Indigenous resurgence has a sense of humour

Ryan McMahon the Ojibway comedian, not the skinny indie musician with the same name.

If you don’t know the name Ryan McMahon yet, then we can’t be friends.

But don’t worry!  It’s the kind of thing that can be fixed! Our friendship can be saved!

Now that we’ve dodged that bullet, I’d like to share something pretty special with you.  I got to watch the man eat crepes at cafe in Downtown Montreal during the Just For Laughs Festival, and we may have chatted a bit too. I’m an old-fashioned girl and figure you shouldn’t interview on a first meeting, or maybe I was just too chicken to whip out a notepad and start recording our talk, so I followed up with the Treaty 3 comedian yesterday.

Ryan McMahon is nice enough to answer my questions

How did you get your start in comedy?  I mean, there’s some sort of affirmative action for native comedians, right?  You get guaranteed spots on Canadian television and radio and at venues, whether you’re funny or not?  Some non-native comedian is sitting in his mom’s basement right now crying his eyes out because you got a spot that should have gone to him or something?

I half stumbled into it.  For the LONG version of this you can visit this page on my site. For the short version – essentially, I was fresh out of Theatre School and ready to work.  Once I started working as an actor – I hated it.  I was voiceless and not being represented.  I didn’t connect with any of the work.  AND. Yes. I feel a lot of mainstream comedians look at me as “the native comedian” and that I was given my comedy special and my other spots because of that.  They got the land – I got a festival spot 500 years later.


I was introduced to Ryan McMahon via YouTube videos of his alter-ego, Clarence Two Toes.

What’s the “normal” way to go about getting exposure and gigs as a comedian?

I think the “normal” way to get exposure and gigs as a comedian is to toil in club obscurity until someone says you’re good enough to open for them.  You do that for five, six, seven years and you either quit or you become so jaded that you become one of those miserable artists that has an excuse for everything.

Honestly, I’ve never really done the “comedy thing” the normal way.  There are a lot of young comedians charting their own path now.  I’m proud to call myself one of them.  I think people pay attention to me because I’m saying/doing things that haven’t really been done before.  I’m making people come to me.  It feels good, and I appreciate EVERY SINGLE PERSON that supports my work.


Ryan McMahon’s awesome podcast features comedy and interviews with all sorts of inspiring people.

You are really involved in social media, you’re all over Facebook and Twitter and you have your own website, newsletter, podcasts, iTune and Amazon apps and so on.  To be honest, it seems like a lot of work.  Why did you choose this way to promote yourself?

It’s an incredible amount of work.  It’s tiring and disgusting.  I am my own pimp, to be honest – if I’m not promoting myself, who is?  I don’t have an agent or a management company looking after me.  All of my online work (videos/podcasts/blogs) are extension of my brand – almost like a funny business card if you will.

The podcast has really changed my comedy.  It’s also changed my fanbase.  I don’t have the most followers on Twitter or Facebook but I have the most loyal fans and followers I could ever ask for.  I’ve found people that care – I have to nurture that relationship, be grateful, remain humble and continue giving back to those that support me.


You were the first native comedian to get a comedy special on CBC Television.  How did that happen?  Did you just blockade a bunch of roads until the CBC gave in?

It was a huge honour and I actually didn’t realize that until my CBC Producers told me this.  They believed in me.  They saw what I was talking about.  They saw what I was trying to say.  They compared me to Chris Rock and George Carlin.  They helped me see my place in the landscape.

It hit me.  Something big was happening.  Something really, really big.  And again – I don’t feel like it’s been celebrated at all by the mainstream and barely by Indian Country.  Those that have celebrated the accomplishment have been my fans and followers.  They get it. Also – I want to be on record for thanking CBC TV/Radio and CBC Aboriginal and CBC Manitoba for their continued support.  CBC produces amazing Indigenous content and are really pushing the conversation forward in this country.


“The life of a guy that is on the powwow trail for the summer and hopes to find love along the way.”

Powwow Shades of Grey. Wut. How. WHY!?

LOL. Total accident.  My best projects have been total accidents.  My first two podcasts.  Clarence Two ToesPowwow Shades of Grey.  I did it for a few reasons.  The first few tweets were just goofs.  Then the RTs came in and didn’t stop.  So I kept writing.  The thing was read around the world.  It was mind blowing.

I got a call from the New Yorker and they were going to run a follow up piece on Twitter Fiction that had run before, but they wanted to expand the piece by looking at “Niche Market Writing.”  The piece didn’t run, BUT, as far as making the mainstream come to you as an Artist – it doesn’t get much bigger than the New Yorker asking to talk to you.

I’m going to continue to write it.  I like the pop culture jamming aspect to it. I like it when our people find themselves within mainstream works.  And it’s funny.  And sexual.  BDSM, sweetgrass and handdrums – what’s better than that?


Recently you were here in Montreal for the Just For Laughs Festival as one of their “Up and Comers”.  What was that experience like for you?

Surreal.  Overwhelming.  Humbling.  I learned a lot.  I didn’t have  amazing sets while there – but I’m not ashamed of what I did.  My spots were 7-8 minute spots and I’ve never worked short sets like that.  I learned I need to work on that.  If Conan called, I’d need a 7 minute piece of work.

I also learned that I belong onstage next to anyone.  I talked with some incredible comics there – the name of one particular comic I talked to will remain with me – but he’s one of the tops on the planet.  I tweeted at him and asked him for breakfast.  I asked him one question – should I be self conscious of being a “Native Comedian?” We talked for nearly an hour.  Basically, we came to the conclusion that in art, comedy, music – everything is niche.  Whether you’re a lesbian comic, a Black comic or a Native comic – everything is niche.  The most important thing is what comes out of your mouth.  That’s my job.  Say funny things, mean what you say, and leave them thinking.  The conversation that day changed my life.  I’m still processing it.


Check the dates in your city and get tickets now!

Your UnReserved Tour launches on September 12 in Victoria and you’re going to be on the road for six weeks, hitting 26 different cities.  In your video you describe why you took on so many venues and what kinds of expenses you’re facing.  To be honest, I’m scared shitless on your behalf, I mean this is HUGE!  How are you doing this and how are you coping with the pressure?

I started planning it as a “Thank You,” to everyone that supported me leading up to the comedy special and the Just for Laughs spot.  I was going to book 8 or 10 shows and do new material as a way to say thanks.  It was going to be more of a fuck-around-thing.

I announced I was doing the tour and the internet exploded on my lap.  I was getting show requests from everywhere.  I was floored.  I couldn’t believe the reaction.  But going back to how I feel about my fans and followers – they’re the best and they wanted to celebrate with me.  So we are – I started asking the internet where I should go, and I’ve made it happen.  Barely.  But I’ve made it happen.

I’m a little too old to be driving across the country, but I am.  I want to do comedy for the people that want to see me.  I’m working out deals with each venue in every city based on what they’re willing to do.  Some rentals are very expensive and some venues are doing door deals.  I have THOUSANDS of dollars in damage deposits and rental fees on my credit card.

I’m counting on the people that are excited about my comedy and where I’m heading with it to bring their friends to the live show. I’m using social media to help spread the word and I’m begging for help through various media that are willing to run a story or put something on the radio for me.  I can’t afford a publicist – so I’m putting in long days and long nights.  It’s the most intense thing I’ve ever worked on.  It’s so damn big.


So I’m a little confused, because here I am in Montreal, wanting to make sure I don’t miss your show, and I go on a website to get tickets.  I scroll down to the Montreal show on September 24th and see a button that says “register”, but it’s free?  Is that just because a venue hasn’t been completely set yet?  I notice that other shows have fixed costs and I can buy those tickets online.  For the Montreal show am I just saying, “Hey I’ll be there” when I register?

In that example – YES – it’s because the venue hasn’t been set (I’ve lost two venues in Montreal thus far) but I still wanted to list the show.  All cities listed, whether the venue is named or not, are booked.  Most of the “releasing of tickets/venue info” is legal and once the paperwork is done – the event goes live.


He’s booking and organising the whole tour himself, and the guy could use a little support!  Besides, who could resist this face?

You recently launched a crowd-funding campaign through Indiegogo, and there are all these crazy perks you can claim when you contribute.  The campaign confuses me a little too.  A lot of the perks involve tickets to your shows, but there is also a lot of swag being promised like signed posters and shirts and so on.  How are people going to get those tickets and swag?  Would you prefer people got their tickets this way rather than going through the sales website?

The Indiegogo campaign is to help me offset the costs of venue rentals and paying the tech people that work in those spaces.  The perks for supporting the tour on Indigegogo are for those with a little more money in their pocket and want the merch or the extra perks.  People will get into the live shows and I’m working on distribution now and fulfilling the merch side of the campaign.

Logistically it might be impossible to get the physical merch into everyone’s hands at the show but my distribution partner and I have a plan to send all the merch out after the tour.  That side of the campaign continues.


If you won the lottery and were mad rich, and you got to set up any project your little heart desired, what would it be?

I would produce my podcast into a live touring show, shoot it for television and record it for radio (Stuart McLean style mixed with Jian Ghomeshi Q typed show) and feature guests, musicians, artists, community leaders, Youth, and organizers that are working on their own vision of decolonization.  That movement will only happen on the ground – that’s where I want my work to remain.


Ryan McMahon. Boom.

One more question.  Possibly the most important yet.  Toilet paper roll to the inside (underhand), or outside (overhand)?

Outside.  All day, e’rrrday.

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Categories: Culture, Decolonisation, First Nations

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6 Responses to Indigenous resurgence has a sense of humour

  1. Perry Bulwer says:

    “CBC produces amazing Indigenous content and are really pushing the conversation forward in this country.”

    I agree. Unfortunately, the CBC website, by publishing anonymous anti-Indigenous racist commentary in the comments section of news articles undermines that programming.

    After the crisis in Attawapiskat blew up, I and many others noticed an increase in online anti-Indigenous racism. I began to monitor three mainstream sites: The Globe & Mail, the National Post, and the CBC news site. While there was much more blatant racism on the first two sites, CBC was no immune to that. Since CBC has a legislated mandate related to the Indigenous peoples, I began to file complaints. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve done so far.

    I used the reporting function in the comments section to mark individual comments as racist; submitted comments addressed directly to the moderators pointing out racist comments; wrote to the CBC Ombudsman, Kirk Lapointe, who refused to deal with the issue and passed me on to the unnamed Moderator Manager who ignored my complaints; I then wrote to the CBC President, Hubert Lacroix, because it is he the Ombudsman reportts to, but he also ignored me; I then wrote a follow-up complaint to the CBC Board sending each director (no visible minorities among them) a copy of the letter to ensure that everyone saw it.

    Last week, an anonymous CBC Moderator Manager contacted me, telling me he was instructed to do so by the President. The email is essentially a CBC staffer covering his/her ass after I went over their head to complain they were not doing their job properly. That anonymous CBC staff disputed my claim that anti-Indigenous comments continue to get posted, dismissing the issue as a difference of opinion. They also pointed out one rejected comment I submitted that was critical of corrupt politicians who should be jailed, in an attempt to ‘shoot the messenger’. That comment was submitted under my real full name, unlike almost all anti-Indigenous comments approved by the moderators.

    Here’s a couple excerpts from my last letter to the entire Board:

    “… they can identify the most obvious racist statements, and the worst is usually either blocked or removed. But many racists have learned tricks on how to tone down or disguise their online bigotry, so ignorant, offensive commentary that contemptuously stereotypes all indigenous peoples often still gets approved, as long as it is hidden in less hostile terms. It is that subtly expressed racism that remains the problem, as the moderators seem unable to recognize bigotry when it is toned down or expressed with a ‘smile’.” …

    “If CBC wants its digital spaces to be a place for meaningful public debate, especially on First Nations issues which go to the very core and foundation of Canadian history and identity, it should reconsider its website online comments system. Section 3(1)(d)(iii) of the Broadcasting Act requires that the CBC through its programming serves the needs and interests, and reflects the circumstances and aspirations of all Canadians, including the special place of aboriginal peoples in society. I previously praised CBC’s Aboriginal programming, however, section 3(1)(e) mandates that each element of CBC should contribute to the creation and presentation of Canadian programming. And section 3(2)  declares that the Canadian broadcasting system constitutes a single system. I interpret those sections very broadly to argue that every part of the CBC universe, including its website, ought to contribute in some positive way to CBC programming, and that anything that undermines that programming would not be in CBC’s interest regarding its public mandate. By allowing anonymous, anti-Aboriginal commentary to exist and persist on its website, CBC is doing exactly that, undermining its excellent programming on Aboriginal issues, and failing to fulfil its obligations to all Canadian citizens. But even if my interpretation of that legislation is wrong, CBC still has an ethical, moral and social obligation to disallow anything that exposes the indigenous peoples to contempt and bigotry.”

    By the way, in that letter I include quotations about online racism from recent blog articles by you, Chelsea, as well as Pam Palmater and Leanne Simpson. I informed the CBC Board in that letter that I will be sending copies of all my correspondence with CBC on this issue to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission to be added to my previous submissions, so that the historical record will show the difficulty of eliminating anti-Indigenous bigotry in this country.

    • daveM says:


      Excellent actions you are taking.

      My view is, that, if we attack the neighbors, then we are attacking ourselves….

      Canadians are destroying their heritage and their roots with bigotry and racism.

      I thank you for your efforts.


      • sara c says:

        i agree words of wisdom that can be followed by any society

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Thanks. I have no power but my words. I believe direct action is the only way to really change our systems of power, and so I have begun my own small letter writing actions. This is just one of them. I usually ‘shoot’ for the head, which is why I contacted the President and Board.

        I recently sent an 80 page heavily foot-noted complaint to the Provincial Health Officer of BC related to the injustices of poverty and homelessness as direct social determinants of the health of vulnerable citizens. One section of that deals with Indigenous health issues, particularly undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses such as PTSD and depression among Residential School Survivors and subsequent generations.

        The BC Health Officer responded with a two sentence letter to my 80 page report. I followed up with an angry 3 page letter, which caused a reaction that is still playing out, so I won’t say much more on that yet until it does.

    • Perry Bulwer says:

      Update: A few days after I received that anonymous email from a CBC Moderator, I received a letter from the CBC President’s chief of staff. The letter is dated August 27, 2012, which is one day before the time date on that anonymous email.

      The letter from the President’s office states, in part: “In doing a follow up, it unfortunately appears that a response had been prepared, but for an unexplainable reason, has not yet been sent. We apologize if this error has given you the impression that we ignored your letter. Please be assured that was not our intention. You should receive a response from English Services shortly.”

      At first, when I received this letter I assumed I would be receiving a formal letter delivered by regular mail from English Services, addressing the various issues I raised with the board. Not for a minute did I think the response I would get from the President and Board would be an email from an anonymous employee.

      I still have a hard time thinking the CBC President & Board members would not respond to my complaints, which centered on anonymous comments, but instead have an employee reply anonymously. Perhaps a real, signed letter is still on its way to me, and so I have not yet responded to the anonymous email. I will wait a bit more, but if that is really the only response I will get to my complaints, then I am simply astounded at the indifference.

      • daveM says:

        I do not have familiarity or at least enough familiarity with the issues faced by our aboriginal peoples to comment effectively on any issues.
        That being said, I have these opinions.
        My feeling is that issues are not being made known effectively, they are not publicized so that the people and voters not directly involved are uninformed.
        For example…. how many people get to read this excellent blog unless a few people tweet once in a while. This blog is a gold mine. So is the IndigeneousNationhood site by Dr Palmater. I wonder how many clicks these two sites get in a week. Yet they are relating to basic concerns of a few million people.

        How many people in Canada and elsewhere get regular exposure to the issues of children going to bed without a bath at night, living in tents when the temperature is -50C outside, being denied education because it is inconvenient to erect suitable schools.

        In the southern parts of Canada, where the main population lives few people are aware of the reality of Northern First Nations Communities and there is no great effort to publicize them.

        Not until every member of the House of Commons receives a letter every week about the terrible conditions of First Nations communities, not until every major newspaper in Canada is covering same and not until the major TV broadcasters are actually devoting a serious effort to these situations, will the tide change.

        Someone has to grab the ball and get happening on these issues in a big way. Every day that passes, some little child decides that he has no chance in this world of abusive adults…. that alone should be enough reason for the Chiefs to be hammering on the door of the Prime Minister.
        Every day that passes a young man quits looking to get employment because he is discriminated against by an prospective employer.

        These issues are of phenomenal importance to all Canadians…. they must have the light shone on them continually.

        Perry, good luck in your dealings with the CBC, I have had my own dealings with them that ended up with no reply and no action.


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