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Comedian hopes you'll come to party

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THE title kind of sums it up -- Debra DiGiovanni: The Late Bloomer Tour.

In show-business terms, the three-time winner of the Canadian Comedy Awards' honour for best female comic wouldn't be considered an overnight sensation -- she didn't even consider performing standup until her late 20s. But once she finally summoned the courage to step into the spotlight, her career has grown slowly but steadily for nearly a decade-and-a-half.

And now, after 14 years on the comedy club and festival circuit and a consistent (and strategic) presence on Canadian and U.S. television, DiGiovanni is working her way across the country on her first solo tour of large theatrical venues.

The timing feels right.

"For comedians, the soft-seater (theatre) tour is kind of the holy grail," DiGiovanni, 42, said in a telephone interview. "It means that they're coming to see you, and that's very exciting."

You could say that DiGiovanni's path toward a comedy career began during her childhood in the modestly sized city of Tillsonburg, Ont. (pop. 15,000), but her first serious steps toward being funny didn't happen until she left her home and family (which includes a twin sister) behind for big-city life in Toronto.

"I moved to Toronto to get out of the small town I grew up in," she recalls, "and as soon as I got there and was alone, that's kind of when the funny kicked in."

After landing a clerical job at Citytv, she made an immediate impression on her co-workers by being the one who constantly made others laugh. DiGiovanni began looking for opportunities to get herself in front of the camera.

When she and Humber College's comedy writing and performance program were eventually introduced to one another, it was a match made in heaven.

"It was so obvious to everybody that I wanted to be a comedian," DiGiovanni says. "Going back to school to study it sort of made it legitimate."

By 2000, DiGiovanni was working steadily as a standup; in 2002, she was nominated for the prestigious Tim Sims Comedy Encouragement Award and won the Canadian Comedy Awards' best standup newcomer award.

As she honed her skills as a stage performer, DiGiovanni landed what proved to be a career-changing gig as one of the snarky commentators on MuchMusic's Video on Trial.

"None of us knew what it would do for our careers," she said of the VOT roster, which also included Sabrina Jalees, Darrin Rose and local product Trevor Boris. "There wasn't much money, but the popularity of the show was amazing -- and now all those kids who watched Video on Trial are 20 to 30 years old and they're coming to comedy shows."

If Video on Trial solidified DiGiovanni's status with the younger demographic, her more recent stint on the Canadian-TV revival of Match Game has expanded her following to include everything from youngsters to seniors. Her impressive run on Season 5 of NBC's Last Comic Standing, in which she made it to the Top 10, served two purposes -- it introduced her to the U.S. comedy market, and it landed her a work visa that allowed her to make the big move to Los Angeles.

"I had been going back and forth a lot since Last Comic Standing, and a full-time move kind of became inevitable," she says. "I don't want to feel complacent about my career... I need to feel that fear again."

Speaking of fear, DiGiovanni says it's something she experienced as she set out on The Late Bloomer tour.

"It's like you're hosting a party," she explains. "You want people to come, and you want everybody to have a good time... I know I can do it as a comic, but I'm still nervous. I like the energy and I love the drama." Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2014 D3


Updated on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 9:25 AM CST: adds video

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