GIGGLE CITY: Debra DiGiovanni laughs at herself
Comedians teeing off on themselves is a time honoured tradition. Black guys talk about being black, fat guys talk about being fat, women talk about being women – know yourself, write what you know, right?
Debra DiGiovanni has especially made a career of self-deprecation, sometimes to the point, she says, that audience members feel sorry for her. But it’s all just an act, isn’t it? You decide. The fast-talking, award-winning Toronto comedienne performs Thursday through Sunday at the Comic Strip.
(WARNING: Profanity below.)
Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?
A: I’d just like to live a day as Beyonce. Everybody says she’s so sweet. But you know behind closed doors, she’ll throw down, seriously. I would like to know how she talks to her staff.
Q: Worst heckler story?
A: Heckling is always awful, but every once in a while you can really have fun with it. Once I had a guy, a young boy, wearing a baseball cap, whatever, and SO not interested in listening to me. So right at the perfect moment, I was taking a breath and there was silence in the room and he did a classic “BORING!” Like a child. You can make fun of what I look like. You can scream anything. But boring?! That really hurts. So I attacked. I unleashed fury on this boy. I got the entire crowd to scream at him in unison to fuck off – until he left. Everybody now: Fuck you! Fuck you! Don’t get me wrong. It was fun in that moment, but it was really hard to get the show back after that. So even thought I won with that dude, I really didn’t win. I always hate it when I get angry. It’s not as fun for me when I’m angry.
Q: Do you have a joke you pause before bringing out because you think it might be over the line?
A: One of my favourite jokes of all time is about Rohypnol, the date rape drug. I just think it’s sad that men have resorted to it. They used to use charm. I just wanted to let them know that nine times out of 10 if you want to choose me, I’m more fun than an unconscious woman. I also say that I’m probably not going get Rufie-ed because clearly I am not easy to drag. Women get tense when you talk about rape, especially when it touches on something personal. But we’re just going for the joke.
Q: Can you get away with more because you’re a woman?
A: I do. And it’s in the delivery. If you have a sweet delivery and a big smile on your face, you can get away with anything. There are some men who don’t want to hear women say stuff like that, though you usually don’t find them in a comedy club.
Q: Do you have to be a pessimist about humanity to be an effective comedian?
A: No, but you need a surprise, and being positive is kind of hard to surprise people with. When it’s anger and sadness and rage, there’s that energy here. Being positive is hard. But pain is funny. I’m amazed at these super-positive, clean, funny guys like Seinfeld. I think: wow, what happened there? Did you have good parents? It’s sort of foreign. I think it’s hard to be an optimistic comedian, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?
A: Obviously at the time I hated it, but I feel lucky growing up when I did. I was in high school from ‘85 to ‘90 and it was just easier. We didn’t have any technology at all. I was worried about Duran Duran and that was it. I didn’t have to worry about being cyber-bullied. I still have wonderful grammar, good spelling and wonderful penmanship. I feel like kids don’t have that anymore. It drives me crazy. It’s a lost art now. I sound like an old woman in a shawl.
Q: Do you have kids?
A: Goodness, no. It’s a relentless schedule. I don’t know how women can do it. I don’t think it’s impossible. You just have to time it right, if you have the luxury to do so … My answer is that when you’re on the third season of your sitcom, then you can have a baby.
Q: What do you do when somebody tells you a joke and says, ‘you can use this in your act?’
A: I say, OK, well, I’m not going to pay you for it. It’s mine for free – then I disengage as fast as I can. You have to have your stop lines, your street joke.
Q: Street joke?
A: For whenever I’m asked for a joke in public. I can’t really do my act for people, it wouldn’t really work, and everybody would feel awkward and it’s awful. So I have a street joke now.
Q: What is it?
A: A little boy comes to his dad and says, “Can you tell me the difference between realistic and hypothetical?” And the dad says, “OK, go to your mom and sister and ask them if they would have sex with a stranger for $500,000.” And the boy comes back and says, “they both said yes.” The dad says, “OK, hypothetically, we’re sitting on a million dollars. Realistically, we’re living with a bunch of sluts” … It’s good to have a street joke. I went through customs a couple of months ago and the officer said, “I’m not going to let you leave until you tell me a joke!”
Q: Was that before or after the body cavity search?
A: I was leaving, so it was fine.
Q: At least he recognized you. At least he was a fan.
A: These are good problems to have, trust me.