Transcript: Drew Hayden Taylor On Aboriginal Humour | Jun 21, 2006

Alan Gregg sits on a couch in front of Drew Hayden Taylor.
Alan is in his sixties, has a short gray goatee, short brown hair, and is wearing a black suit and a white shirt.
Drew is in his forties, clean-shaven, with short brown hair, and wearing a beige shirt under a beige vest.

Alan says I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOUR
NEW BOOK
NATIVE HUMOUR.
BUT FIRST OF ALL I WANT TO
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOU.
I MEAN, YOU'RE A
CELEBRATED PLAYWRIGHT.

Drew says SOME MIGHT ARGUE.

Alan continues KNOWN FOR INTEGRATING NATIVE
HUMOUR INTO YOUR WORK.
GIVE ME A LITTLE BIT
OF YOUR BACKGROUND.

A caption appears on screen. It reads “Drew Hayden Taylor. Author ‘Me Funny’.”

Drew says WELL, I AM ONE OF THOSE RARE
BREED OF ANIMALS CALLED
A PROFESSIONAL WRITER.
I DO NOT HAVE A DAY JOB.
I DO NOT SPEND MY AFTERNOONS
SAYING WOULD YOU LIKE
FRIES WITH THAT?
SO I'VE BEEN VERY
FORTUNATE IN MY CAREER.
PRIOR TO THAT, I WAS BORN
AND RAISED ON THE CURVE LAKE
FIRST NATIONS JUST
NORTH OF PETERBOROUGH.
MY STANDARD LINE BEING, I'M
HALF OJIBWAY, HALF CAUCASIAN.
TECHNICALLY, THAT
MAKES ME AN OCCASION.
OR AS I LIKE TO SAY, A SPECIAL
OCCASION, OR AT THE VERY
LEAST, A MEMORABLE OCCASION.

Alan says IN FACT, ONE OF YOUR EARLIER
BOOKS WAS CALLED,
YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE ONE.

Drew says FUNNY, YOU DON'T
LOOK LIKE ONE.

Alan says FUNNY, YOU DON'T
LOOK LIKE ONE:
CONFESSIONS OF A
BLUE-EYED OJIBWAY.
HOW DO YOU REACT TO THAT WHEN
PEOPLE SAY, YOU REALLY DON'T
LOOK LIKE A NATIVE
CANADIAN AT ALL.

Drew says I WAS JUST IN PORT
COLBOURNE A COUPLE OF
DAYS AGO DOING A READING.
AND I ALWAYS, WHEN I GET UP
AND DO A READING, I ALWAYS
TALK ABOUT THAT, TALK ABOUT,
YOU KNOW, YOU EXPECT TO SEE
A NATIVE WRITER COME UP, AND
I COME UP, AND I'VE GOT
BLUE EYES.
I'VE DONE FIVE LECTURE
TOURS IN GERMANY.
AND EVERY TIME I GO
THERE, THEY ARE ALWAYS SO
DISAPPOINTED WHEN I STEP OFF
THE PLANE BECAUSE I LOOK MORE
GERMAN THAN NATIVE.
AND I TALK ABOUT THAT.
IT'S SO FUNNY.
I WAS UP THERE, AND ONE OF
THEM CAME UP AFTERWARDS
AND SAID, YOU KNOW, YOU
REALLY DON'T LOOK NATIVE.
I ADDRESS IT CONSTANTLY, YET
PEOPLE SEEM TO FEEL THIS NEED
TO REAFFIRM THAT
PARTICULAR ISSUE.
I'VE GOTTEN TO THE AGE NOW
WHERE, IT'S LIKE, YEAH,
I KNOW, SO WHAT?

Alan asks GROWING UP ON THE RESERVE,
DID THAT PRESENT ANY KIND OF
COMPLICATIONS FOR YOU?

Drew says NOT REALLY.

Alan says AND I GUESS THE OTHER PART
OF THAT, DID HUMOUR HELP YOU
DEAL WITH ANY COMPLICATIONS?

Drew says OH, HUMOUR WAS
EVERYWHERE ON THE RESERVE.
IT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU
DON'T HAVE CABLE, RIGHT?
SO GROWING UP, FIRST OF ALL, MY
MOTHER IS THE OLDEST OF 14.
SO I WAS SURROUNDED BY
AUNTS AND UNCLES AND 50-60
FIRST COUSINS.
YET I'M THE ONLY CHILD.

Alan says NOT MUCH DATING MATERIAL,
I WOULDN'T THINK.

Drew says THAT'S WHY I HAD TO
LEAVE WHEN I WAS 18.
BUT I'M AN ONLY CHILD.
MY MOTHER BLAMES IT ON THE
FACT I WAS 11 POUNDS 12 OUNCES.
SO ON THE RESERVE, IT WASN'T
THAT DIFFICULT BECAUSE I WAS
RELATED TO EVERYBODY.
EVERYBODY KNEW ME.
IT WAS FINE.
I DIDN'T REALIZE THERE WAS
PROBLEMS WITH PERCEPTION UNTIL
I WENT TO COLLEGE HERE IN
TORONTO, WHERE IT WAS MADE
VERY APPARENT TO ME THAT I
DON'T LOOK OR ACT THE WAY
MOST WHITE PEOPLE PERCEIVE
NATIVE PEOPLE TO DO.

Alan says NOW, YOUR NEW BOOK
IS CALLED
ME FUNNY.
IT'S AN ANTHOLOGY OF ESSAYS.
11 CONTRIBUTORS TALKING
ABOUT NATIVE HUMOUR.
WHAT'S YOUR PURPOSE HERE?
WHY DID YOU EVEN BOTHER
TO GO DOWN THIS ROAD?

Drew says WELL, THE ORIGINS OF THAT
CAME FROM A DOCUMENTARY I
WROTE AND DIRECTED FOR
THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD.
IT WAS CALLED
REDSKINS,
TRICKSTERS AND PUPPY STEW.
AND I THINK IT
CAME OUT IN 2000.
AND IT WAS A VERY, VERY
POPULAR DOCUMENTARY.
AND EVERY NATIVE PERSON I'VE
EVER MET WHO SPEAKS THEIR OWN
INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE HAS TOLD
ME THE INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE
THEY SPEAK, HUMOUR IS PRESENT
IN PRACTICALLY EVERY PHRASE.
THAT ALMOST EVERYTHING IN AN
INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE IS FUNNY,
WHEREAS IT DOESN'T
TRANSLATE INTO ENGLISH.
AND I THOUGHT, I DIDN'T HAVE A
CHANCE TO EVEN TOUCH ON THIS
WITH THE DOCUMENTARY.
SO I SAT DOWN AND I MADE A
WISH LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS TO A
BOOK THAT I THOUGHT, YOU KNOW,
LET'S SEE IF WE CAN DO THIS.
LET'S SEE IF WE CAN EXPLORE
AS MANY DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF
NATIVE HUMOUR AS POSSIBLE.
AND A YEAR LATER,
WE HAD A BOOK.

Alan says NOW, IN SOME RESPECTS
YOU'RE CHALLENGING A CERTAIN
STEREOTYPE, TOO.
THE EARLY SETTLERS, WHEN
THEY CAME, THE COLONIZERS,
I GUESS FROM THE
OTHER PERSPECTIVE,
THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE THAT
INDIANS EVEN LAUGHED.
YOU'VE GOT THIS IMAGE, THIS
STEREOTYPE OF KIND OF A STOIC,
STAID, I MEAN, HOW FUNNY ARE
CANADA'S ABORIGINAL PEOPLE?

Drew says IF YOU LOOK AT THAT
ORIGINALLY, THE STOIC INDIAN,
YES, AND THEN YOU LOOK AT
THE PORTRAYAL OF THE NATIVE
PEOPLE IN THE LAST 75 YEARS,
WE'RE NOW THE TRAGIC INDIAN.
WE'RE THE OPPRESSED INDIAN, OR
AS I OFTEN SAY, DEPENDING ON
WHAT YOU READ OR WHAT'S
WRITTEN ABOUT US, WE'RE EITHER
OPPRESSED, DEPRESSED
OR SUPPRESSED.
AND IT WAS ANOTHER REASON
FOR WANTING TO DO THIS BOOK.
BECAUSE THIS DID NOT REFLECT
THE NATIVE PEOPLE I KNEW.
MY MOTHER, WHO IS 74, HER
FIRST LANGUAGE IS OJIBWAY,
STILL LIVES ON THE RESERVE.
MY MOTHER'S NOT OPPRESSED,
DEPRESSED, AND SUPPRESSED.
SHE HAS A WONDERFUL SENSE
OF HUMOUR, AND I WANTED TO
REFLECT THAT AND SAY THESE
PERCEPTIONS ARE WRONG.
I WANT TO READ A QUOTE, IF
I'M ALLOWED TO ON YOUR SHOW.

Alan says SURE, ABSOLUTELY.

Drew takes out a book and opens it.

Drew says I'M GOING TO READ THIS QUOTE,
THEN I'M GOING TO TELL YOU
WHO SAID IT.
“ON ITS FIRST SETTLEMENT
FROM EUROPE, THE OUTLOOK FOR
HUMOUR IN AMERICA, AND
CHIEFLY IN NEW ENGLAND,
LOOKED RATHER GRIM.
HERE, ON THE SPOT,
WAS THE INDIAN.
PROBABLY THE LEAST HUMOROUS
CHARACTER RECORDED IN HISTORY.”
YOU KNOW WHO SAID THAT?

Alan says TELL ME.

Drew says OH, GOD, IT JUST
SLIPPED MY MIND.
STEPHEN LEACOCK.

Alan says THE GREAT HUMORIST.

Drew says GREAT CANADIAN HUMORIST
TALKING ABOUT NATIVE PEOPLE.

Alan says LET'S TALK ABOUT
NATIVE HUMOUR.
YOU SAY A CENTRAL PART
OF MUCH NATIVE HUMOUR
REVOLVES AROUND TEASING.
YOU CALL IT PERMITTED --

Drew says DISRESPECT.

Alan asks WHAT IS THE PURPOSE?
AND GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF THE
TEASING AND WHAT PURPOSE IT
SERVES IN THE COMMUNITY.

Drew says AH, WELL, WHAT DO YOU
CALL 32 METIS IN ONE ROOM?
ONE FULL BLOOD.
TEASING IS A GREAT LEVELLER.
I MEAN, THE TWO DOMINANT
ASPECTS OF NATIVE HUMOUR ARE
TEASING, PERMITTED DISRESPECT,
AND ALSO THE FACT OUR HUMOUR IS
VERY SELF-DEPRECATORY.
WE LOVE TO MAKE
FUN OF OURSELVES,
AND THE TWO ARE
INTERCONNECTED.
AND I THINK ONE OF THE REASONS
OUR HUMOUR IS THAT WAY IS
BECAUSE IN THE NATIVE
COMMUNITY, THE COMMUNITY IS
MORE IMPORTANT THAN
THE INDIVIDUAL.
WHEREAS, WHAT TEASING DOES,
AND THE SELF-DEPRECATORY HUMOUR
DOES IS IT KEEPS
EVERYBODY GROUNDED.
IT MAKES SURE THAT NOBODY
RISES ABOVE EVERYBODY ELSE
IN THE COMMUNITY.

Alan says YOU WRITE ABOUT THE
DIFFERENT KINDS OF JOKES.
ONE BEING AN IN-JOKE, ONE
NATIVE PEOPLE GET BUT YOU FEEL
IT'S ALL RIGHT TO TELL
A WHITE AUDIENCE.
GIVE US AN EXAMPLE.

Drew says IN MY ESSAY WHICH DEALS WITH
NATIVE HUMOUR MEETING POLITICAL
CORRECTNESS, RIGHT, IT
DEALS WITH THE SPHERES OF
INFLUENCE AND THE SPHERES OF
KNOWLEDGE THAT I CAN JOKE
ABOUT EVERYTHING WITHIN
MY REALM OF EXPERIENCE.
WHEREAS PEOPLE OUTSIDE THAT
REALM, TO MAKE THE SAME JOKE,
THEY'RE COMING FROM A DIFFERENT
PLACE WITHOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.
SO THAT IS IMPROPER, RIGHT?
YOU KNOW, LIKE ONE OF THE
WORST, BUT YET FUNNIEST JOKES
IS AT THE END OF THIS BOOK,
AND IT'S ONE OF THESE THINGS
THAT ONLY A NATIVE
PERSON COULD DO, RIGHT?
THESE TWO INDIANS
WALK OUT OF A BAR.
HEY, IT COULD HAPPEN.

Alan says SO THAT'S AN IN-JOKE.
I CAN LAUGH AT THAT, BUT
I CAN'T TELL THAT JOKE.

Drew says YOU TELL THAT JOKE, AND I
DOUBT IF YOU WOULD WALK OUT
OF THE ROOM WITH ALL
YOUR TEETH, YES.

Alan says ONE OF THE ESSAYS, THE WHOLE
BOOK IS FUNNY, BUT I MEAN
DON KELLY --

Drew says OH, DON KELLY.

Alan continues HE'S A STAND-UP COMEDIAN.
HE TALKS ABOUT THE TRAVAILLES
OF BEING A STAND-UP COMEDIAN
USING NATIVE HUMOUR.
BUT HE ALSO WRITES QUITE
POIGNANTLY ABOUT HOW NATIVE
HUMOUR CAN BE USED TO POKE
HOLES IN WHITE SOCIETY
AND A LOT OF THE HYPOCRISY
OF WHITE SOCIETY.
I MEAN, GIVE US AN EXAMPLE,
AGAIN, OF HOW THAT
MIGHT COME ABOUT.

Drew says OF POKING HOLES?
OH, GOD.
IN ONE OF MY PLAYS BECAUSE I'M
PRIMARILY KNOWN AS A THEATRE
ARTIST, RIGHT, AND I WRITE
THREE TYPES OF PLAYS.
THEATRE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES,
DRAMAS, AND COMEDIES.
AND IN ONE OF MY COMEDIES
IT TAKES PLACE AT AN ELDERS'
CONFERENCE WHICH EXISTS
AT MANY UNIVERSITIES.
AND THIS WOMAN IS BEING
BROUGHT IN, THIS OLD OJIBWAY
WOMAN, TO DO A WORKSHOP
ON THE OJIBWAY LANGUAGE.
SO SHE WALKS IN, AND SHE'S NOT
AN ACADEMIC, JUST SOMEBODY
WHO KNOWS HOW TO
SPEAK HER LANGUAGE.
AND SHE FEELS UNCOMFORTABLE
IN THIS ENVIRONMENT.
SO SHE'S TALKING ABOUT, SHE'S
ABSOLUTELY SURPRISED THAT SHE'S
BEING PAID TO GO IN AND TALK
ABOUT THE OJIBWAY LANGUAGE.
AND SHE SAYS, JEEZ, MARIANNE,
HER DAUGHTER WHO BROUGHT HER,
SHE SAYS, MARIANNE, YOU KNOW,
I REMEMBER WHEN THEY USED TO
TRY AND BEAT THE LANGUAGE OUT
OF US, NOW THEY'RE PAYING US
TO SPEAK IT.
I JUST WISH THOSE WHITE PEOPLE
WOULD MAKE UP THEIR MIND.

Alan says NOW, YOU ALSO WRITE HERE, ONE
OF YOUR CONTRIBUTORS WRITES
IN ADDITION, THAT THE ROLE
THAT NATIVE HUMOUR CAN PLAY
AS A SURVIVAL TOOL,
LIVING AS A MINORITY
IN A DOMINANT SOCIETY.

Drew says IT'S ONE OF THE UNIQUE
ASPECTS OF NATIVE HUMOUR.
IF YOU LOOK AT IT, IT'S
HUMOUR THAT HAS BEEN FILTERED
THROUGH 500 YEARS
OF COLONIZATION.
IT'S BEEN FILTERED THROUGH
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS, IT'S BEEN
FILTERED THROUGH THE RESERVE
SYSTEM, THROUGH THE SCOOP UP
AND NATIVE ADOPTION, ALL THESE
DIFFERENT THINGS, SO THAT NOW
IN ITS PRESENT FORM, IT IS
A FORM OF SURVIVAL HUMOUR.
AND AS A RESULT, IT CAN BE
VERY CAUSTIC, VERY BRUTAL,
VERY IN YOUR FACE, VERY
ANTAGONISTIC BECAUSE IT COMES
FROM THAT ENVIRONMENT.
DON KELLY HIMSELF, IN HIS
ESSAY, HAS THIS GREAT LINE
WHERE HE TALKS ABOUT, YOU
KNOW, WHITE PEOPLE HAVING COME
HERE 500 YEARS AGO.
HE SAYS I LOVE WHAT
YOU'VE DONE TO THE PLACE.
AND I MEAN, THAT'S
PART OF THE FUN.
THE WHOLE THING ABOUT YOU MAKE
FUN OF THE DOMINANT CULTURE
BECAUSE COMEDY WORKS FROM THE
BOTTOM UP, WHERE RACISM ONLY
WORKS FROM THE TOP DOWN.
BUT I MEAN, WHEN I DO LECTURES
AND STUFF LIKE THAT, I WAS IN
TO OFFER TALK, SOME OF MY
BEST FRIENDS ARE WHITE.
THEY'RE A DARN CLEVER PEOPLE
WITH GREAT LITERATURE, GREAT
CUISINE, AND THEY'RE QUITE
INTUITIVE IN THEIR OWN WAY.

Alan says NOW, A LOT OF THIS
SELF-DEPRECATING HUMOUR,
I MEAN, SEEMS ALMOST
POLITICALLY INCORRECT.
I MEAN, THERE WAS A JOKE IN
THERE ABOUT THE NATIVE WOMAN
WHO HAS TEN SONS NAME LLOYD.

Drew says RIGHT.

Alan says TELL ME THIS STORY.

Drew says OKAY.
THAT'S ALSO ONE OF
MY FAVOURITE JOKES.
IT ALWAYS GETS A BIG LAUGH.
THESE TWO WOMEN MEET
FOR TEA, NATIVE WOMEN.
AND THEY'RE SITTING DOWN
HAVING THEIR TEA, AND ONE
WOMAN IS ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED
AND SURPRISED TO DISCOVER THE
OTHER WOMAN HAS TEN KIDS
THAT SHE'S ALL NAMED LLOYD.
AND THE WOMAN CAN'T
UNDERSTAND IT.
AND SHE SAYS, WHY DIDN'T YOU
NAME ALL YOUR KIDS LLOYD?
DON'T YOU FIND THAT CONFUSING?
AND THE MOTHER GOES, NO, NO,
NOT AT ALL, IN FACT, IF ANYTHING
IT'S A GREAT TIME SAVER.
FIRST THING IN THE MORNING,
ALL I HAVE TO DO IS YELL,
LLOYD, TIME TO GET UP.
LLOYD, BREAKFAST IS READY,
LLOYD THE SCHOOL BUS IS HERE.
THEY HEAR, THEY UNDERSTAND,
THEY KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING.
BUT THE OTHER WOMAN
IS NOT CONVINCED.
SHE SAYS, BUT WHAT IF YOU NEED
TO TALK TO JUST ONE OF YOUR
KIDS, LIKE THE SECOND YOUNGEST
OR THE OLDEST, HOW DO YOU GET
THEIR PARTICULAR ATTENTION?
AND THE MOTHER GOES, OH, WELL
IF I NEED TO JUST TALK TO ONE
OF MY CHILDREN, I CALL
THEM BE THEIR LAST NAME.

Alan says NOW, THAT, AGAIN, REALLY DOES
ALMOST SEEM TO PLAY TO A LOT
OF THE BIAS AND PREJUDICE
THAT NON-NATIVES HAVE
ABOUT NATIVE CULTURE.
HOW DO YOU DRAW THAT LINE?
IS THERE A LINE BETWEEN?

Drew says WELL, AS A HUMOURIST, AS A
QUOTE, PROFESSIONAL HUMOURIST,
WHATEVER THAT MAY BE, I ALWAYS
SAY HUMOUR SHOULD AMUSE,
NOT ABUSE, RIGHT?
AND IT'S THE SAME PRINCIPLE
WITH, SAY, A STAND-UP COMEDIAN,
A BLACK STAND-UP COMEDIAN
YOU CAN USE THE N WORD,
NIGGER, RIGHT?
WHEREAS I AS A NATIVE PERSON,
YOU AS A WHITE PERSON,
COULD NOT USE THAT WORD.
SO IN THIS SITUATION,
IT'S INCREDIBLY SIMILAR.

Alan says TAKES THE POWER OUT OF
THAT STEREOTYPE, PERHAPS.

Drew says AND, AGAIN, IT ALLOWS US
THE OPPORTUNITY TO LAUGH
AT OURSELVES.
WHETHER OR NOT A STORY LIKE
THAT, A JOKE LIKE THAT IS
ENTIRELY NON-FEASIBLE, BUT
BECAUSE WE'RE FAMILIAR WITH
THE STEREOTYPE, BY EMBRACING
THE STEREOTYPE, WE ARE TAKING
AWAY THE POWER
OF IT TO HURT US.

Alan asks WHAT'S YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?

Drew says RIGHT NOW, I'M JUST FINISHING
UP THE THIRD DRAFT OF A NOVEL
I'M WORKING ON, CALLED
A
CONTEMPORARY GOTHIC INDIAN
VAMPIRE STORY.
AND BECAUSE OF THE SUCCESS OF
ME FUNNY, I'VE GOTTEN THE
GO AHEAD FROM DOUGLAS AND
MACINTYRE, TO START PUTTING
TOGETHER A FOLLOW-UP BOOK TO
ME FUNNY,
EXCEPT THIS ONE IS
GOING TO DEAL WITH NATIVE
EROTICA, AND IT'S GOING TO
CALLED
ME SEXY.

Alan asks WILL YOU COME BACK AND WE'LL
HAVE ANOTHER CONVERSATION.

Drew says I WILL DO
ME SEXY, IN MY
TRADITIONAL OJIBWAY THONG,
WHICH IS BEADED FOR GRIP.

Alan says DREW HAYDEN TAYLOR, I WANT
TO THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR
JOINING ME.
IT'S BEEN A REAL PLEASURE.

Drew says IT'S BEEN A PLEASURE, TOO.

Watch: Drew Hayden Taylor On Aboriginal Humour