October 29, 2006

Native vs. non-Native humor

A Very Special “Occasion”:  Breaking Bread With Drew Hayden TaylorCQL: Do you notice a difference in what Natives and non-Natives find funny?

DHT: As Native humorists, we aren’t reinventing the wheel. What makes me laugh, will probably make you laugh, and what makes you laugh, will make me laugh. I go home at night and watch the Simpsons and have a good time. Funny is funny. Many people think Native humor is a lot different, but really it isn’t that different.

Humor is exceedingly cross-cultural. Ninety-five percent of the people who come to my plays are non-Native. For my comedies to work, the humor has to be universal. Let me give you an example: you have tandoori chicken, chicken cacciatore, you have McChicken. It’s all chicken, but it’s the spices you use to cook that chicken that give it its cultural uniqueness.

CQL: Please explains what you mean by the “Ladder of Status” and how this applies to what is socially acceptable when one ethnic group tells jokes about another…

DHT: In essence, I break it down into the world of geometry. Humor works from the bottom up; racism works from the top down. We can make jokes about people higher up on the ladder than we are, whereas people higher in the culture, white people, cannot. That’s racism.

7 comments:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Drew Hayden Taylor leaves little doubt that he is talented and acoomplished. But in the interview, both the subject and his interviewer miss the obvious point that he is speaking about modern Native humor and not at all about historical Native humor. I would mention 'High Horse's Courting' in the book BLACK ELK SPEAKS and then compare it with the segment based on it in the mini-series DREAMKEEPER. Because the film presented it in a modern narrative form, much of the hilarity of the original was lost or ignored. Many of the Kiowa Trickster tales of Saynh-Day are superbly humorous but when they were expressed in anecdotal English book form, much of the internal humor was lost in translation or even transliteration. And this is because original Native humor was ironic and ironical rather than merely self-deprecating.
Thus, the subject and interviewer missed another point. Taylor mentions that Native plays mostly are about being oppressed, suppressed, and depressed, but he should have seen that much is lost when Native experience is EXPRESSED, in that it is digested and extracted from to fit modern audiences. Another factor he said also is present in most Native plays is a rape scene. writerfella can state unequivocally that nowhere in any of his own writings over the past forty years, whether short stories, novellas and novels, teleplays and screenplays, will anyone ever find a rape scene. There simply isn't enough time for that kind of violent crime when there are whole universes of matters about which writerfella must write.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

The Indians who understand traditional forms and expressions of Native humor probably aren't writing too many scripts. The Indians who are writing most of the scripts probably aren't that traditional. Taylor says he's half Ojibway and half Caucasian, so he fits this notion.

I think I've seen one Native play and I don't recall a rape scene. I suspect Taylor was exaggerating for effect. In any case, movies and TV shows, not plays, dominate the public's perception of Native humor. And they generally don't include rape scenes.

Carole said...

As the interviewer in question here, let me respond to several of the points brought up. First, Taylor has a deep understanding of traditional Native humor, which he discusses in much greater detail in several of his books and in his documentary, "Redskins, Tricksters and Puppy Stew" which I highly recommend if you haven't had the chance seeing. The history of Native humor as it applies to contemporary Native life is the central theme in the film.

When he is speaking about Native theatre, he specifically is referring to the modern Renaissance, which began in the late 80's in Canada. (Which is referenced in the article.) In that regard, he is absolutely correct in his assessment that the content was overwhelmingly bleak and dark.

Lastly, although Taylor is half-white, he never knew his father nor any relatives from the Caucasian side of his family. He was born, raised and immersed in Ojibway culture on a reserve in central Ontario.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
In 'The Last Quest', writerfella stresses that future success and even survival for Natives focuses on finding what is between the cultures, and not by embracing one or the other alone. Drew Hayden Taylor, by the interviewer's words, has not done the former and only has done the latter. In fact, he even may believe that what is between the cultures is himself. That's not how it works.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Well, as long as Taylor is part Ojibway, he has a "genetic racial memory" of his people's traditional humor, right? It doesn't matter where or how he was raised as long as he has that funny Indian blood coursing through him, right?

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Perhaps, but as you very well know, the worth of what you have lies in the ways that such talents are used. When writerfella broached such a subject before, he was not indicating a kind of 'collective unconscious' but rather was indicating an awareness granted by heredity. Again, one can cherish such a gift or ignore it altogether. When writerfella looks in a mirror, he sees and feels and knows his Native awareness. Judging from the man's represented output, what does Drew Hayden Taylor see and feel and know when he looks in a mirror? On this same line, if it is discovered and proven that Yeagley really is Comanche, what does that person see and feel and know when HE looks in a mirror? It's all in how you use it, and never in the wrist...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

So in the case of part-Indian guy who learned about his heritage late in life, he has an "awareness granted by heredity"? If so, then so do Drew Hayden Taylor, John Herrington, and all those Cherokees and Chickasaws you dismissed.

But if the issue is how they use this awareness, you have not way of knowing whether or how much they profited from it. As I said before, a non-Indian like me could do more with my awareness of Indian issues than the part-Indian guy did.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who is pretty much accepted by his Indian peers. That's why Indian Country Today, for example, asked me to contribute articles to a book it's compiling. Again, I've taught myself to the point where I may be as understanding and aware as any part-Indian person.