Public speaking has always come easy for Debra DiGiovanni. She loved it when it was first introduced in elementary school and that stuck with her until an oral communication class in post secondary.
She was at Ryerson University, in her hometown of Toronto, at the time when her professor came up to her and said something along the lines of “I’m sure your a lovely artist but you should be entertaining people.”
She went on to call around to local TV stations such as Much Music, City TV and Bravo, looking for a job. It just so happened that one of the receptionists/tour guides at Much had quit. DiGiovanni started the next day.
“I just ended up being the entertainment for classes visiting from Montreal and grade sevens from Oakville, it didn’t matter I just liked the audience,” she said.
A friend that she met through that job encouraged her to try stand-up comedy. In January of 2000, at 27 years old, DiGiovanni took to the stage for the first time, and it was a magical “all of the stars aligned” moment in her life.
“Me and stand-up we are just good together, good chemistry,” she said.
DiGiovanni has been doing stand-up comedy ever since. She has appeared in Canadian stand up specials on CTV and the Comedy Network, she has done sets on Comedy Central, she was a finalist on the fifth season of Last Comic Standing, and she has travelled the world, doing comedy festivals in Portland, Glasgow and Sydney. She even has a stand up DVD called Single, Awkward, Female.
On Sept. 30 she starts a Canadian tour with dates in Calgary, Vancouver and Nanaimo. She will be in Campbell River at the Tidemark on Oct. 19.
For the first three years of her career DiGiovanni wrote out her shows like monologues. It was only after floundering through a show where she stumbled on her script and couldn’t save herself that she loosened up a little. A comic came up to her after the show and told her to throw away her notes and just go on stage and have fun.
“That really changed things for me,” she said.
Her show has changed in other ways as well since she first started out. DiGiovanni said she is more honest now, and perhaps a little bit less peppy.
But some things have remained the same. Even though she doesn’t use notes on stage, she still writes out her set.
“Not a lot of comics do that but I just write it out, even if I never look at it,” she said. “There is something about brain to paper that just organizes it for me.”
DiGiovanni is in living in Los Angeles to pursue a career in TV, she said, but at the moment she doesn’t know what that looks like whether it be as a writer, an actor or perhaps a host. She loves stand up and will never stop performing but she is looking for another medium.
As for the comedy scene, DiGiovanni said it is slowly changing for the better. Being a woman in comedy means there are less opportunities to be in shows. She said if there are six acts at an event only one of them will be a woman.
“It is a boys game, it really, really is,” she said. “I’m just glad it isn’t stopping women from doing comedy.”
When she started out 16 years ago DiGiovanni said only two out of every 10 comics was a woman and now it is pretty close to half and half. However, there is still that stereotype that ‘women aren’t funny.’ She said she sees it in the crowd when she takes the stage after a man people in the audience lean back and cross their arms or head to the bar for a drink.
“There is nothing more gratifying than making a man who didn’t want to laugh, laugh,” she said.
For aspiring comedians out there, DiGiovanni’s advice is to get on stage.
“If you live in a town that doesn’t have stand up comedy, make it yourself,” she said. “It’s repetition, repetition repetition.”
DiGiovanni will be in Vancouver at the Biltmore Cabaret on Oct. 16, Nanaimo at the Port Theatre on the 18, Campbell River at the Tidemark on the 19 and Victoria at Hecklers on the 20.
She said she is hoping to spend her days exploring the area with some local friends.
The next stop on her tour is Montreal.