March 05, 2013

How John Redcorn evolved

Actor Jonathan Joss Talks 'Parks and Rec,' 'King of the Hill,' and His NAMA Nomination

By Dustin TahmahkeraVeteran Native actor Jonathan Joss is arguably most known for his recurring voice-over role as animated Indian character John Redcorn on the Fox sitcom King of the Hill from 1997-2009. Joss worked hard to shape Redcorn's portrayals as he repeatedly challenged the dominant perception of Redcorn as just a New Age healer having an affair with the neighbor's wife. Through his off-screen lead vocals in the NAMMY-winning Red Corn Band, Joss influenced King of the Hill writers to introduce a new on-screen storyline for Redcorn, in which he fronts the band Big Mountain Fudgecake, then becomes a solo children's singer, and by the last season, a self-sufficient talent agent. Singing today under the stage name of The John Red Corn Experience, Joss has collaborated with the Graywolf Blues Band, a team-up that has been nominated for a 2013 Native American Music Award for Best Country Song for their version of the John Redcorn anthem "Still No Good." In addition to appearances in dozens of other productions, predominantly in Indian roles from Dead Man's Walk and Walker, Texas Ranger in the mid-1990s to recent roles in Comanche Moon and True Grit, Joss currently has a recurring role as Wamapoke chief Ken Hotate in the popular NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation.

On a recent visit to Southwestern University, Joss took some time to discuss his work with Graywolf, King of the Hill, and Parks and Recreation with ICTMN.

One could hear the Red Corn Band's albums The Red Corn Sessions and Still No Good as a soundtrack for the John Redcorn character and an extension of the series King of the Hill. What would you say is the role that music played in catapulting Redcorn toward becoming a fuller character and having his own band on the show?

It was all about changing the approach that King of the Hill had with John Redcorn. They liked the idea of him being a running joke, a good laugh of climbing in and out of the window. After a while of doing that, I felt they were wasting a good character that could have an arc and tell a story other than being a one-punch joke. I pitched ideas to the writers, such as Redcorn becoming a wrestler with a mask who finds a new fan in his son Joseph and becomes closer to him. It was all about coming from a good place and trying to make Redcorn a better character. When I approached Fox in a more mature and creative manner instead of complaining and refusing to do certain things, that got their ear. It wasn't until I discovered the music aspect of it and gave John Redcorn a voice through his music that the writers then had a picture to work with. They listened to the CD Golden Driplets that I did with musician Kris Kiser, and I got the call one day that they liked the aspect of Redcorn as a musician. Not everyone wants to hear the Indian talk about his land being stolen; but a lot of us will want to listen to music when we sing about it, which speaks to the power of music. I was able to communicate through John Redcorn to Fox, and they allowed him to have his band and to have an arc in a different place.

On the show, the music opens doors to other entrepreneurial avenues for Redcorn, eventually becoming a talent agent and his own boss—it was quite a journey for Redcorn, wasn't it?

He has his own business. Native characters and guest characters in general aren't allowed to arc like that. People have hit me over the head, saying I was that character sleeping with the white lady and having a kid I don't care about; but I tell him you didn't see King of the Hill after the first few seasons. Redcorn changed.
Comment:  For more on Parks and Recreation, see Sacred Site in Parks and Recreation and Drunken Savages in Parks and Recreation.

Below:  Jonathan Joss as Ken Hotate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One reason is, maybe they realized New Age scammers are rarely actually Indians.

Of course, anything involving Joseph risked ruining the whole premise for the character: Dale's a paranoid conspiracy nut, but he can't even see the naked dude in bed with his wife.