From Kliph Nesteroff, “the human encyclopedia of comedy” (VICE), comes the important and unheralded story of Native Americans and comedy.
It was one of the most reliable jokes in Charlie Hill’s stand-up routine, the line almost always guaranteed to get a big laugh: “I’m from Wisconsin, of the Oneida Nation. My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York, but we had a little real estate problem.” In We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, acclaimed comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff focuses on one of comedy’s most significant and little-known stories: how, despite having been denied representation in the entertainment industry except for racist caricatures and humorless stereotypes, Native Americans have greatly influenced and advanced the art form.
The account begins in the late 1880s, when Native Americans were forced to tour in wild west shows instead of going to prison. (One modern comedian said it was as “if a Guantanamo detainee suddenly had to appear on X-Factor.”) This is followed by a detailed look at the life and work of seminal figures such as Depression-era humorist Will Rogers, whose Cherokee citizenship is known to few, and Hill, who in the 1970s was the first Native American comedian to appear The Tonight Show yet never achieved the fame of his peers David Letterman and Robin Williams.
Also profiled are several contemporary comedians, including Jonny Roberts, a social worker from the Red Lake Nation who drives five hours to the closest comedy club to pursue his stand-up dreams; the Kiowa-Apache comic Adrianne Chalepah, who brings together other female comics to form the touring group the Native Ladies of Comedy; and the 1491s, a sketch troupe whose satire is smashing stereotypes. As Ryan Red Corn, the Osage member of the 1491s, says: “The American narrative dictates that Indians are supposed to be sad. It’s not really true and it’s not indicative of the community experience itself…Laughter and joy is very much a part of native culture.”
Featuring dozens of original interviews and the exhaustive research that is Nesteroff’s trademark, We Had a Little Real Estate Problem is a powerful and overdue tribute to a neglected legacy.
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“Kliph Nesteroff explores an overlooked side of comedy in We Had a Little Real Estate Problem. From its account of Native American marginalization to the Cherokee roots of Will Rogers, from the inspiring story of Charlie Hill to the new wave of young, hilarious, Indigenous comedians, this book is a game changer.”
Judd Apatow, film director, producer, and comedian