I celebrated Native American Heritage Month by ruining a comedy podcast

Final week, I guested on the favored Earwolf collection How Did This Get Performed, a weekly comedy podcast devoted to reviewing the worst and weirdest video video games. The present’s hosts, Nick Wiger and Heather Anne Campbell, and I know one another by means of the Los Angeles comedy group, and their producer, Matt Apodaca, is somebody whom I’ve carried out many reveals with and take into account a good friend. As a comedy author (I’ve written on reveals for Nickelodeon, Cartoon Community, and a bunch of different locations) and as a hardcore gamer (I as soon as faked pneumonia for a month in center faculty so I might give attention to beating Chrono Set off for the Tremendous Nintendo), this appeared like a match made in heaven. However when I obtained the e-mail invitation, my face dropped.

Native American individuals are so poorly represented within the media that we’re known as an “invisible minority,” and Nick, Heather, and Matt needed me, as the primary and solely Native individual invited on How Did This Get Performed, to assessment Custer’s Revenge—an previous Atari recreation the place the participant, because the ghost of Basic Custer, rapes a Native American girl for factors—for a particular Thanksgiving episode. I had two choices in responding to this ill-conceived invitation. I might say no, and kick the can down the street for the following unsuspecting Native visitor, passing on a legacy of microaggressions for future Native comedians to take care of from right here to eternity. Or I might go on the present and threat my profession.

There are few issues I’d love to do much less then navigate the minefield of a dialog about race in 2019. Particularly with comedians who, type although they might be, are extra skilled and related, in an business the place jobs are largely given to mates and being labeled “laborious to work with” may be recreation over. I’ve invested 20 years of my life into this commerce, and I’m considered one of solely a few dozen Native American comedians within the nation. The Natives who’re repeatedly requested to visitor on standard comedy podcasts may be counted on lower than a single hand. If I didn’t strategy this dialog precisely proper, I might be destroying a small, however essential keyhole that we’ve got into mainstream media.

The straightforward and all too widespread factor to do when confronted with such a racial misstep can be to screencap the invitation, submit it on Twitter, and bathe myself in web mob justice like sizzling bathe water on a chilly morning. The laborious factor to do can be to calmly educate Nick, Heather, Matt, and their listeners about why what they did was fallacious. The primary possibility is tempting, however dunking on individuals gained’t change their minds. The second possibility, to have a severe dialogue, is more durable than beating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania with my palms tied behind my again. Would Nick and Heather even interact on this troublesome dialog or would they brush if off just like the hundreds of thousands of web commenters who deal with even the smallest quantity of criticism like Dracula treats garlic? I had one shot at this, and if I needed the dialog to be something lower than a complete catastrophe, I needed to thread a needle the scale of an anthill with a piece of thread thicker than the Golden Gate Bridge.

As a 5-foot, 10-inch comic constructed like a piece of dried low cost spaghetti, I’m not a assured individual. Confrontation of any type provides me a full-body migraine. One in every of my biggest fears is the uncomfortable fallout after misremembering an acquaintances’ identify. If I confronted a bunch of profitable comedians, on microphone, about their astronomical racial blind spot, I wanted to return ready. The six days between accepting the invitation and the recording was like a week-long Rocky montage, if as a substitute of working up the steps of a courthouse, Rocky simply argued with himself in his automobile.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about blindsiding them with a dialog they’d earned, however weren’t anticipating. Heather and Nick are each well-meaning individuals and although we aren’t shut, they had been a few of my first sketch-comedy writing lecturers when I first moved to Los Angeles and had been influential in serving to form my early comedic voice. Two days earlier than recording, I emailed to inform them that I was bringing a severe dialogue about Native American illustration to their present, which they mentioned they had been prepared for. Primarily based on the passion of their response, I knew that they had no clue the gravity of what they’d carried out, or the metric ton of classes I was about to shovel their manner.

On podcast day, I was a mess of adrenaline and righteous fury. An hour earlier than the present, I listened to the doorway music from my favourite All Elite Wrestling tag staff, Proud And Highly effective, as I placed on my favourite button-up shirt. Ten minutes earlier than the recording, I sat in my automobile within the Denny’s parking zone close to the Earwolf studios praying that I was doing proper for myself, and my group. Thirty seconds earlier than recording, Nick, Matt, Heather, and I had a good catch-up dialog about our lives and careers as I wiped my sweaty, shaking palms on my denims below the desk.

Twenty-four minutes into the episode, as we began discussing the sport, I paused, took a deep breath, and with a nervous voice, I listed off the upsetting circumstances with which I’d been requested to visitor on the present, punctuated with a stone chilly severe, “What the fuck?”

The next two paragraphs are each a abstract of my ideas on the recording and just about precisely what I advised Matt, Heather and Nick reside in that cramped podcasting sales space.

Native individuals are usually put into a tiny cultural field that defines how we’re allowed to look (lengthy hair, feathers, loincloths, stoic facial expressions) and what we’re allowed to speak about (our historic trauma and, as of the previous few years, the entire Elizabeth Warren “Cherokee ancestry” factor). And we’re solely allowed a small window every year when individuals need to hear us speak about it (Thanksgiving). Most individuals’s understanding of Native American tradition and historical past stops across the Wounded Knee Bloodbath of 1890. Due to that, we’re hardly ever allowed to be true, three-dimensional human beings in our lives and careers.

I’m happy with my tradition and I love speaking about Native points, however there’s a distinction between somebody asking for my distinctive, bizarre perspective and somebody who simply needs a generic “Native American” on their present for woke factors. The previous makes me really feel honored and revered as a comic and human being. The latter reduces me to a token and makes me really feel like my pores and skin is roofed in bugs. Casually asking me to assessment a recreation in regards to the rape of a Native American girl for the Thanksgiving episode of a comedy podcast, with out a trace of understanding as to why that’s a ridiculous factor to ask somebody, is the e-mail equal of masking me in a blanket made totally of cockroaches. What, in addition to my Nativeness, made them suppose I’d be a good match for this? Why on Thanksgiving, a day that offers us a yearly reminder of our genocide? What “Native” perspective am I even speculated to convey to Custer’s Revenge in addition to that rape is dangerous and that, in response to current authorities statistics, Native American and Alaska Native ladies are greater than 2.5 occasions extra more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than different ladies in america? Ought to I, as a Native man actually be the one talking on that? And is that one thing you need on a comedy present about dangerous video video games?

Wanting on the audio file for the podcast, the second after I spoke my emotions seems as a dip, absent of noise. It’s just like the heaviness of the air within the small, soundproofed room deflated the sound wave. The amount ranges for the remaining 25 minutes of the episode are considerably decrease then the earlier 25 minutes. It’s the proper visualization of disgrace and self-reflection in a digital audio format.

These all for listening to the entire dialog can hear beginning at 23:40, however in any other case, suffice it to say it was an atypical episode of the present, and a a lot shorter one than traditional.

Heather, Matt and Nick despatched me particular person apology emails the following day. They not solely provided to convey me again for a extra fulfilling episode, however they requested for suggestions for different Native comedians to convey on for episodes not centered on our trauma or scheduled round Thanksgiving. They even provided to provide me last edit on the episode and requested me to jot down the episode’s description, which helped ease my nerves in regards to the narrative forming round my look.

I spent the week and a half between document and launch in an icy sweat haze, venting to mates about my podcast expertise. Although everybody was encouraging, I fearful if I’d carried out the fitting factor.

Inside hours of the episode’s launch, I obtained a whole lot of emails, tweets, texts, and direct messages from mates and strangers. I was advised that by confronting individuals I respect about how they’d tokenized me, I’d given others the braveness to do the identical with their mates and associates. Listeners confided in me that my refusal to apologize for my feelings drove them to tears, and their type and considerate messages did the identical for me. The episode didn’t make me a pariah amongst comedians; as a substitute, it obtained a hearty endorsement from comedy podcast legend Paul F. Tompkins.

One in every of my favourite tales got here from a good friend, who was in a café that day and overheard a desk of podcasters discussing the episode whereas going by means of their very own visitor lists. They’d been satisfied to triple-check their future bookings to make it possible for their very own efforts towards inclusivity weren’t additionally by chance tokenizing.


Joey Clift is a comedy author and enrolled member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. Sure, his bio photograph is him sporting a swimsuit coated in cat faces. He’s type of a cat man. Comply with him on Twitter @joeytainment.