We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy

S. & S. Feb. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781982103033. $27. FILM
With a title inspired by one of Oneida Nation actor and comedian Charlie Hill’s famous lines (“My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem”), this latest work by comedy historian Nesteroff (The Comedians) focuses on an often-overlooked history. From Natives forced to become sideshow attractions in Wild West routines to white actors making a living playing Native characters in vaudeville and silent films, Nesteroff recalls an ongoing legacy of assimilation practices, stereotypes, and discrimination. The strongest parts of the book center on biographical sketches of Cherokee actor Will Rogers and how his grandfather signing the Treaty of New Echota, which led to the Trail of Tears, continued to haunt the family. Other insightful chapters recount the influence of Hill and his groundbreaking debut on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. Hill, who became a regular at the Comedy Store and ended up writing for Roseanne, inspired several Native comedians, whom Nesteroff interviews throughout. While only a handful of women are featured, insight from Cayuse/Nez Perce actress Elaine Miles and Kiowa/Apache comedian Adrianne Chalepah is welcome.
VERDICT With no real comparison book, this well-documented history, though uneven at times, should spark interest and future research.
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