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October 26, 2014

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Comedian is long on talent

"I know I'm different," 35-year-old Tanyalee Davis quipped. "I'm Canadian."

The audience roared with laughter as the 3-foot, 6-inch (maybe) comedian stood in the straight-back chair in front of the microphone recently at the Sahara's Casbar Theatre Lounge and told jokes, mostly about her size.

The native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, has been a Las Vegan for almost two years.

Before that, she spent seven years in Los Angeles honing her comedic skills.

Prior to Los Angeles, she was in Canada, where she received a degree in sociology (emphasis on criminology) at the University of Winnipeg.

"Our society is very hung up on looks," she told the audience. "Be happy with what God gave you."

What Davis did not receive in height was made up for in sense of humor.

"I hate security checks at airports, where I have to take off my shoes," she said. "Do I look like a security threat to anyone in here?"

Maybe, if you count killing with laughter.

Davis is the daughter of a schoolteacher and an airline pilot who divorced when she was a child.

"I didn't get along at all with my mom," she said during an interview prior to her act. "There was not a lot of family support when I was growing up so I looked toward my friends for positive feedback, which wasn't always that positive."

Davis said growing up in Canada was good from a disabled person's perspective.

"At the time, they had a lot of facilities for people with disabilities," she said. "As soon as I started school they assigned me a counselor, and every year just prior to the starting of the school year the counselor would come to school with me and make sure I had everything I needed - steps to water fountains, that sort of thing."

But the counselors couldn't protect her completely.

"Kids can be cruel," Davis said. "I was teased quite a bit."

Before she began school she was identified as a "dwarf."

"Like in 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' " she said.

When she started school, she said everyone called her a midget.

"Regular people don't understand why it is so offensive," Davis said. "It's constantly thrown at you, and never in a good connotation."

Over the years Davis overcame her sensitivity and now pokes fun at that and other terms used to describe little people.

Most of her routine deals with her life as a little person.

"I have been critized by other little people," she said. "Generally those people would criticize me for anything - they don't get what my whole outlook on life is; my positive attitude; what I bring to the table."

She described critics as "hypersensitive" to a lot of things.

"Those aren't my issues," she said.

At one time she, too, was sensitive.

"But you have to have thick skin," Davis said. "I'm done trying to be a representative for little people - I'm just going out and doing what I do and educating people along the way."

While growing up, she wanted to be an actress, but studied sociology.

"I wanted to perform, I didn't want to study theater," she said.

She hung out at comedy clubs.

"I thought, 'Hey, I can do this.' "

She quickly learned comedy was a great catharsis. Her first performance was Jan. 23, 1990.

"I did three minutes," she said. "And I rocked."

But she brought a group of friends and relatives with her the next week and bombed.

"It was a slow, miserable death," Davis said.

Burned by the experience, she shied away from entertainment for a few years. Eventually she moved to Calgary and then to Vancouver.

"We call Vancouver North Hollywood," she said. "Lots of filming goes on there."

Then in '95 she decided to take another shot at stand-up, performing at an open mike night at a club in Vancouver.

"I went up the ladder fairly quickly after that," she said.

She and a friend, an aspiring actress, moved to Los Angeles in 1996, and Davis hooked up with comedy clubs there and around the nation.

"The comedy scene was crazy," she said. "There were not enough clubs and everyone was trying to break in.

"There's a lot of back stabbing. People aren't as friendly."

She met her husband of eight years in Los Angeles, and after seven years of living in Los Angeles, they moved to Las Vegas.

Davis appears sporadically at the Sahara as part of the "Divas of Comedy" show created by Kathleen Dunbar.

She spends a lot of time touring comedy clubs around the country, and during the past two years has found a following in Europe.

"I'm overseas a lot now," Davis said. "In 2002 I did an ensemble show in Edinburgh, Scotland - 13 American comedians and myself, a Canadian."

She was picked up by a manager in the United Kingdom and now is a frequent flier to that part of the world.

Meanwhile, she's trying to find more work in Las Vegas.

"With my marketability - I've been on TV quite a bit - if a hotel would get behind me, I think I could be a pretty big draw," Davis said.

"I need to move to the next level," she said. "My show is solid, unique. I think because of my uniqueness and my material I can relate to everybody.

"I don't want a big theater, just an intimate little showroom."

She says her stand-up is therapeutic.

"I analyze people. I know how people perceive me and how uncomfortable around me they are initially - that's what I like about my show, I touch on questions people have about me.

"If you have a question, don't be afraid of offending me. I've heard it all."

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