Don Burnstick, Paul Rabliauskas and Chad Anderson at the West End Cultural Centre
By Kim Wheeler, SCENE writer, CBC News
The first Native American stand-up comic to perform for a wide mainstream audience was Charlie Hill back in the '70s on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Hill was the only one doing a schtick back then.
Now there are many more Aboriginal comics crossing over to mainstream. One of the most prolific ones is Winnipeg resident Don Burnstick, who has been making audiences laugh for 20 years.
Like Hill before him, Burnstick shares his secrets and advice with younger comics, including the talented morning show host on Streetz-FM, Paul Rabliauskas.
SCENE wanted to know the difference between a new comedic career and an established one, so we asked Burnstick and Rabliauskas about their shows.
What is the most essential item you need to do a show?
Burnstick: “A solid opening five minutes and being open to whatever might pop up. So many comedians are too committed to their material and don't know how to roll with it.”
Rabliauskas: “An audience for sure, minimum five, never less than that, and jokes too. You need funny jokes.” (Well that was more than one Paul, but you’re new at this so we’ll give you a pass this time.)
What was the most surprising thing that has happened during a show and how did you handle it?
Burnstick: “I had a woman pass out. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t get oxygen to her brain and had a seizure. I’ve also had a man [soil] himself in the front row and a few women have peed. For me, native laughers are the hardest laughers.”
Rabliauskas: “Outside Regina in a small town my set was interrupted by a Native lady, she begged me to stop telling jokes to the 'white crowd' cause they were racist. After my set she broke down and told me she and her husband were the only native people that lived there, she then apologized. I thought she was crazy but in the end I understood where she was coming from. We hugged it out.”
How has the cross over been for you with non-Aboriginal audiences?
Burnstick: “When I am on stage I make my shows more mainstream. The native humour thing is still relatively new. We need to show what Native humour is.
Rabliauskas: “I do more shows in front of non-Native audiences here in the city. I've lived through a lot of the stereotypes that people have of Natives with my cousins on the rez. (My jokes) somehow always work out, like when an old white man suggests I watch Mantracker and the first thing that I relate it to is residential schools. Through the power of comedy I'm able to translate that in front of a (non-Aboriginal) audience without it being so dark.”
What's the one piece advice you give young comics?
Burnstick: “I just say be true to who you are and trust your material and if they can -- don't swear. Being a sober person, I also know the responsibility I have being a role model. My elder told me two things when I first started: Don't swear and don’t do shows in bars.”
What is the one piece of advice you've received from a peer (native comic) that you really appreciated?
Rabliauskas: “Burnstick is always watching out for me, not just with comedy but he’s always concerned about what’s going on in my life. He's helped me understand the business side and the politics that come with being a Native entertainer.”
A Night of Comedy with Don Burnstick and cuzzins Chad Anderson and Paul Rabliaskus is being presented by the Spruce Woods Sundance Family and hosted by Shaneen "the Scene" Robinson. West End Cultural Centre, December 5.