The pressure is on for Toronto comedian Debra DiGiovanni – as if being a featured panelist on The Comedy Network’s Match Game, a frequent guest on CBC Radio’s The Debaters or a contributor to MuchMusic’s Video On Trial series wasn’t quite enough. And, of course, we can’t neglect to mention Debra being a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, her two Comedy Now specials and her first American special, Single Awkward Female, which aired on Showtime last year. Debra is also a Gemini Award Winner and a three-time Canadian Comedy Award Winner.
You would think that with so many achievements under her belt, the comic would be more than comfortable taking centre stage for her first headlining tour of Canada. Debra’s 21-city Canadian tour stops at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre on Friday night.
But how does Debra feel about being the first female comic headlining a tour in conjunction with Canadian comedy institution Just For Laughs?
“It is pretty cool,” Debra laughs. “Hearing you say that I am the first female comic that Just For Laughs are touring as a headliner sounds pretty darn good. Touring by myself is kind of the holy grail of the comedy business. I spent many years supporting others, when people didn’t necessarily know my name. And now, knowing people are specifically coming to see me is a little crazy. It is completely surreal. I am very lucky to have arrived at this point.
“All that being said, I truly am terrified. I’m sure I am barely going to sleep in the days leading up to the start of the tour because I don’t want to let anyone down. I’ve been very lucky to have some good press leading up to this point in my career. It feels a little different knowing I am going out as a headliner. It seems like there are so many different things that I can’t control. It’s scary but it’s fabulous.”
Arriving at this point has been no small chore, especially considering that Debra did not explicitly set out to become a comedian. She was initially enrolled in a fashion illustration program at Toronto’s Ryerson University when she was told, in no uncertain terms, that a career in comedy might better suit her nature.
After finishing school, Debra became the tour guide at the iconic MuchMusic/City TV building in downtown Toronto. Wanting to make the tour as interesting and as fun as possible became her mission. It was then that the path of comedy became the clear-cut choice for Debra.
“Getting to the point of being able to headline shows has been a lot of hard work and a matter of just really throwing myself into it. I’ve been very fortunate along the way. It’s been a combination of good luck and good timing.”
While many musicians, comedians and others in the entertainment industry have flocked to YouTube to help build their fan base, Debra is taking a bit of an opposite approach with respect to her online presence. It is not that she hates technology or is worried about people pirating her material.
The method behind Debra’s madness is rather logical once she explains it:
“I haven’t traditionally put much of my stuff online because the show is so much more fun in person. It is not a matter of me being ungrateful for my success. Far from it, actually. I simply don’t believe you can beat sitting in the theatre and being immersed in the atmosphere all around you as opposed to sitting in front of your computer at home. In a way, the Internet has created a culture of entitlement where many believe that everything should be free. If you were to watch my show online, you are going to get a diluted experience as opposed to seeing the show in person.”
Clearly, audiences enjoy taking in Debra’s show in person as well. She has amassed a loyal following here at home in Canada while also making serious in-roads in the United States. She says that she still gets recognized for her 2007 appearance on the television show Last Comic Standing.
A determination to build her fan base south of the border has led the comedian to split her time between Canada and the United States. Although she maintains an apartment in Toronto, she foresees calling California home for the next few years.
“I’ve been very fortunate with respect to my career in Canada,” she says. “I believe in a lot of ways, moving to California in order to try to make some headway in the United States was a bit of an inevitable move. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now and am going to California with little in the way of expectations. There are no grandiose plans in the back of my head. I just want to see what possibilities there might be. I feel I owe it to myself to at least try.
“Canada will always be home for me though. At worst, I spend the next few years in California basking in the sunshine and then return to Canada no worse for the wear.”
Article published in the January 8, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript