Deanne Smith

Deanne Smith
DeAnne Smith – Photo Chris Zacchia

Within three minutes of meeting DeAnne Smith, it was clear that she’s easy to like. I met up with the comedian at ComedyWorks, an old club whose dim lighting masks the sweat and blood from years and years of great comedy. At the top of the stairs I found a bathroom to wash bike grease off my hands, and incidentally, found DeAnne getting ready for that evening’s show. Looking up and inquiring if we were “doing a thing,” she set the tone for the super chill interview.

Stopping to say hi to a woman on the way out of ComedyWorks, and waving to the bartenders as we entered Grumpy’s, it was also clear that these neighboring spaces are her stomping grounds, places she feels comfortable in and has spent a lot of time at since she started on the scene in 2005.

Deanne Smith
DeAnne Smith – Photo Chris Zacchia

“When I started there was just two English speaking clubs, ComedyWorks and Comedy Nest, and there was a time when one of them didn’t even have an open mic, so there was really nowhere for comedians to get stage time. So I started coming here, to Grumpy’s, and crashing their open mic which was a hodgepodge of stuff. There was never comedy here then, there was just music and spoken word, and then I started doing comedy here and telling other people ‘hey let’s do it,’ and now the open mic here is at least half comedy.”

It’s with this self-sufficient, get-shit-done attitude that DeAnne’s created her own opportunities and accomplished an impressive amount in only a few short years. Responding to the lack performance opportunities, DeAnne created new stand-up shows at different venues, which came and went as she built her career. Comedy On The Main was the first of these shows, which she started with three other local comics. When the bar that hosted it shut down, they moved around the corner and the show continued for a few more years as Comedy Off The Main.

“It was just a weekly Wednesday night show” she says, “we had a really good time there. And it was fun, because a lot of us were coming up and didn’t have stage time anywhere else, but were getting stage time there. And then we were getting better at comedy outside of the clubs, and then we all kind of busted back onto the scene better comedians, and nobody knew how that happened.”

Stand Up Strip Down and Royal Riot are the most recent of DeAnne’s comedic inventions. Like its name cleverly implies, Stand Up Strip Down combines comedy and burlesque, while Royal Riot is a monthly stand-up show at the Royal Phoenix.

DeAnne’s travelled to some really cool places, doing stand-up in Edinburgh, London, Reykjavik, the Yukon and all over Australia. When I asked her how these opportunities came up she answered in the most modest and matter-of-fact way, “I just went after them.” Bam!

“This year was really crazy because I realized I was riding a camel in the desert in Australia, and then I was like whoooaa, in less than six months –”

“Australia has camels??” (I really need to stop interrupting my interviewees)

“Yeah, they have a huge feral camel population. They’re not even sure what the estimate is, but possibly up to a million or more camels roaming around in the desert.”

“Nooo waay, a billion??” (Sigh. It came out before I could stop it)

“No, a million. Not a billion. So realized in less than six months I went from dog-sledding in the Yukon to riding camels in the desert in Australia, all in the name of comedy, which is amazing.”

DeAnne’s latest show, Living The Sweet Life, has already been around Australia in a five festival/three and a half month tour, and is about to start its five night run at Just For Laughs. “Playing Just For Laughs is great. Because it’s the hometown, you know, I get to see friends from around the world that I don’t usually see and all my friends from in town” says DeAnne. “I know a lot of the guys from doing stuff in Australia and stuff in the UK, so it’s nice to be in your hometown. It transforms into something a little bit special. It feels like Christmas or something; like when mom and dad rearrange the furniture and bring in the Christmas tree and you’re like ‘wow! This is amazing!’”

Part sarcasm, part sincerity, the title “Living The Sweet Life” plays with the concept of how life is sometimes a wee bit pathetic, but actually pretty damn good when we stop and think about it. “The title came out of a joke that I do about this one time that I bought a weekly bus pass, and I was like super psyched that I had the weekly bus pass. And then the little voice in my head was like ‘living the sweeeet life’ and I was like oh my god, seriously? Let’s have bigger goals and dreams DeAnne.”

Deanne Smith
DeAnne Smith – Photo Chris Zacchia

Continuing on, she explains “life is a tiny bit pathetic in those ways, but on the other hand we all live in Western society and we’re all doing really really well by global standards. So I sneak in some social commentary, but it’s maybe camouflaged among the ukulele tunes and dick jokes.”

Excellent, who doesn’t love uke tunes and penis jokes? Adding to the fun and debauchery, DeAnne chooses an audience member at each show to give “sweet life treatment” to for an extra special experience. She’s leaving the details of what this all entails to our imaginations, but stresses that it’s not a bad thing to sit in the front row.

Well, that all sounds great to me. I’m scraping together some bus money and getting there early for my front-row-center, cause baby, today’s been a bitch and I need some sweet life treatment.

Her shows (part of Zoofest) are July 23rd, 24th, 25th 27th & 28th at 8:30 at Underworld

Tickets: DeAnne Smith Zoofest

Zoofest is back for the third year running, carrying in its large clownish arms an assorted mash of comedy, music, satire and performance. It’s the crazier, slightly cooler little cousin of the Just for Laughs festival and looks to be even bigger and busier than before.

The idea for Zoofest was originally conceived by Gilbert Rozon, founder of Just for Laughs, who traveled the world’s festival circuit for 25 years, examining different approaches to making festivals. Amalgamating everything eclectic he had learned, Rozon created Zoofest.

The festival is a diverse bi-lingual event, and attracts not just Canadian and French-Canadian performers but American and European ones too. There are no strict rules or genres, Zoofest tries it’s hardest to give a broad spectrum of artists the chance to be seen and/or heard.

However not all acts are considered underground and the lineup this year contains some pretty big names as far as comedy is concerned. Hannibal Buress (writer for 30 Rock) returns this year after last years highly successful Zoofest performance. Coming across the water to perform is English comedy star Russell Howard (Mock the Week) bringing with him his energetic British humor.

Canadian comedy award nominee DeAnne Smith is performing her new show About Freakin Time in Underworld starting the 21st of July. This Barry award nominated piece looks to be both intriguing and witty and is definitely worth checking out. Another show which promises to be interesting is Paul F. Thompkins’ show Life’s Works which is a candid comedic recounting of his journey through his formative years.

Ventriloquist Nina Conti

Outside of “straight-forward” comedy, there are buckets of experimental and unique performance and music shows. Other People’s Problems is a performance based on the predatory and manipulative nature of self-help mediums. Ventriloquist Nina Conti demonstrates her technical prowess and witty dialogue with her show Talk to the Hand.

Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns bring their New Orleans brand of stylish soulful music to Café Cleopatra and this is definitely one of the many music acts you don’t want to miss.

I could continue listing artists but there is simply too much going on to give a fair taster of the festival as a whole. I’ve never felt more justified in saying “there’s something for everyone”. Check out the lineup on the Zoofest website and see what tickles your ribs.

The advantage of a festival that shoots for a fringe-esque feel is that the admission prices are kept as low as possible to allow for the greatest possible accessibility. Ticket prices to Zoofest events are relatively affordable (averaging about 20 bucks a show) and even cheaper if you plan on seeing a lot, in which case an All Show Pass would be worth the 39 bucks they’re asking. It really seems like a festival that likes being chummy with its audience.

Taking into account the festival’s growth from 13,000 spectators in ’09 to 30,000 in ’10, it’s safe to say that this years festival is a pretty big deal. It runs from the 9th of July until the 31st which is pretty telling of the scope of Zoofest. If the trend of growth continues from last year then this time around the festival will be madder as ever.

Check out the Zoofest website for more information