DeANNE SMITH and MARK SINODINOS with host Todd van Allen, at Absolute Comedy (2335 Yonge), Friday, January 25, at 9 pm. 416-486-7700. Rating: NNNN
DeAnne Smith sports a short, asymmetrical haircut and wears a burgundy hoodie with a bowtie and glasses. She could easily pass as a cultural theory grad student who works part time at a high-end food co-op. But she's a stand-up comic, and - judging from her killer co-headlining set last Friday at Absolute Comedy - one of the freshest, most vibrant voices around.
It takes balls - um, we'll come to that later - to open your set with bits about evolution and abortion. But Smith did just that, immediately establishing her comic territory with intelligence and wit. A joke about a bumper sticker equating abortion with the Holocaust went to unexpected places and had just the right amount of irreverence and absurdity.
Most people south of Bloor would quickly recognize Smith's obvious queer signifiers, but when she casually came out to the audience at the Yonge and Eglinton club there was an awkward silence. She quickly defused that with a "What, this didn't clue you in?" expression, pointing to her Harry Potter-like face before launching into a brilliant bit about her "father/lesbian bonding" experience watching a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders audition on TV.
Then she delivered an over-the-top impression of overly confident male comics who have no material, which quickly got the crowd on her side. Her segue into a joke trying to embrace the catchphrase "Tell it to my balls!" brilliantly sent up the arrogance and stupidity of many male stand-ups who coast on bravado.
Her longest routine concerned a visit to get waxed, and it branched off in multiple directions, letting her joke about a) being a privileged white western woman outsourcing her body hair; b) never taking off her underwear ("I'm a lesbian - I don't take off my underwear to have sex; it's mostly cuddling and rubbing"); and c) being repeatedly slapped in the vulva, something she associates with a few minutes of sexual experimentation in the middle of the night.
After this satisfying climax, she ended with her crowd-pleasing ditty about death (which is funny because the melody sounds so upbeat).
What makes Smith a joy to watch - besides her sense of momentum and structure - is the ease with which she handles the audience. Among many improvised bits, she enacted a mock spousal-abuse-intervention routine when a man and woman in the front row jokingly elbowed each other after one of her bits.
"Does someone have hummus? We can get you to a safe house soon," she instructed the woman with mock concern. Brilliant.
The rest of the show was generally solid. Co-headliner Mark Sinodinos had some good material about adult men who live at home with their parents and how women from different ethnic backgrounds behave in bars. But in a way his padded act felt like the kind of routine Smith was satirizing.
Special guest Ben Mathai proved much better in a short set. His East Indian perspective on camping was priceless, as was his joke about what to do with his hands while his doctor is testing him for testicular cancer.
And amiable MC Todd Van Allen established a good rapport with the audience, joking about his age, riffing on people's names and, in one of my favourite jokes of his, avoiding germs during cold and flu season. After hearing this bit, you won't look at elevator buttons in quite the same way.