Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, you already know Canadian comedian Debra DiGiovanni.
From her Showtime comedy special Single Awkward Female to her performances at the Just for Laughs Festival, opening shows for Russel Peters, or appearing on Much Music’s Video on Trial, you have almost definitely laughed at one of her jokes at some point or another.
Now based in Los Angeles, DiGiovanni is currently on tour visiting her sweet Canucks North of the border before abandoning them for a toasty Californian winter.
We were lucky to get a moment to catch up with DiGiovanni and talk about the evolution of females in comedy, social justice warriors, and what it’s like living in LA.
When you out started in comedy, there were way less women doing stand up compared to now. How does it feel to have helped pave the way for women in comedy over the years?
It’s pretty amazing because you know I’ve been doing comedy for 16 years now, and I would say probably out of ten comics, maybe three [of them would be] women [back in the day whereas] now I would say it’s four, maybe even five. In the last seven years there has just been a boom of girls in comedy which I think is amazing.
I think that women are now getting the confidence to do what they want and are realizing that they can have a comedy career but also have a family and a life too. A lot of the people like Sarah Silverman and Maria Bamford, Amy Schumer, Tina [Fey], Amy Poehler, and the Broad City girls have all really helped the movement of women [towards] performing. And it’s about time too!
I know that I have a lot of local friends who’ve said that they always wanted to try stand up, and they all just started doing it over the last couple years.
Exactly, and I think 20 years ago they probably would have said, “I’ve always wanted to try stand up, oh well!” And just never do it. I also think that, especially in Canada, our comedy scene is getting better and better. I feel like no matter what city you’re in, you can find somewhere to perform. It’s a little easier when there are “safe spaces” of comedy around so you don’t have to go to comedy bars by yourself.
Overall, I think comedy has a stereotype that it’s like an old boys’ club. Do you think that stigma has changed at all?
I think [that] it has changed a bit, but not enough. That sort of [mentality] is shifting though because it was an old boys’ club like 20 years ago but now those gentlemen are all starting to retire. So think about what it’s going to be like in 15 years when all the women [in the scene] right now become the matriarchs of comedy? It’ll really change the vibe.
You know I live in Los Angeles now and The Comedy Store (a famous comedy club in LA posts their listing every night of who’s in the show. I’m not joking here, but they’ll [often] have just one woman [on a bill of 20 comics]. It’s 2016 and there’ll be just one woman. That still exists and it [doesn’t] even necessarily [have to do] with the comics, it’s [because the] bookers and club managers just assume that their audience only wants to see men.
You’ve reached a lot of people through your work on Much Music’s Video on Trial. If you were to do the next “On Trial” spinoff, what would it be about?
Ohhhh, what it could be. Dogs on Trial would be very nice. I think you could do a whole special on the Kardashians on Trial, Politicians on Trial, I mean lord that would be fun you know what I mean? And I think Comedians on Trial would be very fun too! Oh that’s a good idea, I’ll write that down.
Besides the show, your career has mostly been built around your stand up performances. Have you ever had any interest in trying out another aspect of comedy like improv?
I actually started with improv! Because I knew I wanted to do stand up comedy but I was very scared. So some friends of mine said, “Oh yeah, try improv.” So I took two years of lessons [and did] improv. I liked it, but I soon realized that sharing the stage just wasn’t for me. So I just switched over to stand up after that.
do you think the rise of people in the world being over sensitive and professionally offended all the time has affected comedy in a negative way at all?
That’s a good question because you’re right. Social justice warriors are very much like trolls, except they’re pretending that they have a good reason. And I’m not an animal; I don’t get up and try to offend people. I just want to be funny, but that kind of behaviour can ruin comedy if you let it.
When Joan Rivers passed away a couple years ago I made the decision that I would never apologize for what I said, because she never did. Not a day in her life. So a tragedy would strike and she’d make a joke and people would say, “Oh how could you do that? It’s too soon!” And she would say, “I’m a comedian, my job is to make a joke about it.”
Comedy works when it surprises. Take that all away and we’re all just going to be stuck with knock knock jokes, and that’s no good.
Your stand up is mostly based on your own personal experiences. Has living in LA contributed a lot of new material to your sets so far?
Ohhhh yes. It’s just such a culture shock [moving] from Toronto to Los Angeles. I actually think that my comedy has changed quite a bit in the last five years. A little progress and change and you know growing and developing; I’m glad actually. I hope that I don’t go my whole career where my comedy stays the same.
Can you tell us a little anecdote from your time in LA so far?
The third day that I was in Los Angeles, like literally just dropped my bags off, a friend of mine took me out for coffee. So they picked me up and traffic had stopped and they were just like, “Yeah, this kinda happens all the time.” But the reason traffic had stopped is because a woman was crossing the street and she was wearing high heels, a bikini, and a mink coat. That was it! I was like, “What’s happening? Are they shooting a movie?” No, it was just a woman crossing the street and I was like, “Well Debra, you’re not in Kansas anymore!”
Debra Giovanni performs in Vancouver October 16 at the Biltmore Cabaret, in Montreal October 27-29 at the Comedy Nest, in Hamilton, Ontario October 19 at The Zoetic Theatre and in Kitchener, Ontario November 23 at the Registry Theatre. Check out her website for exact tour dates and ticket links.