Vancouver’s produced a lot of great comedians over the years. Though she only spent two years here before moving away to Los Angeles in 1997, Tanyalee Davis, who now lives in England, has to be considered one of the more successful international standup acts that spent time honing her chops on our stages.
From Winnipeg to Calgary to Vancouver to L.A. to Vegas to North Carolina and now Norwich, Davis has resided in more places than some comedians have performed in. A 2015 appearance on The John Bishop Show in Britain was followed by a killer set on Live at the Apollo, which precipitated her move overseas.
After her Apollo set, she was hired for a sweet corporate gig in Norway, which culminated in a standing ovation. “I was the belle of the ball,” she tells the Straight at a downtown coffee shop. From there, she was off to Australia, playing Melbourne for four weeks and Sydney for one.
Things are looking up. Then again, at 3-foot-6, Davis has spent her lifetime looking up.
Life isn’t without its challenges, but damned if the diminutive dynamo doesn’t make the most of them. In order to be seen, depending on the venue’s setup, Davis will often perform on a table. Two weeks ago, just before flying home in preparation for a three-night run at Performance Works on Granville Island as the special guest of RealWheels Theatre’s upcoming show Comedy on Wheels: Celebrating Canada’s Birthday With Belly Laughs, she suffered a mishap, a first in her 27-year career.
“I’m standing on a rectangular table, an old table,” she says. “I must have shaken the table. I sit back down on my step stool and the back legs shot out and I slid back and went headfirst into the wall. I blanked out. But I’m in front of an audience. I was like, ‘Damn it, that wasn’t my closer!’ I was so dizzy but I couldn’t acknowledge it. I felt sick right away.”
She had to close out another show in a nearby village right after that, though. “I had to get my shit together,” she says. A little woozy, the usually physical Davis performed that set sitting down, but got through it. “Then I get an encore,” she says. “I haven’t had an encore in years and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ The one night where I’m just like, ‘I’m glad that’s done!’ ”
No doubt, that experience will find its way into her act sooner or later. “I talk about situations I get into as a result of being a little person,” she says. “That’s my angle. I’m not political; I don’t have an agenda. I think I have such an interesting life. And because I think I’m a good performer, it gives people insight into my life. We live in a very voyeuristic society these days with all these reality shows. People are very nosy. When I get up there, they think, ‘Oh my God, poor thing.’ And then I come busting out.”
She’s now on the board of directors of an “anti-bullying, self-empowerment kindness campaign” in England. She goes into schools to talk to primary students about her life. “I go, ‘Look how wonderful my life is. Just because I’m small, don’t think I can’t do things,’ ” she says.
So she’s a perfect choice for Comedy on Wheels, a comedic variety show featuring some ensemble dance pieces, duo skits, and, of course, standup. “There are 17 of us with varying types of disabilities,” Davis says. “It’s all about inclusion.”
Comedy on Wheels plays Performance Works from Thursday to Saturday (May 18 to 20).