“There's something about being a scrappy underdog that's very natural to me. I'm getting less and less of that as I get more well known. But it's more fun to be in the position of having an audience be somewhat skeptical, like 'Prove yourself', and secretly knowing that you can, rather than have people going, 'Okay! So you're fantastic! What's new?' Yikes, that's a bit of pressure!”
– DeAnne Smith
Guy MacPherson: You're in Los Angeles. Have you moved there?
DeAnne Smith: No, I'm still based in Toronto but I'm always kind of all over the place. I'm here in L.A. for a month doing the things that you do in L.A. and escaping Canadian winter for a bit, which I don't mind at all.
GM: It's even bad in Vancouver. I'm sitting inside with a toque on.
DS: Really! That's how I am from October to March.
GM: You say you're doing the things one does in L.A. So pilots?
DS: Yeah, that's happening. And I have this really fun project that I'm working on with my best friend and another comedian, Jeff Solomon. We're kind of taking meetings and doing all of that stuff.
GM: Creating some kind of show?
DS: Yeah, yeah, with an original pilot that we have. So that's been a lot of fun and pretty interesting.
GM: Has your Netflix special given you a boost? And to be the first one in The Comedians of the World?
DS: I think so. I'm definitely getting the feeling that a lot of people are, quote, 'discovering' me. I know I've been around for a while, but not everybody does. So definitely getting a lot of positive feedback from people who hadn't heard of me and hadn't seen my comedy before. And I think it does help to be the first up in that queue because sometimes it just starts playing automatically, I think.
GM: So you can say you're number one.
DS: Oh, you know what? I will now that you've said it. If you put it in print, forget about it, that's it. It's my pull-quote on all my materials going forward.
GM: Are you happy with it?
DS: I'm really happy with it. I didn't have too much time to think about it specifically for Netflix. I found out in May. Late May I got a phone call, 'Hey, do you want to tape this half-hour at the end of July for Netflix?' So I had about two months to prepare that half-hour. But I've been doing comedy about twelve years and have taken a lot of full one-hour shows to Australia over the course of the years – that's just part of my annual circuit – so luckily I had a lot of material to choose from. I did have some time to put it together and try to think of stuff that felt current but also wasn't going to age too quickly. I've got jokes about the Women's March, for example, that are really fun but I didn't want to put out there in that format or talk specifically about Trump or anything like that. So I thought about it a little bit, in terms of the audience it was reaching and that it would be there for a long time.
GM: Traditionally with specials, a comedian will play a room or theatre with their own fans. It seems you guys all recorded at the same place. There must have been people in the audience who didn't know you.
DS: Yeah, to me, I find that a lot more liberating. True fans have seen everything. They know all your jokes. I have a few fans like that. And they're still there for it; they want to come and support. But truthfully, in comedy so much rests on the element of surprise so to me it was ideal because I started comedy in Montreal. In some ways, it was a little bit of a celebration and a homecoming, and I knew I would have some fans and supporters there, but I also knew that the venue was big enough that there would be people there for whom I was brand new. I really love being in that position.
GM: I like that, too. I like to see a comic win over people who may be skeptical.
DS: I'm very comfortable with that, to be honest. There's something about being a scrappy underdog that's very natural to me. I'm getting less and less of that as I get more well known. But it's more fun to be in the position of having an audience be somewhat skeptical, like 'Prove yourself', and secretly knowing that you can, rather than have people going, 'Okay! So you're fantastic! What's new?' Yikes, that's a bit of pressure!
GM: You say at the top of your special with the audience cheering for you, "Let me earn it.' That's harder now, I imagine.
DS: That's funny. I forgot that I said that. But yeah, that's how I feel. Okay, everybody, calm down. We've got some time together.
GM: People will now be more hyped up before you say anything because they've seen or heard about your Netflix special.
DS: Yeah, it's a position of privilege, and there's a lot you can do from that place. But it's also the tiniest bit – I'm certainly not complaining – but the tiniest bit a burden and pressure. But I like it. It's just fun to notice these things as I move forward. The goal would be, obviously, to be filling theatres and have all the pressure, but with that as well all the freedom to do what you want.
GM: I know you've played the Comedy MIX before. This time you'll be in the biggest, fanciest theatre in town with Howie Mandel and you'll be at the Rio, which is a nice little theatre. Do you have a preference in where you perform?
DS: For my own show, for an hour, I do like a somewhat intimate space. I reference it a little bit in my Netflix half-hour – for me it's all about the connection, it's all about being the room together with live people. To me it's just such a special art form and in an hour show I'm pretty spontaneous and I'm reacting to the audience and I love for things to be different and I love for the audience to get involved to a degree. So I like a space that's maybe not too huge. But at the same time it's always really fun to jump on those big, fancy theatre stages and just do your ten minutes or whatever. That feels like a little bit of reward sometimes for having done everything else that you do all the time. I don't want to jinx myself here but those types of shows tend to always go really well because the audience is pumped. The whole atmosphere of the show just feels so special.
GM: And you're doing it with the owner of JFL.
DS: I mean, unbelievable. I'm excited to meet him because I met him on the street two years ago during Just For Laughs. I didn't realize what a character I looked like. I didn't meet him in a comedy context other than we were both outside the hotel where everybody stays in Montreal and there I am in my button-up shirt, my little bow tie, probably some cute little jacket, I had my tiny dog with me who was also in some cute little jacket, and he just saw us and was like, 'Oh my gosh, who are you?! Look at this! This is so cute! What's going on?' So I met him in that context and told him I was a comedian. I'm really looking forward to see if he has any spark of recognition when I see him again.
GM: You'll have to wear the same outfit and carry your dog.
DS: I don't know what outfit it was but I'm generally always in some kind of a uniform.
GM: In your special you talk about the fluidity of gender and all the language that goes with it. You're also pretty fluid when it comes to nationality. Because you're American but you're on the Canadian special.
DS: Yes. I feel so gratified that that worked out. When I started comedy, I never could have dreamed – there wasn't even Netflix in the way that there is now, so I wouldn't have dreamed that that would ever happen. But I started comedy in Canada, I've made Canada my home and I really love it. Despite mounting pressure telling me to get to the States for my career, I keep choosing Canada. So to have a big moment in my career be labelled as Canadian and be distinctly Canadian just makes me so happy.
GM: There are avenues you could take to become fully, or legally, Canadian.
DS: Right now I'm just a permanent resident but I guess there's citizenship in the works. There's nothing I want more than that little Canadian passport.
GM: Really! That is so backwards.
DS: It's so backwards! I know, but that's the way I am.
GM: And you keep doing tours to warmer climates, like Los Angeles and Australia, so it works out well.
DS: It really does. More and more comedy and entertainment truly is such a global experience. With all the streaming networks and the internet, there's just so many platforms, it doesn't really matter where you're based anymore, I don't think.
GM: It's not a secret you're American, either, but people just don't know.
DS: People don't know. It started getting mixed up when I went to Australia early on in 2008. I got on this Australian show which doesn't exist anymore. It was called Good News Week and it was on one of their major channels. Everybody saw this show. It was my first big TV appearance. I wasn't necessarily doing standup; I was just there as a personality. They were like, 'And Canadian DeAnne Smith!' I just felt so overwhelmed by the whole setting I didn't correct anyone. It would have been weird to jump in on TV and be like, 'Um, actually it's American.' So I just went with it. But definitely there's got to be a bunch of Australians that think I'm Canadian. I think my general demeanor – and I take it as a compliment – people think I'm Canadian anyway, I guess. I defer and I'm kind of polite.
GM: And you're a northerner, too, so the accent is similar.
DS: I think I've started saying university instead of college. I'm adopting a lot of Canadian.
GM: I remember you from Last Comic Standing and the support you got from Roseanne. How does that feel now?
DS: Oh my goodness. Well, at the time it was really such a trip to be performing because the experience itself is so heightened and there's television cameras and the audience, which isn't always even a normal audience. They're not exactly paid actors but they're seat fillers. In Hollywood that's a thing. They might put this call out to a bunch of people saying we need you at this theatre at this time. So that's strange. And then to see Roseanne, someone I grew up watching on TV, such a looming presence in entertainment and on television and have her be watching me and approve of my comedy – I grew up watching her doing standup as well – that felt really validating and really exciting. It is not a credit I go out of my way to mention at this point [laughs] because unfortunately the name Roseanne has been a bit tainted by some of her views and actions as of late. At this point, it's neither here nor there but at the time it felt pretty cool.
GM: It was a nice run you had on the show.
DS: Yeah, it was really nice. It was just such a lovely experience to come out of nowhere. At that point, I didn't have management. I'm just up there in Canada doing comedy and I got an email out of the blue, 'We'd like to fly you to Los Angeles to audition for the producers of Last Comic Standing.' All right. The first audition wasn't on camera; it was literally just for them to choose the 100, because that's how they did it that season. It was a really fun experience and I got a little farther along than I thought I might.
GM: Was that the season with Norm Macdonald as judge?
DS: No, Russell Peters I think.
GM: And don't think I missed your little shot at reviewers in your special!
DS: Oh, of course! In that context, it feels so silly to do. That was a joke that came out of Australia because in Australia every year it's a great circuit. There's all these festivals, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and then there's one in every city: Brisbane, Perth, Sydney. And so many people review comedy and some of them are legitimate reviewers and some of them are just people with a blog. So I always like getting ahead of it a little bit and just kind of letting them know that I know about comedy. But truthfully I love reviewers when they know their stuff. There's a guy at the New York Times that I really admire, Jason Zinoman, there's a guy in the UK Steve Bennett at Chortle, people that understand comedy I have a lot of respect for but every once in a while in Australia you'll get the person who writes the real estate column comes to review your comedy show. Like, come on! And they're just kinda like, 'I liked it!' or 'I don't know, not for me.' Steve Bennett's not loved by all comedians but I believe that he knows his stuff.
GM: There's one theory that everyone is a critic whether they publish it or not because they're there judging you in the moment, laughing, and even if they don't write it, they're telling their friends, 'This person was great' or 'This person sucked.' Right or wrong.
DS: Yeah, absolutely. There can be this scene in Australia where someone will write a review and they'll actually say something like, 'Well, the whole audience was laughing and seemed to enjoy it, but it wasn't for me.' Well, who are you?! How does that mean anything?!
GM: I've done that. But I felt that I had to admit that it's just personal. It was a show I didn't enjoy but it's not to say this comedian – [name withheld] – didn't do a good job. I felt I had to make that caveat in there that the audience loved her; here's why I didn't.
DS: Between you and me, I might have felt similarly about that show. Maybe! That's all I'm going to say.
GM: Good luck with your meetings in L.A.
DS: Okay, thank you so much. Thanks for chatting with me.