Observations: British humour goes Native
Friday 01 May 2009
Chuquai Billy is the only Native American stand-up in the UK. A comedian from the Lakota Sioux/Choctaw Nation of New Mexico – he describes living on the reservation as "Wales, without the rain" – Chuquai came to England a few times in the early 1990s, initially to visit a penpal, but has since settled here permanently and has become a regular on the comedy circuit.
Chuquai started stand-up as a way of impressing a girl at an open spot night at the Comedy Store in LA. "I didn't get the girl," he says. "But I got laughs." His consequent pursuit of comedy has been, he says, encouraged by folk in his home community. "They want me to go out and tell the truth about how we actually are – not the romantic or Western fiction stereotypes," he explains.
Chuquai characterises Native American life in a number of ways, emphasising the different world view it takes on topics from religion ("We don't talk about spiritual things, we just do them. European people who come over and go to ceremonies once or twice and then resell them to New Agers piss us off!") to time ("We don't understand why people are on time or want to do things quickly, we feel they are missing out on stuff"). He regularly opens his set by calling America "the occupied territory", adding, "You think you've got problems with immigration..."
Chuquai's main aim is to quash stereotypes: "We want to be able to chat about the world economy and not be asked what it's like to live in a teepee. Oh, and you know that thing in the movies where we turn into birds and vanish? We can't really do that."
Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London W1. 8 & 9 May (020-7478 0100; www. originsfestival.com)
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