The 1491s reflect on community through comedy

Scott Powell

Inclusivity: It’s a nice word and one that typically evokes feelings of pity and guilt but not any actual desire to include all types of people.

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Bobby Wilson interacts with the crowd during the 1491s Native American sketch comedy group performance at Lory Student Center Theatre, Oct. 2. (Luke Bourland | The Collegian)

Enter the 1491s, the “Monty Python” of the American West, whose zany, unhinged comedy left their audience at the Lory Student Center Theatre in stitches on Oct. 2.

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The comedy troupe took the campus by storm with a raucous, biting collection of sketches that covered everything from buffalo sex, to beaver tickling, to dream catchers that boost your wifi signal. Suffice to say, the troupe didn’t pull any punches. With the tribal elders laughing as hard as the rest of the audience, it is safe to say the comedy stuck with people from all walks of life. 

“I think what I really love is that they can take the hard topics like cultural appropriation and colonization and genocide and make it funny,” said Tiffani Kelly, assistant director of the Native American Cultural Center. “Sometimes comedians just poke fun to poke fun, and I feel like they are able to make jokes and (make) it not feel weird and uncomfortable.”

November is Native American Heritage Month, and I hope people start to hear these narratives and think a little bit more clearly about how they talk about Native and Indigenous populations.” – Tiffani Kelly, Assistant Director of the Native American Cultural Center

The event, organized by the Native American Cultural Center, marks the first time a Native American troupe has been invited to perform for Homecoming comedy night, and boy, did they run with it. Taking back the narrative of 600 years of crushing oppression and churning out a hilarious set is a difficult feat, but the 1491s do it spectacularly. These topics are especially necessary here at CSU, where the tarnished history of the school’s establishment is often forgotten.

“CSU is celebrating our 150th anniversary, which is why I recommended them as the comedy show,” Kelly said. “They talk about settler colonialism and colonization, which is a part of CSU’s history, but we sometimes don’t talk about it. We have a very solid Native community in Fort Collins and (with) our students, so that’s why I thought it was really important and pretty fitting I think for the year.”

The troupe shines in their ability to connect with their audience in such a way that makes even the most absurd, cringeworthy topics palatable to a wide audience. After all, there aren’t too many groups who can bring an old Native American grandmother to tears over a semen-covered hand drum, yet the 1491s pull off this feat with ease.

They open up the conversation on nativism in a unique and unifying way that is difficult to do, especially in our contemporary, ultra-polarized world. This comes from the troupe’s deep-seated understanding of story and their commitment to comedy as a universal language of mankind.

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The 1491s, a Native American sketch comedy group, performs a skit in the Lory Student Center theater on Oct. 2. (Luke Bourland | Collegian)

Their comedy isn’t dolled up with all the glitz and glam that one finds from many mainstream comedians, who are constantly seeking to stake a claim in their given industry through mere shock value. 

The 1491s are shocking, but it’s not the shock that sells the show: it’s the characters and the troupe’s commitment to making those characters real and relatable. The characters highlight universal human idiosyncrasies first, allowing them to connect with a wider audience and displaying them through a unique and informative lens.

“It definitely appealed to different levels of Native culture, just making fun of (themes and topics) we’re not traditionally allowed to laugh about,” said audience member Cetan Christensen. 

While it can often feel uncomfortable to laugh at events and situations that don’t affect one’s culture personally, the wonderful and brilliant thing about the 1491s is the way that they actively seek to bring non-Native people in on their jokes, without distracting from their comic flow.

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Comedians can have a tendency to struggle to bridge cultural gaps through the jokes themselves, often resorting to long-winded explanations to set up their punchline, but for the 1491s, those are unnecessary. The realness of their characters makes any background information one may need superfluous. The characters, not the context, are what give life to the sketches.

“I think because they were relatable, despite speaking for a lot of … Native American experiences, they related to a lot of other people,” said Marcel Jardeleza, an audience member. “I’m not Native, but I found their comedy to be hilarious.”

Transcendence, not just inclusivity, is what sets the 1491s apart from others. They do not turn issues that Native Americans face into something to be pitied, just something that needs to be accepted and understood. They are willing to bridge the gap and forge connections with the groups who most often shy away from it.

“November is Native American Heritage Month, and I hope people start to hear these narratives and think a little bit more clearly about how they talk about Native and Indigenous populations,” Kelly said.

Editor’s note: The terminology for a Native American hand drum has been corrected.

Scott Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus