Last night, I had the chance to see three-time Canadian Comedy Award winner for best female stand-up comedian perform to a packed crowd at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto. The show was fantastic, and I often found myself crying from laughing too hard. I was lucky to interview her for the Women’s Post a few weeks ago, before she packed her bags and found someone to take care of her cat, Franklin, and embark on her solo comedy tour, Single Awkward Female.
Debra DiGiovanni is a single, awkard, female. And she’s okay with that. In fact, the comedian embraces the title so much that she named her latest stand-up comedy tour, the Single Awkward Female Tour.
“I think somewhere along the line, I just became the spokesperson for single, awkward females. I don’t take it as an insult at all, it’s empowering. Taking it back! Taking the single awkward female back!” says DiGiovanni, chanting. As a jury member of Video on Trial, a show that analyzes and pokes fun at music videos, audiences have fallen in love with her self-deprecating humour. A couple of weeks ago, she won the Canadian Comedy Award for best female stand-up comedian – for a third time. But this funny lady wasn’t always a stand-up comedian.
DiGiovanni studied fashion merchandising at Ryerson University. With an arts background, she wanted to be a fashion illustrator. But something didn’t click. “I remember one teacher, she was a very stern and I was always intimidated by her. And after I did a presentation she pulled me aside and told me, ‘Seriously, have you ever thought of doing comedy?’” says DiGiovanni. It had never crossed her mind until then.
She got a job working as a tour guide at CityTv. She got to perform in front of people, and when producers were casting for Video on Trial, they remembered DiGiovanni’s days as a tour guide. “And that was really my first audience, a grade seven class from Mississauga,” says DiGiovanni.
After she left CityTv, she studied comedy at Humber College. When DiGiovanni was studying to be a comedian, she says that she felt that she was in the right place, which was not the case when she was a fashion student. DiGiovanni adds, “My start of comedy was easy. I was lucky. I think it was just destiny. The stars aligned and I was able to ease into the comedy community.”
The comedy community in Toronto, and Canada in general, is friendly and feels small, even though there are open mic nights at nearly every other bar in the entertainment district. “It’s not an ugly scene. We’re not New York yet, but we’re getting there,” says DiGiovanni.
Gender equality in a male-dominated field is getting there too. In the ten years DiGiovanni has been doing comedy, she says that the amount of women in the comedy community has more than doubled. With every decade that passes, she says that more women are joining the ranks. “Thank God, it’s about time! There really are a lot of female-centered shows right now, so more power to them. Please pave the way!” says DiGiovanni, laughing. With the success of films like Bridesmaids, with not only female characters, but female writers and producers, people are finally starting to realize that women are funny too.
DiGiovanni’s humour comes from her own life. She says that the best way to come up with jokes is to go outside and walk around. When funny things happen, she takes notes on her iPhone and goes back and adds to it. Her comedy is always light and her main objective is to make people laugh. But she tries to keep her self-deprecating comedy to a level where people can relate, and not just feel bad for her. She says she never wants to hear any “awws”. Making fun of herself connects her to her audience. “I’m not going to say that I’m 100 per cent content with myself, no I’m not, but I’ve realized that this is the body I live in right now, so it’s almost a form of acceptance for me. Instead of hating yourself, you know that’s not going to help, so I think making light of it and also allowing other people to realize, hey, you don’t have to be perfect,” says DiGiovanni. She says that she enjoys getting notes from young girls on Facebook, and wants to make people feel good when they leave her show.
Making people laugh is what drives her. She gets bored easily and the only thing in her life that she’s never bored of is comedy because it’s constantly changing. While DiGiovanni says that she could only dream of working on a television show as the crazy, kooky neighbour, and laughing all day long, stand-up comedy is where her heart is as a comedian. “I love stand-up. I’ll never give up stand-up, I will always perform live.”
If you want to catch Debra perform live, she still has tour dates in Ottawa, or check her site for listings.