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“A remarkable book that takes the history of Native American comedy and turns it into a page-turner. It seems like there’s a revelation in every one of its tight chapters. Applause for the book and the exciting artists who populate it.” –STEVE MARTIN
“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
From Kliph Nesteroff, “the human encyclopedia of comedy,” comes the important and underappreciated story of Native Americans and comedy.
It was one of the most reliable jokes in Charlie Hill’s stand-up routine: “My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.”
In We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, Kliph Nesteroff focuses on one of comedy’s most significant and little-known stories: how, despite having been denied representation in the entertainment industry, Indigenous Americans have influenced and advanced the art form.
The account begins in the late 1880s, when Native Americans were forced to tour in wild west shows as an alternative 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 Cherokee humorist Will Rogers and Hill, who, in the 1970s, was the first Native American comedian to appear The Tonight Show.
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; Kiowa-Apache comic Adrianne Chalepah, who formed the touring group the Native Ladies of Comedy; and the 1491s, a sketch troupe whose satire is smashing stereotypes to critical acclaim. 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 tribute to a neglected legacy.
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Jokes change from generation to generation, but the experience of the comedian transcends the ages: the drive, jealousy, heartbreak, and triumph. From the Marx Brothers to Milton Berle to George Carlin to Eddie Murphy to Louis CK — comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century’s worth of rebels and groundbreakers, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts, forgotten stars and workaday plodders in this essential history of American comedy.
Beginning with the nationwide vaudeville circuits that dominated at turn of the twentieth century, Nesteroff describes the rise of the first true stand-up comedian — a variety show emcee who abandoned physical shtick for straight jokes. The end of Prohibition ushered in a surprising golden age of comedy, as funnymen were made into radio stars and the combination of the “Borscht Belt”, the “Chitlin Circuit”, and Mafia-run supperclubs furnished more jobs and money than ever before. Those were the days of the Copacabana, tuxedos, and smoking cigars onstage, when insulting the boss could result in a hit man at your door and obscenity charges could land you in jail. In the 1950s, late-night television cemented the status of the comedy establishment while young comics rebelled, arriving on the beatnik coffeehouse scene with cerebral jokes and social angst. They soon found their own way to fame through comedy records that vied with top musicians for Billboard spots. Then came the comedy clubs of the coke-fueled 1970s and 80s, Saturday Night Live and cable TV, and with the internet, a whole new generation of YouTube stars, podcast personalities, and Twitterati. Through the decades, Nesteroff reveals the contradictions between comedians’ public and private personas and illuminates the often-seedy underbelly of an industry built on laughs.
Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research,The Comedians is a sharply written and highly entertaining look at one hundred years of comedy, and a valuable exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture along the way.
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