Standup comedy is an art form that particularly relies on live audience interaction. Comics frequently tour the world and perform in front of as many crowds as possible. That’s exactly what DeAnne Smith was doing until COVID-19 hit.

“I had just moved to LA in January,” Smith told me in a phone interview, “and spent the first few months travelling back and forth to Canada and around the US as per usual. Luckily I had already decided I wouldn’t go back to Australia this year in 2020 and that is part of my usual routine as well.

Everything halted for me in March and my whole touring calendar just got completely cleared out. I’ve been stationary in LA since March, which is truly the first time in about 14 years of doing comedy that I’ve been in the same place for so long. So it’s really different.”

After a few months of appearing in other comedians’ remote shows, Smith decided to try something new: hosting a monthly comedy shows on Zoom. It’s called DeAnne Smith and Acquaintances and you can access it through Smith’s Instagram or Twitter (which are also worth following in general).

“It’s at least a way to feel connected to people,” Smith said, “and to feel a little bit of a sense of community like it would have been if we were all in person.”

While still missing the large in-person group experience, Smith is able to re-create the live show feeling somewhat by performing to a visible audience that have the option of unmuting themselves and laughing and interacting for all to hear.

“In some ways it’s more intimate because I’m literally seeing people’s names on the screen and their faces and they’re all very well lit up,” Smith observed, “in a comedy room a lot of times you can see the first one or two rows and that’s it, but you don’t know people’s name or see their living room or their cat. I’m trying to focus on the ways in which online performances can be more intimate and more interesting than the live performances we’re all used to.”

At Just for Laughs this year, Smith will be part of a different type of live online performance with Hannah Gadsby. The pair will appear as part of the festival’s Conversations with Funny People series.

While they were initially offered a moderator, the two comics who have been friends for well over a decade (Gadsby even sublets her place in LA to Smith when she’s in Australia) opted for a different approach to the show.

Smith gave me the scoop:

“I had this goofy idea that I’m really surprised she went for. I have these little cards that I picked up at a sex shop once and they’re called Speed Dating Questions and they’re just like little get-to-know-you questions. We’ve been friends for so long and there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know about each other, so we’re going to be reading these goofy speed-dating questions back and forth and answering them for each other.

I think it will be a really fun thing for us to do as friends and she has such a huge fanbase that I don’t think has probably seen her in this way before, so I think it will be really interesting for people.”

Smith lived in Montreal before moving to LA and hasn’t ruled out returning for more than a JFL visit:

“There is a chance I might come and live there. Everything is very uncertain at the moment, so I don’t really know where I’m going to land.

What I miss about Montreal is really hard to articulate. There’s a special quality to the city…Let me try and explain it through an anecdote:

When I lived in Montreal, I had these two friends who knew each other through me and they had known each other for at least five years. They had Thanksgiving dinners together. I mean they knew each other. About five years into them knowing each other, one of them flipped and said something about their career and the other one said ‘Oh, I never knew what you did!’

And I thought that is so special that in Montreal, it’s just not so career driven. It’s focused on everything else. These people who had known each other for five years never once started a conversation with ‘What do you do?'”

Conversations with Funny People Featuring Hannah Gadsby and DeAnne Smith streams live on Saturday, October 10th at 10pm for FREE and will be available through Video on Demand through October 11th at midnight

I’ll admit, Queens of Comedy didn’t live up to my expectations, but it did have some nice surprises.

The show has graced Zoofest for several years now, but this was my first time seeing it. Featuring Eman El-Husseini, Jess Salomon and DeAnne Smith, the show started off a bit lackluster with watered down audience banter from Mike Patterson, the entirely decked out in a king costume host. I’m all about the punny style humour, but this didn’t do it for me.

Eman El-Husseini was first up, and offered a relieving and relevant set, going for the big ones: religion and the Quebec Charter of Values. It was a good start to the show, and El-Husseini definitely knew her crowd.

Montreal local Jess Salomon followed El-Husseini with an eclectic set full of light but raunchy humour. Putting her sexuality on her sleeve and the crowd on the spot, Salomon talked about her experiences of being bisexual, and how people react. Salomon engaged with the crowd, and all in all it’s always nice to see a local on stage.

DeAnne Smith Queens of Comedy Zoofest
DeAnne Smith

DeAnne Smith really stole the show. Wildly animated and quick on her feet, Smith had the crowd pretty much the moment she got on stage and described the “style” of her lanky arms. At one point the lights turned on to the crowd rendering the audience visible to the comedian to which Smith, without skipping a beat, talked about how uncomfortable that visibility was – for both her and the audience.

Without giving it away, I will say I was happy with the end. Not only did it finish on a high note with an incredibly promising comedian, but given the premise of the show being on the classic trope of the King finding his Queen, it did well.

* The Queens of Comedy runs until August 1, tickets available through Zoofest.com

* Photos by Chris Zacchia

Last night we traveled to the MainLine Theatre to see Stand Up Strip Down, a night filled with laughs and butts.

I want to start of by saying going to an Off JFL show is an experience in itself. When you take a seat at the Main Line and look around, you cant help but think, shit, this is what every comedy show in every movie I have ever seen looks like, cool. You also realize that everybody knows everybody, the crowd is a mix of die hard Off JFL’ers, locals and comics that just finished their sets. They all join together to form a sort of funny cult, but instead the arsenic in the cool aid is swapped out for a mild hallucinogenic that side effects include hysterical laughing.

A memorable venue, cool crowd and an atmosphere that only comes around when doors open at midnight, are all elements of a great show the final elements needed are a good host and a solid line up, both were accounted for.

DeAnne Smith was responsible for hosting this night of laughs and moderate nudity. If you have seen DeAnne Smith preform you know she’s great, so obviously when it came to hosting she kept that reputation going.

DeAnne’s comedic style is truly a pleasure to watch. She effortless blends several forms of comedy and puts her own unique twist on it. From the self-deprecative to the anecdotal, to the sarcastic, DeAnne can do it all while engaging with the audience in a way that reflects an old school attitude.

DeAnne’s high energy hosting not only got the show off to a good start, it also set the tone for the entire audience. An audience of which DeAnne was a part.

It’s really cool to see the host sitting in front of you having as much fun as you are. It reminds you of the first time you and your friends got an older sibling to rent an R rated comedy and you all watched it together in your parent’s den, dying of laughter only taking breaks to reenact what you just saw. Comedy is one of the few things in life that can’t be faked, sure you can dress funny but as soon as you take the stage every one will know what’s good. DeAnne Smith you good.

DeAnne let lose a lineup of funny and unique comics upon us, each feeding off the crowd and using that energy to keep the show going strong. In between comics, DeAnne would introduce a new burlesque dancer to perform a routine, including such local luminaries of the Burlesque scene as Miss Sugarpuss.

This was my first Burlesque show. If you have never seen burlesque before I don’t want to ruin it for you but it’s really cool, especially when the performers acts take on a comedic edge, for example one act was about a widow but DeAnne reassured the crowd by saying “don’t worry she’s a horny widow.”

In this show, Burlesque and comedy go hand in hand. To fully understand this synergy you have to see it for yourself.

Stand Up Strip Down is a show that I highly recommend you go see. It’s not only super original and funny but it provides the sort of rare, elusive innocence being ruined feel we all had when we decided to start watching comedy.

Stand Up / Strip Down runs until Thursday, please visit hahaha.com for tickets

I thought this would be much easier. Sure. Just For Laughs is a huge, sprawling event, some might say Montreal’s largest festival, a distinction not easy to get in a city known for festivals.

But our focus is shows that feature lesser known comedians with a few of the big shots that have a unique appeal beyond the mainstream. Shouldn’t be too hard to focus in on a few good acts that fit the criteria, right? Wrong.

Turns out the emerging and underground acts, who are performing as part of the main festival and this year, for the first time, in OFF-JFL which is part of Zoofest, are as bountiful and numerous as the gala guys and gals. Our coverage team, comprised of Hannah Besseau, Jerry Gabriel. Chris Zacchia and myself, clearly had our work cut out for us, but we pulled through and now we know at least some of what we plan to check out.

It all starts with the Nasty Show, the fest’s annual below the belt kickoff event. Hannah Besseau already spoke with Bobby Slayton, leader of this year’s Nasty crew that comprised of Ari Shaffir, Kurt Metzger, Haley Boyle, Nick DiPaolo and local Derek Seguin. You can read her, um, interesting interview published today.

Later in the week, we get Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Now Aziz may not qualify as emerging talent, he’s actually one of the biggest stars in comedy right now, but since I discovered him watching Parks and Rec and later his standup specials on Netflix, for me he’s a web comedian and therefore watching this incredibly funny man perform still counts as indie. Whether that justification holds water or not, this show is bound to hold my funny bone hostage.

angelo-Tsarouchas
Angelo Tsarouchas

The fest’s second weekend is when the Ethnic show starts. This year it’s hosted by Maz Jobrani, a prolific and very funny Persian comedian. I spoke with Angelo Tsarouchas, the show’s Greek representative, Montreal native and LA resident. You can read our discussion, where we touch on everything from the differences between the Montreal and LA comedy scenes to the best bagels in town next week.

In addition to Persians and Greeks, the show also promises Jews and Italians, but alas, the Irish are left out again. As someone who is proudly half Irish (or claimed to be until I had roommates actually from Dublin), I’ve got to say, c’mon JFL, geez, don’t your venues want to sell alcohol? (apparently the Irish perform as part of the British show, but I digress)

stand up strip down
Stand Up/Strip Down (Miss Sugarpuss & DeAnne Smith)

Moving along…the following week, the clothes are coming off, well, not DeAnne Smith’s (at least I don’t think so). You see, Smith, just back in town after reaching the semi-finals on Last Comic Standing, is the Stand Up part of Stand Up, Strip Down. The strip down part? Well, that’s going to be some of the top burlesque performers in the city, people like Miss Sugarpuss, L Diablo and Ruby Rhapsody.

Clothes will also be hitting the floor at Illuminatease, this year’s JFL/Zoofest offering from the Blood Ballet Cabaret. We’ve reviewed the BBC before (myself personally most of the time, it pays to be editor-in-chief) but we haven’t covered this show, their conspiracy show and now I get the chance! If you don’t think that the moon landing, religious conspiracies and celebrity assassinations can be made sexy, BBC begs to differ and their “family of dysfunctional yet lovable burlesque and circus artists” are here to prove you wrong.

Speaking of taking off your clothes, I’ve never wanted to see Lewis Black naked, but I have always wanted to see him perform live. This forever angry and funny man and Daily Show regular will be performing The Rant is Due in Montreal and I, for one, would like to see what he owes us.

And just who will be the Talk of the Fest this year, why it’s Nick Offerman, or at least he’s the one hosting the show with that name. Another Parks and Rec star, who’s also a published author and does run a wood shop, is returning to the stage and inviting some of JFL’s top talent to join him. He’s supposed to be quite like his character Ron Swanson, so I wonder what meat-intensive Montreal restaurants he’ll visit when in town.

Well, that wraps up only some of what’s out there in this year’s Just for Laughs festival. For the full schedule, please visit hahaha.com and keep checking FTB for our coverage.