‘We Had a Little Real Estate Problem’: Native American Comedians Get Their Due | Book reviewHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Native American history, Comedy
We Had a Little Real Estate Problem
By Kliph Nesteroff
Simon & Schuster. 336 pp. $27
Reviewed by Donald Liebenson
“I know a lot of you white people have never seen an Indian do stand-up comedy before,” joked Charlie Hill on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. “Like, for so long you probably thought that Indians never had a sense of humor. We never thought you were too funny, either.”
Hill’s TV debut, making him the first Indigenous comedian in prime time, is one of the milestones that Kliph Nesteroff chronicles in We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, an illuminating and stereotype-busting history of Native Americans and comedy.
Nesteroff profiles Hill, who died of cancer in 2013, as well as other Indigenous comedians whom Hill influenced in much the same way Freddie Prinze and Eddie Murphy inspired Latino and Black comics with their phenomenal success at a young age.
But at its heart, Nesteroff’s book shows “the importance and influence that proper representation in the media can have,” the author said in a phone interview. “Nine out of 10 Indigenous comedians to whom I talked said that Charlie Hill was the guy. Whether they started in the 1980s, the ’90s or the 2000s, they said that they never knew there were other Native American comedians, and when they saw Charlie Hill on TV, that was the moment they decided they wanted to get into comedy.”
We Had a Little Real Estate Problem takes its title from Hill’s most famous joke: “My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.” The book is a welcome addendum to Nesteroff’s critically acclaimed history of American stand-up comedy, The Comedians, which was published in 2015.
Nesteroff, an encyclopedic comedy historian, said "racism and fascism were on the rise when I got the [book] deal in early 2018. I was trying to figure out what I could do to counteract that in some positive and meaningful way, and writing a book that would give non-Native people a proper historical perspective was one way of doing that."
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