SMALL IN stature but huge in comic talent, Tanyalee Davis is a feisty 3ft 6” Canadian comedian who has been described as the Ferrari of comedy – low to the ground and racy. She has performed all over the world and featured on flagship comedy TV shows like Live at the Apollo and The John Bishop Show. Now, she is taking her sparky brand of sharp comedy and candid stories to next month’s Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway.
Recently, Tanyalee has also been in the news after sharing footage online of nasty experiences she had while travelling by rail in the UK. In one, a guard harassed her for putting her disability scooter in the train’s disabled space and just a few weeks ago she was verbally abused by another passenger.
“She was being obnoxious to my face because she saw me put something on Twitter about her being a bully,” Tanyalee tells me over an afternoon chat. “I then said to her ‘Shouldn’t you be working instead of browsing social media?’ When all this kicked off it sparked me to record it and then the footage went viral. After that I felt I had a responsibility to be a woman in the trenches and record my journeys. It might seem like this problem has just started but it has been ongoing, it is only now getting enough heat and traction and making people stand up and listen.”
Amid her international touring, has she encountered similar problems elsewhere or is it mostly an issue in the UK? “I think it is particularly bad in the UK unfortunately,” she replies. “I’m not sure what it is about attitudes there; I go to other countries and people are just so much more willing to help – it’s not like ‘Oh God look at her on her mobility scooter’, it’s ‘Oh what can we do to help?’
"Then I come back to the UK and my scooter goes missing for hours or parts of it are missing and nobody wants to take responsibility. When I try to get taxis they won’t stop for me –I often have to get somebody else to flag one down for me – and then just dealing with crazy people on trains. It’s a constant barrage which people don’t understand, and it is so exhausting. I just want to get from point A to point B, do my job like any functioning person and yet I’ve got all these extra barriers put in my way and an attitude issue that goes very deep into society, and that’s difficult to change.”
Being a comedian, these experiences also become the basis for material in her show; “They do,” she acknowledges. “I’ve got a couple of good bits now that are forming though it takes a while to get over all the bullshit of it and then try to turn it into comedy gold!”
These days, Tanyalee is based in Norwich; she explains what prompted her to settle in the UK; “I’d been coming to the UK for 10 years and after I got the The John Bishop Show and Live at the Apollo it seemed like it was time to move over full time. I also spearhead an anti-bullying campaign called GR8 As U R which is based in Norwich and I work in schools teaching kids to be kind, and the new pilot we’re working on will be starting this month is all about mental health and teaches kids how to cope with anxiety, and so on.”
'People think it is funny but it is really annoying. Patting me on the head makes me want to hit them in the balls, and it’s usually a man who does it, but you can’t do that'
Tanyalee relates how she got into comedy; “I didn’t even know what stand up comedy was when I was young but I was always a bit of a jokester and I liked the limelight from a young age. I knew I wanted to be a performer, I initially assumed that would be as an actor – which I still want to do. When I started doing stand up I had a catalogue of things in my head from my childhood that I tapped into that became the basis of my original sets when I began doing comedy.”
On the acting front, Tanyalee has appeared in numerous movies, including El Matador, For Da Love of Money, and Austin Powers 3: Goldmember. I ask whether the success of Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones has made casting agents and directors think more imaginatively about the kinds of roles which they would offer to an actor like Tanyalee.
“Unfortunately he seems to be an anomaly,” she notes, ruefully. “He is a phenomenal actor obviously but in general casting people are still quite narrow-minded and it is very frustrating. The acting roles I have got previously have mostly been written specifically for me, or friends of mine have cast me in them, so I have lucked out in that regard. Nowadays as a comic you almost have to write your own ideas if you want somebody to come along and be interested in a project with you.”
'When you’re just three foot six inches tall that lends itself to a lot of comedy material'
In one of her comedy routines, Tanyalee lays down ‘rules for dealing with little people’, the first two of which are ‘Don’t pat us on the head’ and ‘Don’t pick us up’. She reveals that these are frequent occurrences for her. “That happens on a weekly basis," she says. "It’s crazy that people still do that. People think it is funny but it is really annoying. Patting me on the head makes me want to hit them in the balls, and it’s usually a man who does it, but you can’t do that. And then picking me up; I had somebody do that to me just last week. We were doing a photo and he wanted to pick me up for the picture and I was going ‘No, no, no!’ and I was trying to make myself as heavy as possible so he wouldn’t pick me up but then of course he does it anyway and he says ‘Wow, you’re heavy’ and I said ‘First of all no woman wants to hear that and number two I told you I didn’t want to be picked up. You’re basically violating my space now.’ And he was saying ‘It was just fun, I was joking.’ People just don’t understand.”
So what can Galway audiences expect from Tanyalee when she takes the stage at the Vodafone Comedy Carnival? “I’ll be funny number one,” she promises. “I talk about my life experiences and I have a unique insight into life, my experiences have been different to most. When you’re just three foot six inches tall that lends itself to a lot of material. I also talk about body positivity issues and the crazy things that people do in the name of cosmetics and now obviously with my new-found transport problems I have some material around that.”
Tanyalee Davis performs on Saturday October 27 at 9.30pm in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent (with Reginald D Hunter, Angela Barnes, Paul Currie, and Mickey Bartlett ); and on Sunday 28 at 8pm in the Róisín Dubh (with Reginald D Hunter, Phil Nichol, Tom Rhodes, and Kevin McGahern ). Tickets are available from www.vodafonecomedycarnival.com For more information on Tanyalee see tanyaleedavis.com, Twitter, and her campaigning project via #ScooterGirlCampaign.