“For those of you who haven’t seen me before, rest assured, I am very good at comedy.”
It’s a bold opening to a stand-up set, but for DeAnne Smith, not an untrue one. Epiphany is Smith’s most recent show after the success of her acclaimed Netflix special Gentleman Elf (devastatingly unavailable in Australia). The Canadian-American is no stranger to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival either; she’s a veteran of the gala night and faced off against Sammy J in the 2017 Great Debate. I first encountered Smith in 2013 via her YouTube cult sensation ‘Nerdy Love Song’ which contains possibly the single best pickup line in history – “I wanna be your abacus baby, you can count on me.”
Seeing her live was every bit as weird and wonderful as I’d anticipated. It was a slightly more intimate venue than I was expecting for Smith, a fact that she immediately lampshaded by showing us the tiny, claustrophobic space next to the stage in which she’d been hiding for the last twenty minutes. It was the perfect way to break the pre-show tension, and set the tone for a night where the audience was decidedly on Smith’s side.
In what feels like a very short hour, the energetic “squirrel in pants” blazes through a wild range of material, from sexual awakenings at gay nude beaches to dinner parties with astronauts (don’t do it – very bad for the self esteem). Through every bit, Smith is practically crackling with physical, visible energy. There are plenty of jokes that could feel preachy or mean-spirited from another, less engaging comedian, especially the many that take on patriarchy, gender identity and contemporary masculinity. However, every risky dig comes accompanied by a winning, cheeky grin, and it’s impossible not to be on Smith’s side.
What really sets the show apart is its focus on the audience, particularly evident in the (musically foreshadowed) “crowd work” section of the night where Smith opens the floor completely to the slightly shy room. There’s subtler participation throughout the night as Smith constantly riffs with the audience – every giggle, gasp or underwhelming response gets a follow up, and by the end of the show we’d all learnt a lot not only about Smith, but about each other. We quickly identified a “lesbian separatist island” somewhere to the left, and were all reassured when two slightly stony-looking men in the front row let us know that their “resting bitch faces” weren’t reflective of how much fun they were having.
Despite its fierce energy, I would have loved to see a slightly stronger through-line for the show. I’m a sucker for stand-up with a bit of a theme or structure, and some of those elements are definitely here – there’s a great focus on affirmations throughout, and Smith finishes with a take on self-love that serves as an uplifting and hilarious callback to jokes from throughout the night.
Ultimately, despite this slightly scattered feeling, the sense of community and charm wins out – DeAnne Smith IS an epiphany, and for those discovering her for the first time, don’t worry: she’s VERY good at comedy.
Lucy Fenwick Elliott
Epiphany by DeAnne Smith runs at Mantra One in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 28 March — 21 April 2019.