Stand-up DeAnne Smith channels her anxiety (and ours) into comedy cartharsis at JFL42

SIRIUS XM TOP COMIC WITH DEANNE SMITH as part of JFL42 with Smith, host Ben Miner and finalists Drew Behm,.


SIRIUS XM TOP COMIC WITH DEANNE SMITH as part of JFL42 with Smith, host Ben Miner and finalists Drew Behm, Sophie Buddle, Adam Christie, Ola Dada, Courtney Gilmour, Andrea Jin, Nigel Grinstead, Jess Salomon, Kelly Taylor and Alex Wood. September 26 at 7 pm. Queen Elizabeth Theatre. $39.50, passes $59-$199. jfl42.com.

The world needs more DeAnne Smith right now. And thankfully, were about to get it.

The queer comic who is headlining the Sirius XM Top Comic show during JFL42 has a way of seeing the world that is funny, edgy, anxious, but oddly healing. You might even call her act therapeutic.

Yes! she exclaims, with her signature full-on grin. I want you to say that, because its one of the things Im aiming for. I dont know if Im fully there yet. But I like to take what Ive figured out about myself partly with the help of therapy and bring it out onstage so people who feel similarly can relate.

Whether shes recounting a disastrous bikini wax session or a botched attempt to casually order coffee from a cool barista, Smith succeeds in taking her hyper-self-conscious observations about life and because shes onstage with a mic and complete confidence normalizing them.

Were sitting in Comedy Bar, Smiths favourite room in the city. Its where she and BFF Jess Salomon have co-hosted the monthly Salomon & Smith night of alternative comedy for an audience so loyal that a lesbian couple whod had one of their first dates there staged a proposal in the audience.

It was even gayer than that, says Smith. It was the second proposal. They were already engaged, and the other person wanted to propose back.

It goes without saying that when Smith, like most queers, uses the phrase gayer than that shes not using the term as a put-down, but rather as a way to own a certain type of urban behaviour. Translation: were more than living up to our stereotypes.

Its no surprise that one of Smiths signature jokes captured for posterity on her Netflix Comedians Of The World episode opens with the line: I am everything I look like I am.

Id like to think Im not so stereotypical, laughs Smith, whose look this afternoon is more casual than the jacketed, bow-tied look she often adopts for her bigger gigs, like headlining at the Melbourne Comedy Festival or Montreals Just For Laughs.

But inasmuch as anybody has a picture of a pretty nerdy, intellectual queer, thats me. All of it. Ive got the little rescue dog (Rudy, pictured at left). Im always reading three books at a time. Ive got the Birkenstocks, the veganism, the gluten-freeness.

And then she laughs. She just ended a relationship in the most loving, amicable way, she adds.

But I moved out of my girlfriends house into the house of my ex-girlfriend and her wife and baby. Now thats the gayest thing ever.

A couple of years ago, one of her jokes about how straight men need to step up their game went viral, getting more than 50 million views on Facebook and YouTube. That, combined with the popularity of the Netflix special, which dropped at the beginning of the year, has meant more gigs and recognition.

A few weeks ago at Indianas Bloomington Pride, she got recognized on the street by a super-straight family in their mid-30s with three kids, who didnt even know she was performing. They said they loved her Netflix special and had told all their friends to watch it.

During her outdoor set that day, a 13-year-old kid in the front row was mouthing along to the words of her gender joke from the special.

The first long set I saw Smith do was in 2013 at the midtown club Absolute Comedy. The crowd young and mostly straight was the antithesis of Comedy Bars hipsters. But Smith charmed everyone.

I never really change what I say, but sometimes I change the energy around it, the pace in which I do things. Sometimes a more mainstream audience needs a little more hand-holding.

Smith suggests being charming may have been a default coping mechanism she learned growing up the youngest kid in a family in the small town of Endicott, New York.

Im the youngest. My brother and sister are 11 and seven years older than me. So I realized I was never going to be the biggest, or the smartest, or the strongest. My way to get things was to be the cute little one with the jokes. Early on, it was a way to get attention, to get my needs met. And it just stayed with me.

Her parents were alcoholics, and she has an early joke, which she now calls glib, about why she was drawn to do comedy: begging for attention from a roomful of strangers with drinks in their hands.

I remember putting that joke together one day and thinking, Oh my goodness. I wasnt telling tales on my parents. Weve talked about this explicitly. Theyve dealt with all their stuff that turned them into who they are.

One of the most cathartic things about watching a Smith set is seeing her be brutally honest about even the most painful parts of her life.

The thing I love about comedy is that it forces me to be the most myself. Thats liberating. Growing up queer in a small town, I had to lock down who I was and hide parts of myself. So comedy is like a lifelong discovery. And being rewarded for it onstage is an unbelievable feeling.

In addition to her SiriusXM Top Comic show during JFL42, Smiths also taking part in the festivals panel on mental health (September 28, 3 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox).

Ive talked about anxiety and depression onstage, she says. I guess the phrase we often use is struggling with depression, but its really something Im always dealing with. Its part of my brain makeup, part of my family history. So being active and vocal about it is important to me. Ive been in therapy for years and advocate it to everybody.

Discovering the anti-depressant citalopram, which counteracts anxiety, was a revelation.

I realized a lot of my depression came from not knowing how to deal with the anxiety.

Today she loves talking to people about what cocktail of medicines theyre on and whats working for them. And she says her medication doesnt affect her creativity.

If anything it helps, because you can let go of so much garbage, you dont have to deal with it.

Smiths touring schedule is ramping up. Besides the JFL42 shows, future dates take her everywhere from Kalamazoo to Chattanooga.

Although shes just applied for Canadian citizenship shes been a permanent resident for a number of years shes moving to L.A. in the new year. And shes developing a show for the CBC thats loosely based on her life.

Starring in a TV show was never her dream, she says, but shes getting her head around the idea and realizing the format could be fun.

Its just exciting to think about what else is possible, she says. Stand-up is my absolute favourite thing. I never wanted to do anything else, but its fun to think about the number of people you can reach with different mediums, not just, say, 200 people at a time.

Still, even if those rooms of 200 people eventually morph into 500 or 1,000, count on Smith to connect with everyone there.

Like the best comics, shes alive to each moment in a crowd every sudden pause (which shell often identify) or nervous laugh. At one JFL42 show, she ended by getting us to support her while she crowd-surfed. Unforgettable.

My relationship with the audience is the same as a relationship with a person, she says. You have to make time for each other and put energy into it. Thats what happens at a live show.

My favourite moments are the spontaneous ones, something that an audience member is going to remember and tell me later. Remember that night? theyll say. And of course Ill remember. It was special.

Read about more must-see JFL42 acts here

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