From her gigs on Video on Trial and Match Game to tearing up comedy clubs and concert halls on both sides of the border, Debra DiGiovanni is one of Canada’s top comics.
In this edited interview, DiGiovanni speaks to Xtra about living in Los Angeles, going public with her depression and why her comedy resonates with queer audiences.
Xtra: How do you like living in LA?
Debra DiGiovanni: I’m not going to say I love it because that would really be a lie. It’s a big culture shock. I know this sounds so cliché, but I miss seasons. Living here where every day it’s sunny and bright it feels like time doesn’t pass. There are Christmas commercials, but in my brain it’s June. Time whips by and I look up and it feels like time hasn’t passed because it looks the same outside.
There was a time not so long ago when you and fellow comics Trevor Boris and Sabrina Jalees all lived in Toronto. Could you tell us about the fight that required you to move to LA and Sabrina to move to New York?
I feel like that town wasn’t big enough for the three of us [laughs]. I miss them so much. Sabrina is just having a great time in New York City, I’ll tell you that. She’s kind of taking that city over by storm. We all kind of, unfortunately, had that moment where we looked at each other and we were like, “Video on Trial’s not enough,” so we all kind of had to make our decisions and go find our fortunes elsewhere.
You have such a strong following in the LGBT community. Why do you think your comedy resonates with queer people?
I think it’s sort of the underdog kind of vibe that I have. Of course, I’m not saying that the LGBT community is underdogs, but I think once you’ve had to live with defending yourself as a human, defending your own choices in life, I think you’re kind of on the same page. My life is a bit of a struggle, and even now, even doing comedy [in LA] it’s still a struggle. I still have to explain myself, and I get a lot of negative attention, and I feel like that might be the thing that sort of bonds us. Aside from all that, I still have that sort of up, cheery, let’s-have-a-good-time vibe that seems to really resonate, especially with gay men. They like me and I like them. It works out.
What kind of negativity do you have to deal with as a performer and a woman?
As a performer, you definitely have some negativity, but as a female performer it’s just a little more. I wish that wasn’t true. As comics onstage, you have to immediately prove to people that you’re funny. That’s hard, but it’s a little harder when you’re a woman because often a large portion of the audience doesn’t believe women are funny. There’s especially an older generation of men who have no desire to see a woman onstage in a speaking capacity. They’re lost causes. At some point in your career you realize, I’m not going to make everyone laugh and I’m okay with it. That’s a good day, when you can get it and be okay with it.
After Robin Williams died, you talked about your own experiences with depression and being bullied as a child. What was it like going public about those experiences?
Super scary. As comedians, people want us to be up-up-up, happy all the time, and of course, that’s not at all the way it is. People forget that you’re human and things hurt you and [you can have] problems with depression. People have quite honestly said on social media, “Be quiet. Make us laugh. We don’t want to hear about that.” That’s a little upsetting because [depression] is also part of me. This part, the broken part, is some of the reason I became a comedian. I feel very grateful I found this outlet for myself. I don’t think everybody has that. Being able to express yourself in the way that you want to is really liberating and freeing. Comedy is one of the things that saved my life. If I can get onstage and talk about it, I’m okay.
What can Ottawa fans look forward to at your Absolute Comedy show?
I haven’t played at that club in years, so I’m so excited to go back. Some new material, some old material — it’s just going to be an hour of laughs. I’m going with one of my favourite people, [comic] Mark Bennett, so it’s going to be a lovefest. I’m so excited to see everybody and have hugs.