Small in stature, big in laughs: how Tanyalee Davis came to call Norwich home
PUBLISHED: 10:22 24 February 2018
Canadian Live at the Apollo comic Tanyalee Davis now calls Norwich home. She tells us about challenging public perceptions of her dwarfism, why she loves Norfolk and how a local anti-bullying project is as rewarding as stand-up.
“I’m certainly not your average comedian. I have a unique perspective on life, but that is basically comedy gold,” says Tanyalee Davis.
She might be small in stature, but for the 3ft 6in stand-up comedian from Canada things are looking up and she is making a big impact on the UK comedy scene.
Tanyalee’s experiences as a little person are advantageous to her outstanding comedy persona. They set her apart and offer something different to the “same generic material by some white guy,” she says.
Living with a disability can be tough at times but she rolls with it: “that is my reality and that’s funny!”
After a 2015 appearance on The John Bishop Show she has become a popular face on the UK comedy scene and in demand on TV. She recently stole the show on the BBC’s Live at The Apollo Christmas Special with her unique brand of risqué and self-deprecating humour.
Having previously lived a nomadic life moving from Winnipeg to Calgary to Vancouver in her native Canada, then on to the comedy scenes in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and North Carolina, it’s a little surprising to learn the diminutive dynamo now calls East Anglia home.
It provokes the obvious question, what brings her here? The answer is a labour of love rather than laughter. “About five years ago I joined on the board of directors of an anti-bullying campaign called GR8 AS U R, though we now prefer to call it a kindness campaign, and that is based in Norwich,” she explains. “We got funding from there National Lottery for a pilot of 16 schools that are based in Norfolk.
“So I moved to Norwich because I wanted to be involved in that and to go into schools and talk about my life and how it’s okay to be different.
“The kids look at me and that I’m different but what I have managed to travel all around the world, and I show pictures from what I do and it kind of inspires them to find something that they are good at and that there love to do. The message is that you are going to run into challenges but it is okay and you can overcome them if you have confidence.”
The pilot project is currently being evaluated with the hope that it can be rolled out into schools right across the region. “We have been contacted by quite a lot of schools in Norfolk and Suffolk who are interested in having us come in and I’m glad to be doing as much as I can to help promote it,” she says. “I never thought I’d find anything as rewarding as stand-up comedy but this whole project involving schools has been amazing.
“I seem to have quite a big impact on the kids. The feedback has been fantastic and it is very rewarding to hear that what we’ve been doing as been having a positive impact.
“We try and change attitudes to bullying. Bullies single out people who are different, like me and that’s why it has to be stopped. Even now as an adult I still get bullied by kids, yeah that’s right kids!”
Challenging misperceptions is a big part of her comedy too. “I talk about it all the time but sometimes people say ‘oh you shouldn’t talk about your condition’, but my answer is why? If you have a problem with it, that’s not my problem, get over it.”
Famously when Tanyalee appeared on Channel 4’s The Last Leg she launched a hilarious but unprintable rebuttal to comic Jim Davidson’s careless remarks about little people who he referred to unkindly as ‘midgets’ in his stand-up show.
Her dwarfism — she has a form of dwarfism called diastrophic dysplasia — may be central to her act, but she wouldn’t describe herself as a political comedian.
“Not at all, I stay away from that,” she explains. “You can look at it and think that it may be very dwarf related, but that is just my life and my perspective on things. It all about making fun of the situations I sometimes find myself in and not complaining about it. I may face challenges but the overall message is that I can overcome.
“I’d like to think my act is very positive. I deal with social issues as far as physicality and that everyone can be insecure and how you have to work with what you’ve got.
“I like to share my experiences of travelling around. I’m very aware of how I’m perceived and I like to tackle how I see how people perceive me. It’s a lot of fun basically.”
Tanyalee will next month be appearing locally at a show in Norwich put together by Weird Coastal Buoys Comedy who have been putting on successful comedy nights in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft for over five years. Billed as Tanyalee and Friends, it will see her appear alongside upcomer Matt Adlington and Ben Briggs, a finalist in the English Comedian of the Year and nominated for Best Act at the Midlands Comedy Awards no less than three times, and one of the best MCs in the business, the much lorded Italian motor mouth from North London Tony Maresse.
During her time here Tanyalee has been involved in the local comedy scene too. “There is some great talent in the region and I know in Norwich specifically. There is the BBC Voices project where they have local aspiring comedians, or people that just want to write for comedy, to come in at weekends and support each other. I headlined a show for them where they we work on stuff together and then it gets recorded and then is board cast on BBC Radio Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s a great good place for fostering new talent and I really admire how that inspires people to have a go.”
She has grown to love Norfolk. “There are people here who are like family to me,” she says. “It was the choice I made to come here and we love it. My partner has never lived anywhere outside of a small town in North Carolina, but he loves it too because, although Norwich is a city, it has got a small town feel to it.
“I’ve been recognised once or twice since all the telly stuff but in truth it looks like I have a way to go before I’m as famous as the Puppet guy!”
You might have thought East Anglia is a little out on a limb for a comedian regularly performing the length on breadth of the country, but it is nothing compared to Canada.
“Being a comedian in Canada you really have to be committed to your craft,” she says. “When you do gigs there are only so many places in your town or city then your next gig might be seven or eight hours away and you might only get paid $100 to do it. You have to drive those distances, basically the entire length of the UK, because it’s what you have to do.
“So then coming to the UK having to drive three or fours hours and getting paid three or four times as much, when British comedians complain about it, Canadians are like ‘are you kidding me!’
Tanyalee is just one of a whole host of Canadian comedians plying their trade in the UK, including Katherine Ryan, Stewart Francis, Craig Campbell and Tom Stade.
Why does she think that is? “There is quite a similar sense of humour,” she ponders. “Canadians have quite a lot of the same slang terms things like that. We are also quite down to earth as people, which is similar to people over here. We’re likeable people and luckily Brits seem to respond well to us.”
• Tanyalee Davis and friends will perform at a Weird Coastal Buoys Comedy night at The Garage, Chapel Field North, Norwich, March 23, 7.45pm, £12.50, 01603283382, wcbcomedy.com
• More about Tanyalee at tanyaleedavis.com
• More about the GR8 AS U R anti-bullying campaign at gr8asur.com