Deb Pearce is a whirlwind of manic energy when she arrives at the Xtra offices to chat about her new television show, foQus with Deb Pearce. She hops around, cracking jokes, smile wide as her face, effusively apologizing for being late. She was in a car accident — not her fault — in the west end on her way in.
“I got rear-ended,” she explains, “and not in a good way.”
When I ask if she needs a moment to catch her breath, she scoffs.
“No, I’m always like this,” she says.
“But are you sure you’re okay?” I ask.
“Probably not, but the show must go on,” she says, with her signature smile.
It’s that same enthusiasm that’s won Pearce fans in all her endeavours — comedy, drag, radio and now television.
Pearce’s latest project, the community access television show foQus, which she’s coproducing with Rogers TV, aims to put the spotlight on gay and trans people right here in Toronto.
“I wanted to create something on TV to highlight movers and shakers in the queer community, sometimes off the Church and Wellesley beaten path,” Pearce says. “We have some really important people in the arts community and organizations: artists, visionaries, ordinary business owners and personal stories like queer parenting and coming out. It’s really a vehicle to highlight people who wouldn’t get highlighted.”
Four episodes of Rogers’ initial order of 13 have aired, including spotlights on the 519 Church Street Community Centre, trans drag artist Kaleb Roberston, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the coming-out process.
“I love exploring people’s stories,” Pearce says. “To really sit down and talk to somebody that I haven’t met before excites me. To highlight people that I know are great also excites me because I want the Rogers viewer to now know them and have queer terms and queer sensitivities in their vocabulary.”
The show airs as part of Rogers’ community access programming, and as such it is intended for the immediate Toronto community.
“It’s by and for Torontonians, much to the chagrin of people who live outside of the Rogers Channel 10 viewership,” she says. “I’m getting a significant amount of viewership from people who see my vignettes on the foQus Facebook group, and people really want to see more. It’s in Toronto right now, but who knows where it’ll go.”
Not long ago, Pearce would have put this sort of thing on the radio. She was the morning host on ProudFM until last May, when she was suddenly fired along with much of the station’s on-air talent. Along with three other hosts, Pearce filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the station.
“That’s still moving forward. There hasn’t been a lot of movement, and things in the court system run very slowly,” she says.
Not one to be kept down, Pearce has used the time away from the daily radio grind to break into television.
In addition to foQus, Pearce has recently taken over as the female co-host of OUTtv’s travel show, Bump!, and she says she’s producing a live comedy show with a big-name headliner in Toronto on Dec 10. She also recently contributed to the online It Gets Better Canada video project, which aims to encourage gay and trans youth to be strong in the face of bullying.
“I couldn’t say yes fast enough,” she says of being asked to participate. “It Gets Better Canada is one facet, but I think there’s a lot more to be done above and beyond this project. It’s creating a banter around talking about how unacceptable this is.”
Pearce says she hopes her new television venture will add a fresh voice to cable feeds.
“I know what I like on TV and I know what I don’t like,” she says. “Me and [producer] Liz [Stembridge] work really hard to make every moment eye-catching and ear-catching. I don’t mean shocking, but something interesting and appealing and somewhat educational.”