Tanyalee Davis originally hails from Canada, is based in Las Vegas, and makes the majority of her stand-up income from touring the U.K. The 23-year comedy veteran was also born with dwarfism, and is currently a series regular on controversial Channel 4 prank series I’m Spazticus. As she puts it at the top of her Edinburgh Festival Fringe one-woman show, “Obviously I’ve had my share of diversity…I’m a ginger.”
She’s additionally experienced more than her fair share of health issues, but none brought her so close to death as the perfect storm of birth control side effects, a clot in her thigh, blood thinners and a massive uterine fibroid that resulted in multiple hospitalizations across four countries from December 2012 to February 2013.
The brilliantly named Big Trouble in Little ‘Gina details low points including the administering of Ketamine and known rat poison Warfarin, Davis losing half her weight in blood, getting probed with 22 needles in 45 minutes and requiring a hot young male nurse to clean up the contents of her soiled adult diaper. Throw in a father who thinks her problems could be solved by losing a little weight, a mother who seats a headless nude dummy named Madeline in the living room and a boyfriend who offers, “I told you we should have just done anal,” and the cast of characters rivals the list of Davis’s medical complications.
Fortunately a camera and a Facebook account kept her sane while simultaneously lending themselves to meticulous documentation of her tribulations, which ultimately culminated in a hysterectomy. The utilization of slides (her swollen leg, the removed uterus in question), actual Facebook comments, musical cues (The Tiger Lillies’ “Vagina,” Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”) even an original poem entitled “Ode to My Fibroid” add additional and often harrowing detail to a story that was already engaging before the inclusion of, say, crime scene-esque photos of an irreparably stained t-shirt.
Davis’s material has long centered around her day-to-day challenges, physical discomforts and dealing with the politically incorrect reactions of others. She’s also a fan of wordplay, most of which falls on the sexual side of the spectrum. (Of a six-foot-tall lover, she quips, “It’s great, because he’s nuts over me.”) With ‘Gina, her eye-rolling, arm-waving, booty-shaking stage persona is downplayed in favor of a unique, genuine and highly engrossing narrative. The focal shift allows a humanization Davis is typically unable to showcase, whether it’s due to British audience expectations or the simple need to up the gag factor of a TV credit like Dave Attell’s Insomniac Tour, shot at the Vegas House of Blues.
The tight hour is the most personal thing she’s ever done, and her writing style juxtaposes well with the heightened tension. “I must have the uterine wall of China,” Davis observes of her thickened muscle layer near the end, “and there’s nothing ‘great’ about this.” True, a major health scare isn’t funny when it happens to you or a loved one, but given the proper staging, the potential for greatness becomes readily apparent.