Comedian Debra DiGiovanni is just getting started

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It’s tough starting out in comedy. You’re an unknown begging for spots at various open mikes around town, emailing the bookers and being ignored because nobody knows who you are.

Debra DiGiovanni has a slight advantage in her quest to get known in Los Angeles. Whenever the 42-year-old Canadian is given a shot, jaws drop. It helps that she’s a seasoned pro who’s been doing standup for 14 years in Toronto and has been headlining for the past five years.

It’s been a while since she’s had to hustle so much for stage time. In Canada, she’s been a regular on MuchMusic’s Video on Trial, CBC Radio, and the Comedy Network’s Match Game. And she’s currently on a 21-city theatre tour across the country, which makes its way to the Vogue Theatre on Friday (February 7).

But she likes the challenge she’s faced since moving to L.A. last February. “When they finally book you, you crush because you’re doing your favourite seven minutes and nobody knows you,” she says on the phone from a stop in Toronto. “Everything is new again. I like a little fear. It keeps us humble. So changing it up and moving, it’s humbling. I think it’s good for me.”

DiGiovanni had a taste of success south of the border when she made it through eight of the 13 episodes of NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2007. Does she care that she was eliminated? Not in the slightest.

“I got my working papers and that was the biggest gift ever,” she says. “Winning didn’t matter.”

So now she spends, she estimates, 70 percent of her time in California, trying to get known through standup and auditions. She figures it’s a good time to be in Hollywood for a woman of her size and comedic abilities.

“Melissa McCarthy and Reba Wilson are just setting it up for me right now. Thank you, girls!” she says. “Because we get more and more auditions that say ‘Melissa McCarthy type’. So they’re really paving the way. Hopefully, I can ride their coattails.”

Her Canadian tour is called Late Bloomer not because she didn’t start her career until she was 28, but because she claims to have the mental age of 17. “I’m an emotional and mental late bloomer, that’s what it is,” she says. “I have a twin sister. She has three children, she’s married. I’m still waiting to turn into an adult. When does that happen? When do I become a mature person?”

She’s got to feel like a bit of one now that Just for Laughs is sending her all across the country, putting her name in lights. She has a tour manager, she gets to bring her own opener (Nile Séguin will do the honours in Vancouver), and occasionally she gets a driver.

“It just feels very Entourage-y,” she says with a laugh. “It’s all ridiculous and wonderful. It’s a little surreal, it really is. I think this is probably like the Holy Grail for comics, doing your own theatre tour. It’s just very special. We spend our lives working in comedy clubs, and most of the time I’ll be standing at the back of the room and you hear people go, ‘Who’s on the show tonight?’ ‘I don’t know. Some girl.’ They’re just going to see comedy to see comedy. So this is just really nice that the crowd wants to see me. They know why they’re there, so it’s really lovely.”

Now if she can just parlay all her success here into some more open-mike spots in Los Angeles, there’ll be no stopping her.

Debra DiGiovanni’s Late Bloomer Tour plays the Vogue Theatre on Friday (February 7).

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