well. So I took some time off [from comedy]. I was trying to get a real job. Then I signed up for UBC and said to my family, 'I'm gonna go...'. I already had my degree in sociology with a major in criminology. While I was in school at U of W, I worked in a men's prison for three years counselling lifers, murderers. I'm trying to tap into more of that experience because people don't expect me to have been to prison for three years. Stony Mountain
Penitentiary. So once I had that counselling experience at the prison, I worked in Calgary
volunteering at a residential treatment centre right near my mom's house working with kids that were delinquent that were sort of in a prison setting and trying to go legit, trying to get a real job. And it was interesting but it was also extremely stressful. You're working with kids that were trying to kill themselves or kill you. So I'm really fascinated with criminology and that sort of field and helping people, but I'm just too emotional. I can't handle that. I would always take work home. So I signed up for UBC and told my family I was going to into social work, which sounds really impressive. So I got the support to move to Vancouver. Because at the time, and it still is, Vancouver is more of an entertainment mecca than any place other than Toronto, and I wanted to go warmer rather than colder. So I moved to Vancouver and I lived at UBC. But because I don't drive I had restrictions getting around. I pretty much just got to UBC and partied my ass off, had a great time and decided that school's not my scene anymore.
GM: What year was this?
TD: This was in '95. So I pretty much dropped all my classes and then moved off campus and got back into the comedy. Because I had already established myself but nobody knew who I was out there, I moved up the chain fairly quickly and became a regular at Yuk Yuk's and then was able to start travelling across country doing the middle spot. And then met a girl in Vancouver who was doing comedy, who happened to be a prison guard out there as well.
GM: Who was that?
TD: Her name is Pam. So Pam and I became really good friends and we went out all the time. She'd always wanted to move to L.A. She wanted to be a comic and a sitcom writer. She's got such a knack for writing. So her and I sort of gave each other strength to move to Los Angeles, because the Vancouver scene wasn't really happening for us. I did a couple things: I did music videos, I was on The X-Files, basically a glorified extra. That was great, but in the scene it still wasn't as far as I wanted to go.
GM: How did you get a visa?
TD: My dad was a resident American. His second wife was American. So my dad had his green card so he applied for my sister and I. So the paperwork was in the process. So I thought, I'm going to go down illegal now and just wait it out down there and see what I can accomplish. Because I knew I wasn't going to be able to get work fast anyway. So Pam and I just decided to take the shot. One night we packed up everything she owned because she was sort of in a house, and I just brought a bunch of suitcases because I travel with a little scooter that I ride – a 3-wheeler – and packed it all up. We had her microwave on the front seat, her cat's on the floor. And we're at the border at the Langley truck stop at midnight so it doesn't look suspicious. But back then the guys barely looked at you... We just said we were going camping. How many people go camping with a microwave and a cat? So we headed down. We drove basically straight through. We stopped at Portland and in northern California. I think we got there Saturday. We left at midnight on a Thursday night/Friday morning and got there at six o'clock on Saturday. I had never been to L.A. This was the first time I had ever moved someplace I had never actually been to. It was overwhelming. We didn't know where to stay. Pam had been there before but she's way too honest, so every hotel we went to she said we had a cat so we kept getting turned down from any decent, normal hotel. We ended up at the Sunset 8 Motel on Sunset Boulevard, which sounds glamourous but is basically one of those places that rent by the hour and you turn on the lights and the cockroaches scatter. You don't want to walk around in bare feet. So we had to get really drunk that night because I wasn't going to spend that night sober in that room (laughs). Our first night in town was a bit of a party but it was a horrible place to stay and there was a lot of really bad things going on at the hotel. I opted to pay for the hotel for the next couple of nights until we found a place to live, a bit nicer establishment. We found an apartment and moved in together, but I hadn't really fully committed to moving to L.A. because I was still travelling. I was doing gigs and I went back on tour. But then I missed L.A. because I had that buzz. Actually, my first week, which I think of as a sign, within the first couple of days I moved to L.A. I was at the Walk of Fame right in Hollywood. So they've got the stars and in front of the Mann's Chinese Theater they've got the hand prints and the foot prints. And there I was, my first time, going 'this is so neat!'. And I'm sitting on my scooter looking down and there, all of a sudden, someone goes, 'Hey! I know you!' And I look up thinking there's going to be Julia Roberts standing near me, and this woman's staring at me. She was yelling at me. And I was like, 'What?' She had actually seen me do comedy I think somewhere up in Canada. She just happened to be on vacation and here I was. And here I am on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and I get recognized. And I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is soooo cool!' So I was like, 'Yay, this is a sign!'
GM: And it happens more often, I bet.
TD: I actually get recognized quite a bit. I don't really know how to take it. People get really crazy when they recognize you. Because I haven't done any, you know, really amazing awesome things... I mean, I'm very proud of my career and I've been on TV at least once or twice a year so far, and not many comedians can say that. I think I'm always moving a step ahead. And now getting recognized across the country and even getting recognized now overseas because I've done quite a bit of TV in the U.K. So there I am in this foreign country getting recognized. It's pretty cool.
GM: When did you leave all the other jobs behind and concentrate on comedy?
TD: When I moved to Vancouver I wasn't working at all. I was basically on social assistance. And I started doing comedy and I was making just a little bit of money here and there doing comedy. So my rent was paid and I had a little bit extra. I didn't have any jobs up in Vancouver and then when I moved to L.A. I did get hired on at some comedy clubs but I was pretty much living off my savings. But then I got a job as a leprechaun at an Irish bar. Pam and I, when we moved to L.A. of course we didn't know anybody so we started hanging out at this bar called Dublin's on the Sunset Strip. It was not like a pub; it was more of a nightclub without a dance floor, but it just had a real good feel. So her and I would just go and hang out and play that trivia game that they have in bars. So we'd eat peanuts and drink and we made friends with the bartender. We were there all the time because we didn't know anybody. That was sort of our way to pass the time. And one night Skip the bartender said to us, 'You know, they're hiring a little person to be a leprechaun here.' And I was like, 'Excuse me?! I'm here all the time anyway.' And I said, 'Who do I need to talk to?' And so one of the managers came over and I said, 'Listen, you better not be hiring any other little people because I'm here anyway.' So they said, 'Well, come in tomorrow.' So I talked with one of the girls and she said, 'Okay, well we gotta get you a costume made.' So they paid for me to get a costume made. So Thursday, Friday, Saturday I would come in for one hour. They paid me, I think, fifty bucks cash. And I would stand on the bar with a bottle of, like, Midori Sour in my hand and I would yell, 'Who wants shots?!' And I'd just get to scream at people and be belligerent for an hour. And I worked on tips. So I would give out free shots. I would free pour them into people's mouths. I'd be up on top of the bar so they'd just tip their heads back and I'd shove it in there and they'd be like, 'How much?' and I'd say I work on tips. So I'd just have money pouring out of me. So I made at least a hundred bucks a night three nights a week. So that was sort of how I got my money the first year that I lived there. At that point I couldn't tour. I think we were there about six or seven months and I became a regular at the Comedy Store, which I thought was pretty impressive. There I am working at the comedy club and back in its day the Comedy Store was the place. That's where everybody – Letterman, Leno, Robin Williams – they all started at the Comedy Store. And I became a regular. I got passed pretty quickly. And for Mitzi Shore, Pauly Shore's mom, to pass you, it's hard to get passed. Anyway, I got passed fairly quickly. So I got regular spots there. Unfortunately the Comedy Store pays you fifteen dollars a set, so it's not like you can live on this money. And unfortunately the Comedy Store is not like it was back in the day. They have the Laugh Factory and the Improv. They're more cliquey kind of comedy clubs. But I soon became fairly frequent... I got passed as a regular in 2000 at the Laugh Factory and at the Improv I was starting to get regular spots there, too, before I left. So it's a long process; you just have to beat down the doors. It's just very hard to get stage time in Los Angeles. ... I've now been back full-time – and I had to pretty much start back at open mic level when I moved to L.A. because nobody knew who I was, but because I had already established at least a 20-minute set by that point, I moved up very quickly. Because I was pretty professional by then. And I got in with other comedy bookers around the country and I had my work permit. So basically I moved up the chain fairly quickly and I was able to start travelling and working across the country doing gigs. So that helped. I went from open-mic'er to headliner. Now it's been six years full-time without a break.
GM: Canadian comics have that advantage. They can develop up here then go down there and they have to start again but they're already somewhat developed.
TD: Right. I think that's a huge plus. The one great thing about Canada is you have the ability to get an act [where] you have to travel at such great distances. Going from Saskatoon to northern Manitoba. These one-night gigs really put hair on your chest. You really get your road-dog mentality up there doing these hell gigs, but it really strengthens you up as a comedian. That's why I think a lot of Canadian comics are so successful. And I think Canadians are little bit tougher audiences, I think. I mean, I came down and I was like, 'Holy cow! You guys.... Like, this is just so easy!' I don't know what it is.
GM: You've been at it 15 years. How has your material evolved over that time?
TD: When I first started, I mean, you talk about what you know. You talk about your life. And I still talk about my life. My size is a major focal point. It used to be kind of hokey, 'my face is in your ass' kind of jokes. Just stupid, crappy stuff. But I realized – and this transition happened I think before I moved - that the best jokes that I had were... Okay, I stand on a chair because I'm 3-foot-6. So I stand on a chair to make me taller, obviously. Most stages are fairly low. I'm limited to the space on that chair. Well, when I acted out my bits and made myself as big as humanly possible and over-exaggerated my gestures and facial expressions, it took some really kind of mediocre bits and just skyrocketed them to really funny stuff. Because it was the visual aspect of me that really captured the essence of the joke. And I started trying to talk more about me, Tanyalee, and my life as opposed to just generic-y little person, short person stuff. And a good majority of my act is about my life and me, and maybe it's from a little person's perspective but I don't feel it's hokey midget shit anymore. Like it's just not generic. It's really relevant to me and situations I've gotten into. And I really exaggerate with my gestures. And I think people find my body, just because I'm different from the norm, interesting to watch. And the way I do things is not the way you do things. So just the simplest things – me reaching up for a doorknob or whatever - the visual aspect of it really takes the joke over the top. And that was like 'wow!' when I realized that.. The difference in the response was like, 'Hey, I'm on to something here.' It was really empowering.
GM: And are there universal themes that we've all been through?
TD: Yeah. Well, being a female, you talk about females but I try not to go too much into that because then when you're on a female comedy show there's way a lot of overlap. But I'm not one of those topical comedians. Politics I completely stay away from. And religion. Those types of things are of no interest to me whatsoever. But I take situations that everybody can relate to but coming from my perspective. And make it relatable.
GM: You talked about the clique-y-ness of comics. How long did it take for you to be accepted?
TD: Oh God, yeah. You know what? I still feel in some way... I don't know how long it took. In Vancouver I really never felt like I was part of the group there, unfortunately. I mean, there were a couple of female comics that I did sort of bond with. And the guys were always nice to me. I got along well with everybody. I just never felt like I was part of the crowd. I performed with Brent Butt a lot of times and those guys, and Brent's always been extremely nice to me. But I just felt they would never accept me as one of the gang. So moving to L.A., where you have ten times the amount of comedians... One of the policies at the Laugh Factory is, on a Tuesday, they would basically take the first twenty people in line at six o'clock in the afternoon and you would get three minutes on stage. People started lining up at six o'clock in the morning! Because it's a big deal to get on that stage. Every Tuesday Jamie Masada from the Laugh Factory, would sit and watch the open-mic'ers and you would talk to him afterward. He'd give you feedback. So I show up and there was some hardcore... There were fights in line. Like, 'You cut in line!' 'Well, you left for two hours.' 'Well, I had to go eat.' And they had these regular open mic'ers and if you showed up and you were a new person they were kind of like, 'And you are...? Hey, we don't know you.' So you had no respect whatsoever. And I just tried to be nice and just think, 'Okay, well, you may be a regular open mic'er but I actually know what I'm doing but you don't know that yet.' So you just kind of had to play the game and be respectful and then get up on stage and absolutely blow the roof off the place. The next thing you know you've got these open mic'ers that have treated you like shit all day blowing sunshine up your ass: 'My God, you're so good!' And all of a sudden you're a part of the group. And I just hated that mentality. Especially in this business because you've gotta watch out because people move up very quickly but then come down very quickly. You've gotta be nice to everybody because you never know who you're talking to. That whole L.A. scene, there's different groups within Los Angeles. They're very clique-y. I would go to these comedy venues and people didn't know who I was. And I'd be like, 'I've been living here for four years! How can there be this many comedians in this city that I've never, ever seen before?' Once again, you're kind of shunned, but then you prove yourself on stage and you're funny, okay, then you can hang out with us. Now being a touring comic, it's still such a guys' club. It really is. I'll go to comedy clubs and I'm the headliner and it's great; I'm treated well. But my guy comic friends tell me, 'Oh yeah, you just worked so-and-so's club? Yeah, we went out golfing, they took us to the strip club.' And being a female comic, you don't get to go hang out and go play basketball with the guys on the Thursday morning and go play golf on the Saturday morning. You're just not invited out doing that because of the guy bookers, the guy club owners and the guy comics. It drives me nuts but unfortunately that's just the way it is.
GM: I imagine, though, that you probably don't get invited to play basketball by even females.
TD: (laughs) Well, damnit! I can give it a shot!
GM: One of the press clippings on your website said you're reclaiming the word 'midget'.
TD: Oh, yeah.
GM: Yet when you're talking to me you're mostly saying 'little person'.
TD: I'm usually 'midget, midget, midget.' A lot of people don't realize that the term 'midget' is considered offensive. And that's just because the word 'midget' doesn't seem offensive. It seems like a decent word and it's very descriptive of people and things that are small: a midget version of this and that. They don't understand that people associate the midget-word with the n-word. In a sense, it has the same connotation for little people. And I've been trying over the years to figure out why. Because growing up you are only identified as 'the midget'. You don't have a name. You're nothing but 'the midget.' All you hear all day growing up as a child is 'midget, midget, midget.' It takes on such a negative connotation. I didn't even know what that word was because we never used that word in my house. And then I started school. In kindergarten people were like, 'Oh, midget, midget, midget' and I would come home crying, thinking they were swearing at me. So from the time I started kindergarten I was just called 'midget, midget, midget.' So I think being a little person, you really take that on like a big boulder on your shoulder and you have no identity whatsoever. So it takes on a negative connotation. When I started doing comedy and I said 'midget' on stage, people kind of gasped. And I was like, 'Wait a second. You guys have been calling me midget my entire life and I use the word and it's shocking?' And also I ask a lot of people. I love getting people's feedback on what they think of me, little people, my life. Like, have you ever met another little person? What was your first thought when you saw me get on stage? Were you listening to anything I said or were you just watching me? I like asking people those type of questions because that helps me get a handle on how I need to deal with audiences. Because initial reactions are so... like gasps of horror because they weren't expecting this. I actually have a bit in my act about most people don't know that midgets is considered a derogatory term amongst little people. I go, 'The correct term is little person or dwarf. But I say midget. Obviously I don't give a shit.' Because now that I'm an adult, and I have a sociology background and comedy is like a psychological study, I realize people generally use that term just out of ignorance. They just don't know. And how would they know if you've never been around another little person. It's used regularly on TV. They'll throw the midget word around, and stuff like that. It's never in a positive connotation. And I just feel that because of who I am and my honesty on stage and me just being out there, I do let people know this isn't appropriate but watch the context in which you use the word, then I feel like I'm taking power of the word 'midget'. I'm definitely Tanyalee more on stage than the midget. I may be the midget comedian. If that's how people want to remember me, fine, as long as they say she was the funny midget comedian. I feel like I'm very much me. It's pretty long and in-depth to explain to people why that word has such a weirdness and bad connotation to it growing up. Until you walk in my shoes – and you won't fit 'em! – you won't understand. It's an emotion rather than an explanation, if that makes any sense whatsoever. And it's unfortunate. And a lot of little people still give me flack for saying the word. And I'm on a couple of dwarfism newsgroups on-line and a couple times a year somebody will come on and say, 'By the way, what do you think of the word 'midget'?' and then all of a sudden this huge debate starts. The shit hits the fan.
GM: I always thought there were differences between 'midget' and 'dwarf'. Like medical differences. Is that true?
TD: I don't actually know. This is what was told to me growing up. I was told a midget was a small proportioned person, i.e. let's say Danny Devito. He's a completely normal proportioned person. He just happens to be below average. Anything that's below average in size. And then a dwarf was somebody who had deformities or was a genetic mutation, which is what I have. But the thing is nobody really thinks of it that way.
GM: 'Midget' is more the generic term for everyone.
TD: Yeah. They just use that word. But it's always used in sort of a negative sense: 'Ah, you're a midget.' They'll bug their friends because they're short: 'Hey, midget!' So anybody who's a regular proportioned individual that happens to be smaller than their friends, they would understand what I mean because they get teased by their friends as being the short one in the group. They're not, obviously, legitimately a little person or a midget but you're shorter than your friends therefore you get teased. People will pick on you in any regard. They could use any word and it could take on the same sort of negative connotation if you're constantly being called that.
GM: People look at differences and latch on to them. I could be 'You bald idiot', or something.
TD: Right, right. Or somebody with glasses. Or chubby, chubby.
GM: So it's like the black comics. They can say the n-word, so it's okay that you're up there saying 'midget'.
TD: Yeah. Well, I mean, that has a whole racial... I mean, that word goes back to some serious stuff. To me, the n-word has such a deep-rooted... there's such an emotional connection and derogatory sense to that word. I love Chris Rock's bit about 'nigger'. It's about the fact that anybody can be a nigger. It doesn't matter what colour you are, nigger is somebody that... The actual definition is somebody that's ignorant. So that can be any race, any colour, anybody. But back in the day, the slave days, black people were not educated while the white man was pushing them down, so they were called nigger. They were only identified as 'niggers' so that's the same thing with my people. We were only 'the midgets'.
GM: You got the m-word.
TD: I'm a migger.
GM: It seems almost all standup comics are doing midget jokes now.
TD: Oh my God! It's just unbelievable.
GM: And you hate it?
TD: It's just that they're all so lame. There's really no smart midget jokes out there. It's the same joke rehashed from a different angle in a sense.
GM: Would there be a way that they could do it smart?
TD: I don't know. My friend, Doug Stanhope, has a whole joke about the m-word, midget, versus 'nigger'. Basically the joke is, 'I'm not scared to call a midget a midget because I can take a midget.' Which I thought was extremely hilarious... His stuff is far more thought out. Doug's just so twisted. He puts more thought into it. It's not generic, is what I'm saying. His angle on almost anything, like taking it up the ass or whatever, the way Doug describes things, because he's such a storyteller, it could be the most revolting, disgusting thing, but you're captivated by the eloquence of which he breeds the profanity and disgusting image. It's captivating. Whereas most guys don't have that thought process or aren't able to come up with anything remotely entertaining. And it's funny because some of them will try to do jokes if they have to follow me. If I'm on a line-up with a whole bunch of people and either they haven't seen that I've already been on stage or they just think it would be really funny, the audience completely shuts down. Because I have a very high likability on stage and I'm good at what I do and I'm honest with who I am, it doesn't matter that I'm letting the audience know that the word doesn't bother me, if somebody goes up and says it, oh my God. The audience will collectively be like, 'You're an asshole. How could you?' It's actually very funny seeing people go up and either make fun of not me, because I can handle it being a comic, but they'll stand up on a chair and make some sort of comment because I've just been up there on a chair, and the audience just doesn't find that amusing. They'll really shut down on a person. I think that's hilarious!
GM: Would they shut down if it was Stanhope?
TD: Doug can get away with a lot. But a lot of people shut down regardless (laughs).
GM: That's true.
TD: But if you're the ten percent of the audience that actually gets Doug and loves Doug and follows Doug... You know, he walks a good 90 percent of his crowds anyway, so that wouldn't be any different. (laughs)
GM: You're not the one he slept with, are you?
TD: No, I'm not. People ask me that. I have pictures of me holding his weenie on his website, but no it wasn't me.
GM: How's your health? I heard you were in an accident? When was that?
TD: I guess it would have been three years ago in October. I think my ass is permanently broken.
GM: You have a broken ass.
TD: I have a broken ass. My left butt cheek was fractured. And my pelvis. Basically in the girlie bits/butt cheek area is where I cracked it... I have a constant pain in my ass, as crazy as that sounds... The upside is that I got a new scooter with a lot of lights on it and I got a really kick-ass chunk of material.
GM: When you're performing, are you still up on the chair standing?
TD: Yes. People have given me stools but I can't stand on a stool. I need to be on a chair because I need to lean against the back of the chair. When I'm leaning on something, in a sense I can tuck my pelvis in and it takes a lot of pressure off my back. So leaning on the back of the chair I have a lot more endurance than I would if I were just straight standing. And plus because I act out a lot of bits, I can lean back on the chair and balance myself up on one leg and do like the Karate Kid stance and all that kind of stuff which I do in my act.
GM: You don't ever topple back, do you?
TD: I have never fallen off a chair in fifteen years. I almost took a header once because I was on a plastic one and I stepped through... The seat was actually narrower at the back than I thought. But I maintained. And that's one reason why I don't drink before I go on stage because I would get really mad at myself if I toppled over because I was hammered.
GM: Do you perform much in Vegas?
TD: I do a regular show in Vegas. It's called The Divas of Comedy. It's at the Sahara Hotel on Monday nights. It's every Monday night but I do it maybe a couple times a month when I'm home. It's three comics. Two of them are the same every week and they rotate the third. So I get a half-an-hour spot. I get paid. It's in a lounge so it's a regular casino gig. Doing a lounge in Vegas other than an actual comedy club is extremely difficult. A lot of people can not, for whatever reason, because you have the external ding-ding-ding of slot machines and stuff like that. And it's a free show. And they're generally more reserved. And you're dealing with the very wide diverse age group and geographical mix of people because people come from all over to Vegas. But I've worked Vegas for years doing the Riviera and stuff like that, that I think my act transcends barriers, racial barriers, geographical barriers, so Vegas is perfect for me. I'm the only person that's gotten a standing ovation in this lounge. I've gotten, I believe, at least twice and it might have been three times I've gotten a standing ovation in this lounge. It's great. And now I've got an actual following out here. I have a group of people that come to every single one of my shows. And I mean it's unfortunate, the same shit they hear (laughs). They put the pressure on me. I have to try to come up with new stuff and try to change it up for them. But they're like my groupies and I love them. They're a great bunch of people.
GM: How many little people comics are there?
TD: I'm the only one that's been doing it in the mainstream forever... I'm the only female for sure.
GM: Various ethnic comics get lots of support from their communities. Do you get that with little people coming out to support you?
TD: In my comedy newsgroups, I get a lot of flack from some little people. Especially for being on the Maury Pauvich show nine million times. But these are people that don't think of the context of the show. The show was focussed on my height. The first episode was Opposites Attract, so it was my husband and I. And when they brought me back to focus on my comedy, they wanted jokes specifically about my height. I wasn't doing my straight standup; Maury was asking me questions and leading me into bits, and I was just rolling with it and trying to just keep talking and talking and talking and doing funny stuff so that they wouldn't edit me because the first episode Marty and I were on, they edited the crap out of it to make it look the way they wanted it to. So I wasn't going to give them this opportunity. So after being on the show, some little people gave me flack. A) because it was a talk show, and B) because I guess they just didn't appreciate where it was coming from. I had other little people that came to my defence. And over the years I've had various little people come out to my shows and I would say 95 percent of them have completely enjoyed... They might not agree with me using the m-word, but they really related to my set and they appreciated my honesty and that sort of thing and were very supportive of me. It's so crazy, though, because it's like any subculture, which I guess little people are. They bitch and bitch about us not being portrayed properly or there's not enough of us out in the limelight, and as soon as somebody gets something then they bitch about it. It's so frustrating.
GM: Because they want their views represented.
GM: And I'm sure there are diverse views amongst all of you.
TD: Oh my gosh, totally! And that's the problem. I am not going to please you people. It's just not going to happen. And I'm not going to try to. I'm going to do what I do. And I have a new bit in my act. I got hate mail, basically is the way I describe it, from a couple of little people. And it really bothered me because I was like I just feel like I'm not getting a fair shake, you're not understanding what I'm doing, blah, blah, blah. But this is probably people that don't like to leave their house. They sit behind a computer and they bitch about everything from here to eternity and I just happened to be one of the targets that day. But I took it personally. And it really bothered me. I ended up putting this in my act and letting people know at the end of my show that here I am – and I've been on stage for at least 40 minutes, almost an hour, won the audience over, they respect me, they love me, I've opened their eyes to a lot of things – and I go, 'You know what? There's people that hate me within my own community.' I can see people kinda like, 'What?!' And I go, 'Yeah, I got hate mail from being on the talk show.' I go, 'There's a small group of little people, no pun intended, that feel I'm not a very good representative of little people.' To me, this is the most powerful ending to my show because my audience is like, 'What do you mean? You're a great representative.' Because I am so honest. And I go, 'You know what? Those people need to get off my ass and get their own fucking jobs.' And it just sort of commands a great round of applause. And people actually come up to me and go, 'Is that true?' And I'm like, 'Yeah.' And they go, 'I can't believe that. They're wrong. You're not just a representative for little people, you're a representative for everybody.'
GM: You're a representative for yourself. You're an individual.
TD: That's exactly what I say! I go, 'I don't represent all little people; I represent me.' that's exactly what I say on stage. And that's fine. If I inspire you as a little person, great; if not, I'm not your leader. But I think my attitude is good for anybody. Everything in my act is positive. I don't have any kind of woe is me kind of attitude in my act at all and overcoming challenges and all this kind of stuff. I like actually talking about my life where I'm not always being funny, funny, funny; I'm letting people know this is my situation and then I twist it and I throw some funny in there. It's like edu-tainment. I educate people as well and I get a lot of really positive feedback from just the general audience. It's interesting working overseas because in the U.K., the British mentality compared to North American is so narrow-minded, it's so judgmental. Talk about exhausting. In North America, when I get on stage, it's universal the whole shock of me crawling up onto the chair and I'm struggling and I finally stand up and I go 'Woo-hoo, here I am!' And they go, 'Whoa! What the hell's going on?' They get over it really fast. In the U.K., because the mentality towards disabled people is you do not look, you do not laugh, it is so difficult over there to break down the barriers. It is such a challenge. And I've been over there for two years, I've done six tours. It is actually so emotionally challenging, but I feel like I'm making huge strides.
GM: That's where you would be a representative of little people.
TD: Yeah, exactly. I've never met any other little people comedians over in the U.K. or anybody that's trying to do comedy, but I've met other disabled performers and they actually have their own group. There's a disabled performers' community whereas we don't really have that over here in North America... They have a Dada Festival, a disabled festival. And last year I just happened to be in the area and they didn't know who I was. I came down and stormed it. So now they want me to come down and put me in a theatre. And they go, 'It's funny how you were trying to break into the disabled community and we were all trying to break into mainstream.' I've done mainstream my entire life. I go, 'I'm not trying to break into any group; I'm just getting stage time. I don't care where I perform.' That's sort of the mentality. It's just the whole British scene. I had this woman come up to me after a gig. It was, as they say, a posh wine bar that did comedy and everybody was all dressed up in their Christmas frocks. I was sitting at a table in the back of the room and I go back onstage then come back to the table where just these regular people were sitting, and this woman came up and she goes, 'Oh my God, I saw you on stage and you made me so uncomfortable.' (laughs) People can be very honest out there. And I said, 'Well, did you listen to anything I had to say?' She goes, 'I was wondering why they were making you do this.' And I said, 'Did you listen to anything I said?' And she goes, 'Well, I tried. It took me about 25 minutes but I finally got it. I finally understood.' I was like, 'Holy Christ you're thick.' The upbringing of people out there is just crazy. And it goes across the board, with me trying to get around London and England with my scooter. The disability laws are so different. I don't have the same recourse. Here, you could get sued for not letting me on a bus, blah, blah, blah. There, it's like, 'No, we don't let your kind on.' Your scooter's not allowed on trains. And I'm like, 'Well, how am I supposed to get from here to there?' 'Well, you have to figure that out yourself.' And they don't have the same sort of politeness. I've never felt more disabled than going over to Britain. And luckily within the last two-and-a-half years that I've been going, there's been a vast improvement. But they're still decades behind where we are. And I just feel like I gotta keep going because I'm making a difference. And now because I'm doing more TV over there and I'm getting recognized, I feel that my act and my attitude is really important to let them know. And now I'm becoming more, not confrontational but more honest on stage with saying, 'You people have no idea how you are around people like me.' I'm getting more in their face about it. When I first got over there I was like, 'Well, I'm a foreigner. I've got to act respectful.' Now I go, 'Listen lady, I know you're extremely uncomfortable sitting there not wanting to look at me, but I'm going to be here for a while so you better get over it.' I'm being really more in their face. The one great thing about British people is that they really appreciate honesty and people that are very authentic on stage. They may not laugh; they're very reserved. I may have an entire set where I get a smattering of applause and I think, 'Oh my God, I just tanked it.' And I get off stage and they're like, 'You were brilliant!' And I'm like, 'What?! Why don't you laugh?' Here I am dying inside thinking I just had the worst set ever and yet I'll have a lineup of people waiting to get autographs. It's the weirdest thing so I've had to really change my outlook, my perception of the way I think things are going. They're just more reserved. They just don't know how to express themselves.