Fresh off her new Netflix special – ‘Gentleman Elf’, one of 47 half-hour comedy sets recorded during 2018’s Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal – DeAnne Smith is proudly making herself into a household name. A Canadian-American comic with a powerful love for Australia, Smith’s entry into the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for 2019 is titled ‘Epiphany’, a show about not just herself, but her audience as well.

Dressed in a black button down and the most wonderful wooden bowtie in the world, Smith radiates an easy chaotic energy onstage as she immediately alternates between run-on sentences and muttered asides, drawing hysterical laughter from her audience. Smith is unashamedly feminist and keen to include her constantly-changing feelings on gender (while she doesn’t identify as female, she doesn’t seem opposed to female pronouns), which was extremely refreshing to hear.

Much of ‘Epiphany’, and Smith’s humour in general, focuses outwardly rather than inward. From what was probably only the second joke of the show, Smith easily identifies the ‘lesbian island’ in the audience, and remains in touch with them throughout the performance. When people were caught having muttered conversations, Smith called them out not to shame them but just to be in on the joke, which is endearing in a world where hecklers or chatty audiences can be so viciously shut down.

After a number of fun stories, including one about feeling like the dumbest person in the room – an eminently relatable emotion – Smith switches to an audience-focusd segment entitled… well, you’ll have to see it to find out. There is a notice on the door advising of the potential for Audience Participation, but given the total dead silence when the floor was opened, it was possibly just too shy a group. Still, Smith is a consummate professional with 10+ years of practice, and manages to draw out conversation from a number of people, flicking between faces and questions with ease.

Smith is truly in her element when interacting with strangers, ensuring they feel comfortable while flipping their words and queries to ensure she pulls laughter from the rest of the audience. It could have been a frustrating and boring few minutes to listen to her chat with a young and extremely comedy-starved kid in the front row, but instead it was more than a little uplifting, and lovely Jaydan surely had a spectacular night (#thatssojaydan).

To prove her mettle, Smith finishes her show with a number of classic comedy one-liners, before another twisty little reveal that definitely can’t be spoiled. While ‘Epiphany’ is only an hour-long show, it feels as though it covers a million and one topics, and not just because of the speed of Smith’s speech. She flicks from the audience to herself, insecurity to encouragement, anxiety to comfort, and doesn’t fail to mention her love of her sweet little rescue Chihuahua.

Smith is always a delight to see, and her 2019 offering is well worth the ticket price. Just, perhaps, don’t sit right down the front if you aren’t up for chatting – you won’t be called upon, but the sheer stress of looking right into her eyes as she searches for a conversation partner must be terrifying.

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