It is a paradoxical truth that explaining why something is funny is intrinsically unfunny. It is perhaps for this reason that Drew Hayden Taylor, the editor and compiler of Me Funny, a motley collection of writings on the subject of native humour, decides to swing at the subject from all angles. Pieces run the gamut from straight academic analyses to excerpts from stand-up comedy routines to tale-telling and dialogic musings.
As with most anthologies, the results here are uneven and sometimes repetitive. Several writers point out, for example, that humour has provided a coping mechanism for societies ravaged by 500 years of oppression. The book’s strongest pieces tend to be those that give up trying to define or dissect native comedy – which often has its roots in very dark places – and simply lead by example. These, and the between-chapter jokes labelled “astutely selected ethno-based examples of cultural jocularity and racial comicalness,” collectively make the book worth its cover price.
Taylor, a prolific, award-winning playwright, columnist, sketch comedy creator, and “blue-eyed Ojibway,” contributes his own amusing essay on the subject of political correctness and how it intersects, often uncomfortably, with humour both by and about natives. Another stand-out piece is by stand-up comedian Don Kelly, who takes the reader through the psychology of one of his routines, which often tread on fringe territory in their explorations of race and stereotypes. Kelly provides hilarious examples of how he creates and dissipates tension in his audience before things become too unbearable. His aim, he says, is to “teach” audience members without making them aware that they are being taught.
Tomson Highway’s attempt to explain why Cree is the funniest of all languages is a gem, but the book saves the best for last with Thomas King’s chapter on his much-beloved Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour. King manages to take the piss out of any attempt at pomposity here with his astute conclusion: “What would we do with a definition of Native humour anyway? We’d just waste time trying to apply the definition, and we might miss the performance.”