Saturday, April 14, 2012

Native Comedy: Powwows, Flat Butts and Sheep Blood

I remember I saw my first comedy show in high school, about 10 years ago. It was James & Ernie, Navajo tribe's hottest comedy duo. It was so funny, the gym roared and echoed with so much laughter. I thought what these guys were doing was so cool because they made a whole gym full of apathetic and moody teenagers laugh harder than they ever have in public.

As I grew older I was exposed to other comedians from other tribes. Powwow Comedy Jam. 49 Laughs. Comedy All-Stars. I saw "Just James," JR Redwater, Vaughn Eaglebear, Tatanka Means, Marc Yaffee Adrianne Chalepah and Pax Harvey.

These are the comedians of the day. Native comedy is coming up.

I asked some elders -- mom and dad -- if they remember seeing any native comedy shows. They didn't. Well, except for Vincent Craig (Navajo). He's famous for "officer, officer, arrest that man. He's looking at me all somehow" and "I went down to the trading post to steal a candy bar..."

In my experience I know there are a couple of elder Native comedians that have made it big time like Charlie Hill. But, he's the only one that comes to mind when I try to think back to the '90s or '80s.

Native comedy is pretty new. I don't mean it like; Natives didn't know how to laugh before 49 Laughs, I mean our comedy performers are pretty new. Their comedy goes around to all the reservations byway of casinos, festivals and demand and it seems to have grown in recent years.

The large and diverse audience is getting a look into a different world, Pax Harvey said. It's different than black, Hispanic and Asian comedy in those ways. We laugh about fairs, powwows, flat butts and sheep blood. Every tribe can identify with these stories, even with sheep guts because there's a Navajo in-law on every reservation.

It seems like there's a greater relationship between all the tribes and we're sharing these performances a lot more.

Some of the comedians I mentioned are on a mission to spread wellness along with endless laughter, such as James, Ernie, Pax and Tatanka. Their messages are clean and they are promoters of living sober and healthy. I admire this, because it can be difficult to mix this message with so much comedy, Harvey said. Dirty and perverse comedy is easy to do, he added.

I would have to guess many Native comedians got their start like Harvey did: he played an entertaining emcee and people thought he was funny. The stars and planets aligned and James & Ernie picked him up and took him on tour with them. His fear of crowds and speaking for 10 or more minutes slowly melted out of him, although there are those shows that are so large and noisy, the fear comes back again, he said. Harvey entertained New Mexico State University for an hour and a half on April 10 and organizers had to take the mic away from him because he wouldn't stop. It was an awesome show.

Now the comedians I mentioned have been in movies, Comedy Central and HBO. I think it's only a matter of time before we get a Native comedian out there to do a one-hour special like George Lopez, Kat Williams or Margaret Cho.


  1. i have to wonder who was this one native comedian who appeared at the gatherings one year between 2006-2008 and said this one line "what? we can leave?!" when he spoke about leaving the navajo you know who he would be?

    1. That would be JR Redwater, my friend. I love that joke!

  2. I LOVE THIS BLOG!!! CeleritaH! Haha!! (RIP Vincent Craig)

    It's interesting to me to think of Native comedy... we know all these sayings like, "laughter is the best medicine" etc. The Navajo Comedians are doing such a good service in making hundreds even thousands of people laugh at a time. I hate to sound cliche' but they heal with their jokes, their story telling and classic rock lip-syncing (J&E). I'm happy that Native comedy is so unified and I'm proud that it's relate-able between the different tribes across Indian Country.
    American Indian Week with Pax and Tatanka... so fun!!

    Thank you Native comedians!!

    Good blog Andi

  3. Great blog Andi! It's really nice to have our own Native comedians who's jokes we can relate to. Who knew that reservation life could become something built into a comedy show!!
    NMSU's American Indain Week with Tatanka Means was so funny, UNAO!! haha!!