Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

August 16, 2013

Native American comedians highlight Pow Wow Jam

PESHABESTOWN — “April showers bring May flowers. And Mayflowers bring pilgrims.”

“… ‘Survivor,’ I can’t stand that show. No Indians … It’s probably a good idea, because they’re not gonna vote me off the island. They’re just gonna vote me to the crappy part of the island and leave me there for 200 years.”

They’re zingers that get big laughs for the Native American comedians of the Pow Wow Comedy Jam — and not just from Native audiences. The comedians are equally funny to mainstream viewers, as evidenced by their appearances on the 2009 Showtime special, “Goin’ Native: The American Indian Comedy Slam” and at venues like the Las Vegas Hilton, the Hollywood Improv and The University of Wisconsin.

“We’re really mainstream comedians,” said co-founder Marc Yaffee, who is Aztec and Navajo but was raised by adoptive parents with Irish in the mix. “We started in comedy clubs as opposed to some, who started on the reservation. Although we have a Native slant, people all have certain common challenges: we all deal with relationships, life struggles. If you can make it funny, people can relate.”

Still, the three comedians — Yaffee, Howie Miller (Cree) and Vaughn Eaglebear (Colville/Lakota) — are understandably popular at casino shows, tribal events and VIP Player parties. Named the National Indian Gaming Association’s 2010 Entertainers of the Year and the North American Indigenous Image Awards’ 2011 Comedy Performers of the Year, they’ve been performing together since 2005 on what they call “The Trail of Laughs.”

“We’re all different styles,” said Yaffee, whose funniest material may revolve around his mixed heritage — an “ethnic stew” — and his discovery of his Native roots. “Vaughn does a little Native rap that always gets a big reaction. We say, ‘Vaughn comes from left field: he’s in the parking lot.’ He’s very quirky and fun. Howie’s real loud and brash; it’s like a big party on stage. Me, I’m more boom-boom-boom, rapid-fire one joke after the other.”

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