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.


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.

Anonymous 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.

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?

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.