Kliph Nesteroff’s rundown of Native comedy is both heartwarming and heartbreaking

DISCLAIMER: I am not Native American. So, please, if you are and I have said something inappropriate, please send me a message so I can correct it. I’m learning.

Here I am, wanting to read a nice book about comedy to calm me down during the election. I LOVE stand-up comedy. It’s one of my relaxations. Nothing calms me down faster than laughter. The title alone: We Had a Little Real Estate Problem was enough to give me a chuckle, so I thought this would be a perfect election time calm-down.

WELL, I’m not sure if you are aware, but we were (are) NOT the nicest people towards Native Americans. If you weren’t aware of that, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Trump’s new Patriotic Education.

The book itself offers a quick rundown of how we treated Native Americans from about 1800 on. It touches on Buffalo Bill Cody’s traveling Western shows and how Native Americans got their “start” in show business. That is, playing caricatures of themselves for White audiences. Yeah, not great.

It’s split between two different times. In about half the chapters, you get history of Native American comedy and showbiz. In the other half, it focuses on modern stand-ups and how they are dealing with the dearth of performance opportunities for those on the Rez. It’s incredible to hear these stories of people who travel four hours or more just to do an UNPAID open mic so they can get some stage time. There are stories of people who start their own stand-up nights in those comedy deserts, people who go to New York or LA to try and make it big (both success stories and not-so-successful stories). This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg and there are so many wonderful stories.

One thing that I’m so glad was highlighted heavily was how important representation in media was for these budding comedians. Many said that without those early comedians, they would have thought that comedy wasn’t something Native Americans were allowed to do. Representation matters so much and people have a hard time accepting that for some reason.

Sidenote: A lot of Right-Wingers talk about how PC CULTURE IS RUINING MOVIES AND VIDEO GAMES CAST THE ACTOR FOR THEIR TALENTS NOT THEIR RACE!!1!1!!! Two things: 1. This assumes that non-white people are cast to fill a quota, not due to their talents (LOL OKAY) and 2. Look at who usually makes those comments. White dudes. We (white dudes) see ourselves represented so often as the hero, villain, mastermind, idiot, drunk, businessman, etc. that we don’t see why people make such a big deal about films like Black Panther, Moonlight, or Parasite. We don’t have to worry about representation. WE ARE THE BASELINE. It frustrates me so much when I hear about “pandering to the SJWs”. It’s not pandering, it’s using previous success to amplify discriminated and sidelined voices. Or, you know, casting the best person for the best role. SO WEIRD RIGHT?

Now, for the other part of the book. Why do we always assume that Native Americans are these stoic people? They laugh, joke, cry, act just like everyone else. The stereotypes come from early television and movies. Back in the 20’s, you had two choices: play the savage or play the stoic chief. That’s it. If you chose neither, a white dude takes the part. Surprise, surprise.

This is an incredibly important work for White people to read. The things that we have done to Native Peoples is, of course, appalling. That should come to no surprise. However, the fact that there were huge movements to get better Native representation in movies and TV surprised the hell out of me. AND IT SHOULDN’T HAVE! Why did we not learn about this? Why am I just now finding out about the Alcatraz Protest? This book has really encouraged me to go out and learn more about the REAL history.

Definitely worth picking up when it comes out on 2/16/2021. 5/5, 10/10.

Thanks to Netgalley for the eARC!

Images from Goodreads