Indigenous comedians set to take Just For Laughs stage in Toronto

A new comedy show featuring all Indigenous comedians is set to hit the stage this fall at one of the most recognizable comedy festivals in the world.

Janelle Niles, a black and Mi’kmaq comedian from Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, created Got Land comedy in 2019, seeing a need for a group where Indigenous comedians can come together.

“I was like I’m just going to help out the little guy because I remember having no guidance not knowing even how to tell a joke, write a joke, stand up there and hold a mic and making sure that they’re with their own people because as much as we’re comedians, we’re Indigenous comedians so some of our jokes don’t translate well so it’s nice for Indigenous comedians to start out with Indigenous audiences to have the community backing them,” Niles said.

Despite being around for only a few short years, Got Land will be at Just For Laughs Toronto 2022 at the end of September.

“It’s a really big milestone for us because Got Land from just starting at little open mics to finally getting into the club scene of last year to now getting into the big stage at Just For Laughs, it’s just showing us that we’re snowballing in a great direction so for me it’s a dream come true,” Niles said.

“I know it’s going to be a dream come true for the other comedians up here because we’ve worked our butts off during the pandemic even though we don’t have a butt we definitely worked really really hard.”

One of the comedians who’s part of the show is Dakota Ray Hebert, a Dene comedian and actor from English River First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Ray Hebert says Got Land is an important resource for Indigenous comedians to be mentored by other Indigenous comedians.

“It’s really intimidating when you want to do stand-up and you feel like you’re the only woman in stand-up or the only Indigenous person or the only Indigenous woman etc., so having this company help showcase Indigenous artists and comedians, I think it’s really important just to help people give that little bit of little courage to try to do it,” Ray Hebert said.

“And it’s a really important resource as well when people have questions, the community acts as mentors and answers each other’s questions too.”

She described her comedy set, like many other Indigenous comedians, as one based on hardships faced by Indigenous people.

“I think it’s a style that a lot of Indigenous comedians have if not all, we make light of all the atrocious things that have happened and so there’s a seed of education in our sets as well and I think yea it kind of expands across the board,” Ray Hebert said.

Niles echoed the same thoughts as Ray Hebert saying Indigenous comedy is the eight sacred teachings.

“We are expressing solidarity through humour because comedy is our eighth sacred teaching and I find with comedy we’re allowed to tackle those tough topics and even though at first, it might be uncomfortable we will break the tension because it is tension release that is comedy and if we’re not making you uncomfortable then we’re not doing our job, I’m talking to the non-Native people,” Niles said with a laugh and smile.

Niles added while doing festivals like Just For Laughs is a huge milestone, the main focus of Got Land is making sure those in Indigenous communities can get a first-hand experience right in their community.

“Our main goal is to tour Turtle Island so that is always our first and foremost goal. So hopefully we’ll have a bus and we’ll be hitting every reserve and territory and nation that we can across Turtle Island and we’ll hopefully have it in an annual recurring thing and by the time we’re all the way done, then we start over again so we’ll have a comedy troupe touring Turtle Island,” Niles said.

“Maybe one day we’ll get a Netflix special or Crave special or something that the rest of the world can also see Indigenous comedy because there is a lot of stuff we have to say over here that the rest of the world does not hear.”

Got Land will have two shows at Just For Laughs Toronto 2022 on Sep. 30.