DeAnne Smith on Gender and Standup Comedy as Shared Joy

DeAnne Smith is a Montreal favourite. Born in the US, they lived in Mexico for a while, and then moved to and got their start in comedy in Montreal.

I remember seeing Smith at Stand Up Strip Down in my twenties, and now they perform and do TV appearances all over the world and have their own Netflix special. I recently saw Smith at the Unknown Comedy Club’s ComedyWorks Tribute Show this past May.

At this year’s Just for Laughs Festival they will be filming their own standup special. I had a chance to speak with DeAnne as they and their partner were road tripping from visiting family on the East Coast to Los Angeles. Though I could hear the road in the background and our connection was iffy, the interview felt less like a formal exchange and more like a chat between old friends.

I asked them, as I do every standup comedian I interview, what they’ve been doing during the pandemic, given the limits on live performance due public health measures.

“Everyone says I’ve been losing my mind. Please put that on the record. It took me a couple of months to embrace my comedy, but in September 2020 I started doing my own monthly show on Zoom that I call DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and I ran that from September until June and we’re taking a break for the summer but honestly, I think I’m going to bring it back in the fall even though there are live shows because we built such a nice, fun, supportive little community every month…I was doing my time with online shows.”

DeAnne Smith admits that, like many other comedians, it took them a while to learn the tech but they had a tech from their monthly show to help. Regarding how COVID has affected their comedy and career, they said their career halted overnight.

“Even before the pandemic, I think, a lot of what I’m trying to do in comedy… I’ve always been aware of how special it is to be in a room with people and just be creating a moment that’s not going to be repeated, that’s just for the people there. I’ve always done comedy from the point of view of real connection and I think that’s only deepened for me in pandemic. It’s like really the only thing I’m interested in is connection and making a moment where we can all feel joy together and feel good together.”

Smith acknowledges that shared joy is the goal of comedy, but feels that some people approach the art as having funny ideas they want others to hear, and while that is part of their comedy, for them it’s as much about connection and shared experience. They point out that the shared experience they seek with their comedy has deepened due to the pandemic.

“I don’t remember a moment in my lifetime where I’ve felt such a collective consciousness where we’re all experiencing some pretty similar things together.”

DeAnne is openly non-binary and has been using the pronouns they/them for many years and they made many jokes about it in their 2018 Netflix special. Though their gender identity is nothing new, they are more open about their preferred pronouns and insisting on their use.

“It feels really good to me and I’m finally in a place where I’m willing to inconvenience people a tiny bit to feel seen and referred to correctly.”

Smith says there hasn’t been any pushback regarding their gender identity and they never thought much of it until the Netflix special came out in 2019.

“I have gotten a lot of emails from people of all ages, but especially [from] teenagers and young adults saying that it was really important for them to see someone like them in a public role talking about gender issues and I forget about that a lot but I think it does help people realize that there’s a lot of ways to identify and there’s a wide spectrum of how to be a human being.”

Smith’s comedy generally has a very openly feminist slant though they admit that they aren’t discussing issues exacerbated by the pandemic like domestic violence as much in their online shows.

“One thing that’s happened with the pandemic, at least with the online shows, is that I’m not speaking to as generalized an audience as I am in the real world in the comedy clubs. By that I mean it seems the online crowds are kind of self-selected to have a similar political sensibility, so I don’t know that I’ve been pushing an agenda as much as I do in the comedy clubs because there’s not as much to push against.”

People who come to Smith’s online shows know exactly what they’re getting, with Smith pointing that if anything their comedy has gotten more personal due to the pandemic, especially with the monthly show. Many people taking in online shows are often in their pajamas or not wearing pants, and that lends itself to a more personal experience, though Smith laughingly says they will be wearing pants during their Just for Laughs appearance.

DeAnne Smith, Chris Locke and Kyle Brownrigg will be recording CTV Comedy and Crave Stand-Up Specials Saturday, July 31 at 7 and 10 pm at L’Astral, 305 Ste-Catherine Ouest. Tickets available through HaHaHa.com

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