Comedian DeAnne Smith on Heckling and Returning to Montreal
DeAnne Smith has been a stand-up comic for a decade, having appeared on The Late Late Show, Last Comic Standing, and Funny As Hell. She’s a festival favourite, often performing in Melbourne, Edinburgh, and Montreal.
This week, DeAnne is bringing her sharp, buoyant comedy back to the Just For Laughs fest with her new show, Post Joke Era. In September, she’ll be back in town to headline at The Comedy Nest from the 14th to the 16th.
She took some time to talk with Mobtreal about how she interacts with an audience and her transition from published poet to stand-up comic.
So you had your first show last night! How is it performing back in town again?
It’s amazing! It was a lot of fun. When I’m having more fun with an audience, I tend to riff more, and the show went over time by about 10 minutes (chuckles). So that’s the only danger here in Montreal– that I might stay on stage longer than the slot allows me.
I would imagine you normally connect pretty well with Montreal crowds.
Yeah, I mean, this is where I started and where I did my first-ever open mic, so they know me pretty well and I’m very comfortable here.
You do a lot of work in Australia, so what is it about their audiences that you seem to connect with?
Well, Australia has an amazing comedy scene. They have a lot of festivals over there, so it’s really fun to skip Canadian winter and head over there in the sunshine and do some great comedy festivals. Just as an example of what’s kind of going on with the scene over there, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is known for comedians as one of the best festivals in the world where you can really make a name as a comedian, and in the past few years, Australian comics have often ended up listed in the awards, and they’re producing world class comedy right now on that strange little island. So it’s just really fun to go over there and see that and be a part of things.
Do you find there to be a big difference between the comedic sensibilities of all these different places you’ve mentioned?
Every scene is different because every city has its own flavour and its own vibe, so you can definitely that when you’re doing comedy, as well. Canadian audiences, true to the stereotype, are really polite. You know, there’s not of heckling; that’s not really part of the scene, where in the U.K., for example, you can expect to be heckled, but that’s part of what everyone would consider to be “the show.” You definitely need to be on your toes and you need to be the smartest, sharpest person in the room. In Canada, it’s much less likely that you’re gonna be heckled and that someone’s gonna step out of line while you’re onstage.
Obviously, heckling is par for the course in your field, but is it something that kind of grates on you, that you try to just push through quickly, or do you enjoy using it to your advantage?
Oh yeah, I always make something fun out of it. I think a big part of my show is audience interaction, and every show is a bit different because of that, and I love it. I love being in the moment and just dealing with the people who are in that room on that night, and that’s what special about it, and that’s what makes a live performance.
I welcome a little bit of audience interaction to some degree. I think 99% of the people who are, quote, “heckling” are doing it out of a good spirit. They want to be a part of things and maybe they don’t realize that they’re interrupting and messing with the flow of a joke, so I try to incorporate it or with it for the most part. Every once in a while, you might have somebody that is trying to derail the show or they’re drunk or whatever it is– you might have someone more mean spirited, and I secretly love that, because it’s just fun to people in their place. You know, with then years of experience doing comedy and with the lights on me, and with the microphone, and everyone is facing at the direction of me on stage– it’s like, I’m gonna win this battle, you know? (laughs) So I secretly love if someone steps out of line. I get to put them in their place.
What I like about your comedy is that there is, as you mentioned, an intimacy between you and your audience, and you do involve them in a very fun and sort of buoyant way. Some comedy can be abrasive or combative, but you just seem to want everyone to have a good time and be on the same side. Where do you think that comes from?
Yeah! We’re getting too deep now, I’m gonna have to talk to my psychologist or something.
Oh, please do. Just put me on hold.
I think I’m just myself onstage, and I think to some degree that optimistic and that kind of, what I would call, like a kid sister vibe, come across. And that’s not anything I can control, it’s just me being myself, and obviously I do want everyone to have a good time! We’re all there together, we’re all gonna die someday, we might as well just enjoy each other while we can!
I found out recently that you were a published poet. I read some of you poems yesterday and found them quite beautiful.
Oh no! You must have dug deep to find some poems. It’s been awhile since I’ve done anything like that. But yeah, I think that goes with comedy in that when you’re writing comedy, you care about efficiency and language, and you want to find the most evocative phrase. There’s a lot that poetry and comedy have in common.
Early on in your stand-up career, did you ever think about incorporating some of form of poetry in your work, or are they really different spheres for you?
Yeah, they’re different things, and once I started comedy, I really left poetry behind. I came to Montreal, and I was going to attend Concordia for poetry. I deferred for a year, and in that year I started doing stand-up, and then I just never looked back. So there was a moment when I first came to Montreal that I was doing poetry and kind of dipping my toes in that scene, and then I started doing comedy. I decided that if I was gonna have a group of people’s attention, I’d rather make them laugh than feel quietly reflective, and with comedy, it’s much easier to tell whether you’re having the desired effect.
Sure, it’s immediate, and you clearly enjoy being right there with your audience.
Absolutely, I love live performance. I think it’s a really special and magical thing.
I wish I had seen this live, but you used to have an act with Leighland Beckman, who’s a strange little boy
Oh yeah! We did a really, really fun show at the Fringe called Horrible Things. I had so much fun with that show. I don’t really perform with other people, so that was a new thing for me, but he is such a great person, comedian and musician; it’s really easy to share the stage for him.
What was the main difference between performing solo and with another person?
I mean, honestly, I learned more from Leighland in the personal realm. We would meet up to discuss the show and what we wanted to do with it, and I always have a bit of like a frantic neurotic energy, and Leighland is the exact opposite. He showed me that you can just be relaxed about things, and there’s a whole other way of talking about things that doesn’t need to have frantic, neurotic energy. Now you’re making me want to work with him again!
Is there anything you’re watching or reading right now that resonates with you?
I’m currently reading this book called The Psychopath Test, and oh my gosh. It’s a really great read, and it’s about the psychiatric industry. A lot of it is focused in Canada, which I didn’t expect. There were some really nutty psychiatric facilities just outside of Toronto in the 60s, and they did really radical experiments before all the laws were in place about what you can do to people (laughs). So it’s just a really interesting read, and on top of it, the checklist about what it means to be a psychopath is absolutely horrifying in light of Trump’s presidency, who I believe has a lot of those qualities.
I’m trying to read quickly, because I have a bad habit with books, especially used books, and now there are all these free libraries all over the place, and I am just accumulating books much faster than I can read them
So you focus a lot on non-fiction?
I do! I really do like fiction too, but i like feeling like I’m learning something all the time, so I like non-fiction.