By Zibiquah Denny
If Native comedy is the “new” thing these days it sure showed on January 28 when NDN Way Comedy made its way to Minneapolis where three Native American comedians filled the Parkway Theater on one of the coldest nights this winter. Based on all the laughter heard in the mostly mixed crowd that night, NDN comedy warmed everyone up at the sold-out, show with half the crowd was non-Native.
The show presented three Ojibwe comedians, Jon Roberts, Trish Cook and Rob, “The Rez Reporter” Fairbanks. Jon Roberts played host and welcomed everyone to the show and said, “We have an all Ojibwe show, or Jibs as we say in the house tonight.”
Roberts mentioned that he was born and lived in the Little Earth housing projects less than two miles from the venue. Little Earth is one of the only urban Native housing projects in the country. He now lives on the Red Lake reservation where he is a father of twelve, which includes his own children and some foster kids. He’s been married for twenty two years. Roberts did his stand up routine and then introduced the next comedian.
Trish Cook, from Red Lake, was also born in Minneapolis, as most of her comedy set was of her childhood spent in the city. She told the story of being in the store called Banks and if you grew up here in the 1990’s you know Banks. It was a store which sold irregular or tainted goods at a big discounted price. The store was four floors of damaged goods for sale and every impoverished person who lived in the city went there at one time or another. She said, “I was lost for three days in that store and nobody missed me.” She also mentioned the Mall of America (MOA), nobody goes there that lives here. “I never figured out which exit to take, the Killebrew or the Lindau. We don’t go to MOA, it’s like New Yorkers don’t go to Times Square.”
Cook did the longest set but no one seemed to care. She got much hooting and laughing even though she had to look at her notes once or twice, slowing down the momentum a bit. But she got right back in the laughs and she was appreciated as she talked about motherhood, being a divorcee and funerals. She made it all funny.
The next comedian from Leech Lake was Rob “The Rez Reporter” Fairbanks. He is no stranger to comedy and has been at it for a while. He started out by thanking everyone for coming out on such a cold night and then he said he hitchhiked all the way from Leech Lake. He also has Dakota heritage and told some funny stories about his Dakota experiences.
He does lots of physical comedy and showed us some of his Yoga moves. He said Yoga helped with his “commod bod.” He joked, “I am so homely that the leeches, mosquitoes and gnats go vegetarian when they see me.” Toward the end of the set he thanked the show Rez Dogs for making Indian comedy so popular.
After Fairbanks was finished, Roberts came out and brought the comedians back and thanked everyone again. The three comedians bowed and waved in front of childhood photographs of them to the thunderous applause of the audience. The show lasted for a solid two hours.
Filling up the Parkway Theater is no small feat. The ParkwayTheater, in south Minneapolis, was built in 1930 and refurbished in 2018. These days it hosts concerts, old movies and special shows with 365 seats. It was the perfect venue for the show.
This NDN comedy trio worked together since last summer and have been working mostly in the midwest. After the show Roberts said he believed that the popular comedy show Rez Dogs helped them get more gigs. He also said, “It’s time to break out, stop being shy and say what we need to say.”
A sense of humor is universal in Native culture. While most non-Native people do not think Native people have a sense of humor, nothing could be further from the truth. Who else can make poverty funny? Native culture teaches us to not take ourselves too seriously for the most part. With the entertainment industry finally opening up to hear Native comedy and recognizing Native talent without typecasting and sticking Natives only in the past, perhaps Natives will be able to write and produce more of their own shows. It is important that Native people be given the power to share their lives, philosophy and culture with the world on their own terms.
As Roberts said, “Humor and laughter is medicine.” Let’s all strengthen that medicine.