Comedy moves in mysterious ways, particularly in our brave new world of viral videos and instant global communication.
Comic DeAnne Smith has surfed these strange new waves with great success. By way of online performance snippets, goofy home videos, and one notorious music video, Smith has cultivated a global audience for her often raunchy yet oddly sweet style of comedy.
Smith, a dedicated feminist activist and an out lesbian, might seem to operate within a very specific comedy wavelength. But her bright and charming stage persona has an undeniable and evidently universal appeal. She has performed at venues and festivals around the planet, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Melbourne International Comedy Fest, the Iceland Comedy Festival and the famous “Just for Laughs” event in Montreal. She’s also done late-night TV sets in the United States, Australia, Canada and the U.K.
Smith will perform Nov. 7, at Kings in Raleigh, along with opener and local comic Erin Terry. Smith, speaking from her home in Toronto, talked with The News & Observer about moving to Canada, her upcoming Netflix special and the tricky part of being a feminist lesbian.
Q: Did you start out doing standup in Toronto?
A: I’m from Upstate New York, originally. I moved to Mexico and then to Canada. Well, OK, here’s my weird true story about how I got into comedy: I was living in Mexico with my girlfriend-at-the-time, and she wanted to go to mime school in Montreal. I was like, yeah sure, why not?
So I followed a mime to Montreal. I got into a creative writing program but ended up deferring that when I started doing comedy open-mic nights. I realized right away that I had found this thing that I loved and that inspired me. I never looked back.
Q: In one of your many online clips, you have a great bit about how your inner feminist sometimes conflicts with your inner lesbian. That’s a funny idea, I think we all have some version of that.
A: Ha, yeah, that particular joke I was doing a lot more a few years ago. I had just observed it in myself and I thought it was funny to share the idea. You know, I’m a feminist and have been a feminist forever, but at the same time I’m a lesbian and I’m attracted to women. I sometimes find myself objectifying women. There’s this battle in my head, and I thought it would be funny to reach out to straight men in the audience and see if we could talk about that and have some fun with it.
In the wake of #MeToo, a light-heartedness about that kind of thing may be changing a little bit. But a few years ago, it felt edgy and fun.
Q: You have a viral video, whose name we can’t put in the paper, that deals with the idea of consensual sex and non-consensual sex. Was that a reaction to the #MeToo phenomenon?
A: No, it was before, I think we made that in 2014. I was actually responding to a lot of news at that time about rape at universities. The idea of consent was being talked about, the idea that we need to talk about it and teach people what it means.
I like rap music and I’ve always liked that element of braggadocio. I like the ego in rap and the idea that rappers talk about how cool they are and how many women they get. It occurred to me that it would be really funny to have that attitude in a rap song but at the same time make it explicitly feminist. The idea of something being explicitly sexual and explicitly feminist, that idea alone made me laugh.
I told a few friends about it and we just started making the video, texting each other lyrics back and forth and just cracking up.
Q: You have a great way, I think, of coming at these difficult issues and still finding the funny. Is there a trick to that?
A: There’s often a little bit of an educational element in my comedy. Not always. But I try to think about what I’m saying and why I’m saying it. It can get in my way sometimes. Sometimes I’m too serious. But you know, I’m onstage and sometimes I think, if I’m the only one up here talking, and all these people are looking at me, I should probably have something meaningful or interesting to say.
One thing I strive to do, and will be striving forever probably, I try to observe things in myself that feel taboo, then find that catharsis with an audience, with other people who feel the same way.
Q: You have a Netflix special coming next year, right?
A: Right, it’s called “Gentleman Elf.” (laughs) It’s part of a series of worldwide Netflix specials. They’re all going to drop on the same day. I’m one of four comics from Canada in the series.
But they’re also going to have comics from China, India, France and other countries. They’re all going to be in their native language with subtitles. Because I’ve had videos go viral online, I get messages from faraway places. I’m interested to see in what parts of the world this special will resonate.
Q: What is it about standup comedy as a form that you find rewarding?
A: This is maybe quite cheesy, but it’s true, I think. There’s a reason that people gather together in a room for comedy. It’s something about that live experience. As people have infinite entertainment available to them all the time, at home or on the phone, it really means something. It’s powerful when people just get out of the house and gather together in a space. I think about it a lot. I love the connection of being with a particular group of people, in that one room, that one night.
Who: DeAnne Smith with Erin Terry
When: 7:30 p.m., Nov. 7
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh