Ryan McMahon's show is a loose, fast paced, silly but always honest look at society from the perspective of a “Native dude.” Ryan's comedy is irreverent & boundry pushing as he focuses his attention on the good, the bad & the ugly of the collision between Indian Country & the mainstream. And bacon.
Ryan McMahon Is A Red Man Laughing – Edmtonton Journal
EDMONTON - As a comedian, Ryan McMahon is mischievous and skilled, cutting through tricky subjects like a surgeon. His Ojibwe/Métis blood arcs straight into his jokes, including about his looks.
Describing growing up with a mixed background, he’s said onstage: “Everyone at my dinner table is brown, and I’m just a gross shade of pink, hotdog pink.”
Another bit has him at a protest rally chanting in chorus, “Screw the white man!” until the natives around him stop dead, staring at this braying pink creature in their midst, accidentally sexually propositioning them.
McMahon’s Red Man Laughing podcast has thousands of subscribers, mixing humour, topical rants and conversations with “indigenous ass-kickers,” as he puts it. As genuinely funny as it is, it’s also front-line social commentary.
His upcoming two-night taping for CBC Radio 1 is a big deal to him, and he’s aiming for the sky, hoping for TV. Guests both nights include Thunder Bay singer-songwriter Nick Sherman, singer and hand drummer duo Fawn Wood and Dallas Waskahat, and Dene author Richard Van Camp.
“It’s likely if something doesn’t hit on Friday, we might be presenting a whole new show Saturday. Nobody should come Friday,” he jokes, or rather didn’t joke, he says, if any of his producers are reading this.
The national CBC show will be recorded in front of a live audience Friday and Saturday at the Capitol Theatre in historic Fort Edmonton Park. The run date on CBC Radio 1 has not been set yet.
“The first shot that goes through your head is, it’s a reclamation. We’re not leaving, all that kind of stuff. But we are recording it for radio, and with a CBC special, there’s a lot of ‘special’ that comes with an — in finger quotes — ‘native comedy special.’ You have to walk the line in a responsible and good way and try to find out what’s funny about the truth.
“I can go in there and say whatever I want. It doesn’t mean that’s going to make it to air.”
Besides his wit and soul, part of the 35-year-old’s main charm is shining a spotlight on the elephant in the room. He talks about his material being potentially uncomfortable. Fending off bullies as a kid, for example, he jokes, “You wanna fight anyone, fight my mom. She’s the one that slept with a white guy that wouldn’t afford a condom.”
“She loves it,” McMahon notes of his mother’s reaction. But the reception by others “depends on where you go, where you are. If I threw a big native comedy show in Calgary right now, how well would that go over? The one thing we don’t entirely acknowledge in this country is how deeply ingrained the racism is, on both sides.
“There’s basically two types of comics, entertainers — where the bingo and bannock comedy lives — and then there are comics, who say things because they have to. I’m not out to entertain people or make them feel good about the situation we find ourselves in politically. I don’t really see that as my job.”
McMahon frequently uses the word “Indian” without hesitation. “Some people go so far as saying this is as bad as the N-word, and it’s not. Indian was not used the same way the N-word was. I’d rather be called a ‘drunken Indian’ than an ‘aboriginal person.’ Aboriginal was created by the government to let everyone off the hook so that you didn’t have to know where we came from.
“When I say ‘Indian,’ I mean it in a brotherly way, as a way to bring us together. When I hear non-native people say it, I don’t get too hung up on it. I know some people do, but there are way larger fights.”
He adds: “I don’t want the audience to come in Friday and be worried about what to call us. If we can’t get over that first part, how can we really talk about politics or land? That, to me, is where comedy really holds its power. Every time I’m onstage, I have a chance to share ideas with a few hundred people.
“It’s the most fun, non-threatening way to break down these things. It’s why I’m so grateful to CBC. For better or worse, we’re here together, and we really need to figure it out. I don’t want my daughters to be tasked with this.”
“When we’re not in each others’ company, it’s difficult to figure it out. Comedy gives us that foot in the door.
“Laughter is the recognition of the truth.”
Ryan McMahon's Comedian Path – RPM.FM
One of the funniest men in Indian Country is Ojibwe/Métis comedian, actor and writer Ryan McMahon. You heard him as Clarence Two Toes in our our debut podcast – and Clarence will be back at RPM in the near future.
Hailing from Couchiching First Nation, Ryan sat down with us to talk about Charlie Hill, the importance of the audience, and tying tarps with shoelaces.
RPM: Who were your major comedic influences growing up?
Ryan: Like most young kids when you first see Saturday Night Live that’s a pretty cool thing. But my parents are recovered alcoholics, and as a young kid I’d go on and off the reserve with my Grandma and other people who would just take care of us as my parents were in recovery. During one of those times, I remember being seven or eight years old, I saw Eddie Murphy Delirious. That for me was the first time I ever saw something that powerful, where somebody is talking and everybody listens. I don’t know if it was because of the environment that I grew up in or because of the attention that performers got, but I always felt like that was something that I wanted to do. So growing up it was SNL, it was Eddie Murphy, it was Adam Sandler, and it grew from there. Charlie Hill for sure in terms of Native comedians. He didn’t do the Indian Conference Trail and the cushy jobs after dinner at the hotel conferences and what not, he went straight to the mainstream and the comedy clubs and he slugged it out and made his way as high as you can go. For me Charlie Hill is somebody that I look up to and honour every time and any chance I get.
RPM: He was groundbreaking.
Ryan: He was the head writer of the Roseanne show, arguably one of the best sitcoms ever on TV, in terms of it being progressive. I’m working on a TV project with him actually. He’s going to be editing my book this summer, and he and I are going to link up and do a lot of stuff. There’s so much that people don’t know about him because he never toots his own horn. Nobody’s ever tooted his horn for him and I’m just going to be a champion of him because we see these other Native comics out there and nobody’s paying homage to those that really deserve it. Charlie’s just such a good guy, and a funny guy, and it’s unfortunate but he’s judged by that old Indian Time special and all these other things, but the dude is wild, he’s political. He was one of Richard Pryor’s favourite comedians, which you can’t even measure, and George Carlin called him one of the top five comics ever. It’s time for us in Indian country to embrace our own.
RPM: Do you have any advice for upcoming comedians, artists, writers, actors?
Ryan: Everyone wants to throw around this idea of celebrity and it’s a bull shit concept to me. We’ve all got stories, we’ve all got ideas, it’s how we harness them and challenge them and what media we use to tell them – there’s no secret out there to this stuff, it’s whether you do it or not. It’s how well you do it, how well you learn it – your work ethic. I don’t really believe in talent, it only takes you so far. It’s getting up every day and answering your phone on time and returning emails on time and being professional at shows and treating bookers with respect, and demanding that respect back. And having a website and business cards. Every handshake is important and there’s a lot that goes into this that people have to learn. But there’s no secret to it.
Everybody talks about how hard it is, but I’m trying to see it the other way. I’m trying to say how easy it is. We can distribute our music by ourselves. We can build our own websites. We can book our own shows and our own tours.
RPM: Related to that, what’s one thing an artist should never do on stage?
Ryan: I don’t know if there just one thing – there’s a whole bunch of things you should never do and I’ve seen most of them done. But I think one of the worst things you can do is blame an audience. I’ve seen a lot of live performers blow up on their audiences and you know when it comes right down to it, I can’t feed my kids unless there is an audience. So I’m grateful to the people that support me, that repost my stupid videos, that want to see me live, that send me encouraging messages – the audience is the most important thing. Do I think about them when I’m writing? Absolutely not. Do I think about them when I’m on stage? Absolutely. Every audience in important. People that come out and support you you have to be grateful for – never take that for granted. If you take an audience for granted they’ll stop coming.
RPM: What’s your favorite Indigenous McGiver story? Something you had to fix when all you had was your Indigenous ingenuity.
Ryan: I was at a Pow Wow in Eagle Lake Ontario, near Dryden Ontario, and a storm came in so fast you could see the sheet of rain coming across the lake. The MC was trying to get everyone to return to their camps and this old mentor of mine, Doug Fairbanks, gets up like the wind and runs – and he’s a big guy – over to the elders section and he just starts tying down these tarps. He had both of his shoelaces off and his belt. He had my shoelaces and the shoelaces of every singer that was around, just tying them together because we were trying to keep these old people dry in their campground. When it was happening it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen because those elders were so appreciative and laughing and joking and it was just an example of how people come together when you really need them to. We were all soaking wet . When we got back, two of the tents in our campground were blown over and windows were left rolled down and everything inside the vehicles was soaked, but in that moment it was so perfect.
RPM: When the movie comes out, which actor will play you?
Ryan: Me! I need the work. I’ve been told that I’m like a better looking John Candy, or a fatter Jack Tripper, from Three’s Company. So I don’t know who looks like me out there to play me, so it would probably be me.
RPM: Yeah you! Do it yourself Bro! Is there anything else out there you want to share with the world of Indigenous Music Culture?
Ryan: Let’s just support each other. If we can rise up together good things will happen. I support a lot of young Native comedians who have never been on stage before, but I’ll put them on stage because to me the more successful we are as a comedy movement, the better I’ll be. I’ll have to work harder when I’m being challenged in that way in my own community. So the higher we all rise up the better.
Ryan is on tour this summer, and always on Twitter: @RMComedy. Check him out online at: ryanmcmahoncomedy.com
Ryan McMahon is always hustling. And when being a comedian is your only line of work, the hustle to secure more work for yourself never stops.
Ryan's latest venture is Red Man Laughing. It is a podcast Ryan uses to argue with himself about "whatever is on his mind."
He took the time to answer some SCENE questions about what it's like to work for himself, why he delivers his comedy via the internet, and his alter ego Clarence Two Toes.
You're always coming up with new projects why is that?
The new projects keep me moving forward. And really when it comes right down to it I'm a content junky. It keeps me sharp and keeps me working on new material.
Sometimes I'll hit on something through different mediums and I'll be able to use it in my live show. My live show is starting to move from a traditional standup show to a more "Alternative Comedy thing" with a multimedia slant that features video, powerpoint, music, found comedy, characters . It's a great challenge - I want to be original, not just Aboriginal (see what I did there?).
What is the new podcast Red Man Laughing about?
It's my version of a late night, vaudeville inspired, radio show I guess. It starts with a rant on a thing that's on my mind, then there are characters, sketches and live comedy clips from shows I've done. I feature a musical guest each week and give away a few of their tracks online.
In a few weeks the podcast will really start to take shape when I add sit down chats with awesome people from around Indian Country. The chats will be honest, unedited and candid - unlike the usual sound bits that we get from most media.
Why do you deliver your comedy online?
I was told once that, "traditionally, we are a contemporary Peoples." We've always had to change and adapt to our environments as Native Peoples. So I am. Everyone is online now. People in northern Manitoba can get my comedy via youtube or iTunes and I think it's great. People as far away as Europe and Australia follow my stuff. I have soldiers serving in the US and Canadian Armed Forces that tell me my stuff is their connection to their homelands because my comedy reminds them of home. This is the greatest compliment there is.
There's an idea out there that I shouldn't be giving my stuff away for free but I see my online comedy stuff more as a business card in a sense.
What's the most difficult thing about being a one-man show?
Easily, the hardest thing is balancing the business and the art. It's hard to write material when I'm returning phone calls, emails and trying to figure out if my connecting flights are going to work for me or not.
Right now, there just isn't a management/booking company that can help me. I've contacted some of the major players out there in the management industry and I haven't received as much as a, "No thank you..." back from them. I'd love to be able to just focus on my art - but until that day comes, I need to keep moving forward and focus on what I can do for myself.
How did you create Clarence TwoToes?
Clarence Two Toes was a character I created back in 2008 when I was a stay-at-home dad. I was going crazy not being able to be onstage and tour like I had been so I started my first podcast, The Clarence Two Toes Radio Show.
People loved the irreverent nature of the character and I think people really connect with Clarence because he's a real person - he's outspoken yet soft spoken, he's a loser and a winner, he's faulted and he doesn't apologize for those faults, and things always seem to work out for him in the end, whether that end result was the anticipated result or not.
Does Clarence sometimes come out when you're just trying to be yourself?
Well, I guess Clarence IS me. So, yes, he comes out all the time. It gets confusing - my own family calls me Clarence now. People don't want pictures or autographs from Ryan - they do want them from Clarence though. It's cool and weird and creepy and creepy.
APTN National News
Winnipeg-based comedian Ryan McMahon is getting noticed.
The Ojibway-Metis comedian is in Montreal for one of the biggest shows of his life.
APTN National News reporter Ossie Michelin caught up with him and brings us this story.
(CLICK THROUGH FOR VIDEO)
NDN LOL - The Insights of Comedian Ryan McMahon – Media Indigena
If there’s anything that helps people emerge from a shared struggle, it’s shared laughter.
Despite the hardships many Aboriginal people across Turtle Island have endured, they’ve been able to maintain an infallible sense of humour: one that’s evolved from timeless trickster stories into standup comedy and television shows, among other methods and media.
Ryan McMahon is one of those contemporary storytellers who’s made it his life’s mission to make our people laugh, and to teach those from other backgrounds about us (and make them laugh too). McMahon grew up in Fort Frances, ON, and broke into the contemporary comedy and theatre scene in Toronto in the late 1990s. His home base is now Winnipeg. He tours across the continent and is widely respected as one of the funniest contemporary comedians/writers/actors, and he’s deeply proud of his Ojibway/Metis background. Oh yeah, and then there’s that Clarence guy.
We caught up with McMahon on a recent tour date in Minnesota.
* * *
Why is comedy so important to Aboriginal people?
I think it’s inter-woven into our world view and cultural identities. A lot of our teachings, stories, legends have a trickster character “acting a fool” to show us what not to do, and we learn from them. Rather than approach teaching right from wrong with a fear-based notion — like most organized religions do (like, “You’re going to hell!”) — we take a lighter approach to say the things we need to say.
Good comedy — and there’s tons of shit out there — should be a “mirror in the face of society” to show us all just how ridiculous we, or our lives, can be. Good comedy offers teachings, ideas, laughter, and fart jokes.
What does it take to make people laugh?
I like to think it takes a certain kind of person and a certain level of intelligence to be able to deconstruct ideas and parlay them into comedy. Most people think of comedians as miserable misanthropes who can’t get along in the world so they turn to biting words and harsh criticisms. I tend to reject that though. Some of the smartest/wisest people on the planet are/were comedians (George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Monty Python). Comedy should tell you something about our current state — and I think it takes something special to be able to do that in a meaningful way.
Why are you so passionate about comedy?
I think it’s going to be the most important way we can communicate who we are as Aboriginal Peoples living in the 21st century. I think the movies/television don’t even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to telling our stories.
Too often, non-Native peoples are funding our projects and we’re told what we can/can’t say through this process. Onstage, or on the internet — in self-produced, self-created projects such as the ones I’ve been doing — no one can tell me what to do. We (Native Comedians) have the most unique opportunity in the world — we can stand up and fight for our people through laughter. It’s militant. It’s political. It’s personal. My kookum once said every time I get onstage I’m making a political statement. These words, I will never forget.
You’ve taken your show on the road for years to different Native people across Turtle Island. Why do you think people from such diverse Aboriginal experiences laugh at what you have to say?
I think people really enjoy what I’m doing right now because it is so brutally honest. I don’t do “Bingo and Bannock” jokes like most every other working Native comedian. I have a show/act and that’s what I perform. I’m getting to a place now where I don’t have to change my show around when someone hires me. Back a few years ago, I’d take out my racier stuff and insert a whole lot of fluff. My content isn’t for everyone.
But it’s because of my content now that I’ve been selling out venues and packing little indie-clubs, and I’m finding more and more that people want to hear the truth — it’s what they connect with. With all of that said, my stuff is accessible to everyone. Often, there will be four or five tables of Elders sitting in the front row, and I’m always aware of who my audience is. I don’t do shock comedy, I do honest comedy.
We’ve always been funny as a people. What can you tell the kids on the rez who aspire to be comedians?
I always tell young people that want to do anything that they need to go to school first. Get your degree. There is no fast track out there for anything anymore.
Further to that idea, no one owes us (our generation) a damn thing. The days of the handout are long gone. Let’s honour our ancestors’ struggle, pain and perserverance by walking with our heads held high in the most prestigious schools in the country. Let’s go out and get degrees and doctorates. Let’s live this life to the fullest. Our ancestors gave everything for us to be here — how dare we waste that.
And… don’t become a comic — there’s only so much work to go around and I’m lazy. I don’t want to do anything else after being pushed out of the business by some “funny little rez kid” with cheek bones and braids. So, please, don’t aspire to comedy. I’m comfortable over here.
* * *
For more info on the long list of projects McMahon’s involved with, his upcoming tour-dates or to book him, visit his website. Oh yeah, there are some pretty hilarious videos there too.
Indigenous comedian Ryan McMahon cleans up his act
Posted by Ryan McMahon, Comedian | Wednesday May 16, 2012
Comedian Ryan McMahon comes to terms with cleaning up his act for the biggest show of his career. (Nadya Kwandibens)
"When the CBC calls you and asks you to clean up the bad language in your act so that you can tape your own one hour comedy special - you do it."
There's an old saying that goes, "careful what you wish for." There's also an old saying that goes, "when the CBC calls you and asks you to clean up the bad language in your act so that you can tape your own one hour comedy special - you do it."
I've done it (some would say via a minor miracle - I'm a bit angrier than most) and I'm getting ready to tape my first standup comedy special, Ryan McMahon - UnReserved. It tapes in front of a live audience on Saturday June 2, 2012 in Calgary, AB.
I've been throwing warmup shows all over the country to get ready for the big night - tonight in Winnipeg - we come together at Aqua Books to give my producers a chance to see how far the material has come.
Here's a sample conversation from meetings leading up to a recent warmup show:
Producers: Is there another way you can get to your "Screw The Whiteman" joke that
isn't as jarring or angry?
Me: Not really. Well, I do have a "Screw The Whiteman & His Wife" joke, but that
definitely won't make it past the sensors and it's a little too political.
Producers (to each other): Why did we hire this guy again?
Me: It wasn't guilt was it, if that's the case, I'm not interested.
Producers (to me): We're going to break for coffee. Be back in 20 minutes.
Me: Awesome. I'll have a skim milk latte with triple shots of espresso and one raw sugar.
Thanks to CBC TV/Radio for their continued support of indigenous storytelling in Canada - our country is a better place because of your commitment to our stories,Corkscrew Media for creating kick ass television, Steve Glassman and Al Rae from the CBC for believing in me & a huge thanks to all of the Indigenous Artists that are out there telling the truth - peace and love.
Fifty Shades of Grey is becoming the fastest-selling book series of all time. Not bad for an erotic trilogy, penned by British writer E.L. James, that started out as piece of fan fiction inspired by the Twilight series.
Like James, Winnipeg comedian Ryan McMahon was just having a little fun when he tweeted "She had dirt under her fingernails from chasing her kids around the powwow grounds all day & she smelled like camp fire. #PowwowShadesOfGrey."
Comedian Ryan McMahon (Ryan McMahon)
Now McMahon, who is on the road to becoming one of Canada's most popular Aboriginal comedians, is gaining new followers every day as he hammers out chapter five of Powwow Shades of Grey.
He describes his twitter novel as "one man's journey of love findin', weekend snaggin', heartbreakin' and gettin' heartbroken, all while enjoying the powwow trail during one crazy summer."
It's irreverent and raunchy humour. "I'm kind of glad #PowwowShadesofGrey is on my phone because I don't think I'd want to be seen with that book cover in public. #powwowsmut," tweets one of McMahon's 12,000 readers.
Before he gets swept up in fame and fortune, we asked McMahon to dish out on his new project.
Have to ask, have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?
I haven't read any of the books but when I tour and have to sit in airports for chunks of time on end I see the wary traveler holding those things everywhere.
I imagine the business class one night stands are becoming a thing of the past with the advent of this book.
What inspired you to write Powwow Shades of Grey?
It actually started out as a goof. The first few tweets were a joke, I was writing material. Within minutes though those tweets were being re-tweeted an insane amount of times.
I like story and I like narrative. So I created a little world with those first sets of tweets. Then the good people on twitter told me to KEEP WRITING.
Have you had any experiences at powwows that inspired you to write this twitter novel?
Too often, we as Indigenous Peoples take ourselves SO seriously. We've been through and are going through a lot. But we are human. We need to give voice to our very real human experience.
AND...I'm a powwow person and I've been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things. There is such a thing as "powwow code," and since I'm a "powwow'er" I'm sworn to that code. Next question.
Is anyone suggesting new developments in the plot line?
I haven't heard any suggestions yet, BUT, I'm writing this story tweet by tweet, 140 characters at a time.
You can see the timing of the tweets roll out in real time while I'm tweeting. Sometimes there is a gap in time - that's because I've painted myself into a corner in the story where I get stuck and I hate where its gone.
Other times you see chunks of tweets roll out and you can see the jokes just write themselves. The process has been super fun.
What's one of your favourite passages so far?
My favourite parts of the story are the parts that garner the "Oh my god he said that..." responses. These are the ones that everyone relates too but are too scared to say for whatever reason. I have no fear. I can't. I'm a comedian, not a politician.
Your comedy is incredibly irreverent...do you ever get kick back from the community for that?
For sure there is push back from the community. I'm a truth seeker though. I'm digging for honesty. I dig in the dark corners that we all stand in now and then and then I shine a light on that corner.
Truth in comedy is a motto I live and die by. I could be making a better living being the "Bingo & Bannock" comic that does family friendly shows and aims for the lowest common denominator - but I refuse that outright.
Fifty Shades of Grey has turned into a million dollar best seller optioned for a Hollywood movie...what do you see in the future for Powwow Shades of Grey?
Probably nothing at all if I'm to be honest. What I hope is that it shows people that I'm creative and can write.
If anyone reading it wants to offer me a book deal, television writing deal or a high five at the powwow - I'll take it.
Ryan McMahon Innovates With Powwow Shades Of Grey – Indian Country Today Media Network
Twitter fiction is not a new concept, but since 2009, early pioneers have struggled with the art form that strives to publish original works confined to 140 characters or less. Novelist Rick Moody was among the first to try this style of bite-size prose when he began tweeting Some Contemporary Characters three years ago. But the experiment drew criticism in publishing circles after Moody and his collaborators began flooding Twitter feeds with his work.
In November 2011, a writer from Austin, Texas, Sean Hill, evolved the craft upon release of Very Short Stories (Ulysses Press). He culled hundreds of tweets into an entire novel; its seven chapters produced a generic compilation about relationships, life, and death. Converted into an e-book for $9.99, it reads, in many ways, like a collection of curious and colorful quotes.
Few in the Twitter fiction world have successfully serialized a storyline that collectively builds plot and character from one tweet to the next. Earlier this summer, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan tested this technique for the New Yorker magazine in tweeting “Black Box,” an elegant short story about a futuristic female spy. Egan tweeted the tale over the course of ten days for an hour each evening from @NYerfiction. The compilation was later printed in the magazine’s June science fiction issue — but the Twitter experiment seemed to fizzle out. The printed layout, comprised of 47 text-filled boxes (were they chapters?), failed to explain the significance of the writer’s style or approach. A pay-wall today restricts access to non-subscribers, but a simpler version can be read on the sites PageTurner blog. As for all those original tweets? Presumably lost to the Twittersphere.
Aboriginal comedian Ryan McMahon is trying another method in this emerging genre—one that attempts to preserve the gimmicky qualities inherent in the Twitter fiction form. On July 5th, the Ojibway-Metis comic from Winnipeg, Canada began tweeting Powwow Shades of Grey, a spoof on E.L. James’ bestselling erotic trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey. Set against the backdrop of a weekend powwow somewhere in Indian country, McMahon’s first-person narrative follows a young man in his quest to sleep with Glenda Old Crow, a no-nonsense Native woman who wears Coors Light t-shirts, cutoff jeans and a scowl on her face that says “don’t fuck with me.” No, this isn’t mommy porn, but rather a Twitter tale infused with raunchy humor and nuanced portrayals of a slice of contemporary indigenous life.
Since it started two weeks ago, Powwow Shades of Grey has been developing into a series of plot-driven chapters emerging from McMahon’s Twitter feed (@RMComedy). Those tweets are then packaged as installments using the curating site Storify. The platform, widely used by journalists and bloggers, is intended to preserve real-time social media moments in which selected tweets, videos, photos and the like can be organized to tell a linear story. McMahon’s microfiction may represent the first time the site has ever been used to publish a Twitter novella. A spokesman for Storify said they can’t recall this happening ever before.
The chapters (which can be accessed at McMahon’s Storify page) look and feel like you’re reading a Twitter feed, bringing an added value to the overall Twitter fiction form. As of this writing, Powwow Shades of Grey consists of six chapters, each roughly 40-50 tweets in length. The last and final installment has yet to be released. In between writing chapters five and six, McMahon waited five days before engaging his readers with more content.
Those waiting in anticipation for the final chapter include McMahon’s modest, but enthusiastic following. Upon the tweet-release of chapter 5, @PsteinND messaged: “YES #PowwowShadesofGrey CH#5 has started….YESSSSS.” Over the weekend, @kziervogel asked: “Where is chapter six?”
According to McMahon, his readership—currently 2407 Twitter followers—grew by 400 within the first week of writing his spoof. But he says he also lost about 100 others. McMahon believes some people likely grew weary and even offended by his continuous stream of irreverent tweets. Chapter five unfolded in a three-hour session that introduced readers to Arlene Two Trees, a new-age hand-drum singer who sings poorly, eats organic soy-beef Indian tacos and becomes the unnamed protagonist’s latest object of lust.
Powwow Shades of Grey‘s accessibility on Storify makes it easy to read on a smartphone, tablet or desktop device. More importantly, it’s also a way to bring the uninitiated reader closer to understanding Native Americans and First Nations peoples through the amusing anecdotes the 35-year-old comedian has deftly created. “You’re gonna walk away with a better understanding of who we are,” said McMahon in a telephone interview. “My goal is to be funny for everyone.”
McMahon grew up about a two-hour car drive north of Red Lake, Minnesota on the Couchiching Reserve in Northwest Ontario. He majored in drama and went on to study comedy at the esteemed Second City Conservatory in Toronto, a satellite program of the original improv theater group based in Chicago. It was there that McMahon said he discovered his voice and began testing his material in stand-up routines and to audiences online. It wasn’t long before he launched his brand identity, Red Man Laughing, the name behind a mobile app designed to stream episodes of his weekly podcast — a kind of indigenous Howard Stern show featuring interviews with Native American and Aboriginal rockers, actors and other entertainers.
McMahon admits Powwow Shades of Grey happened accidentally when he composed what later became the novel’s opening line: “She had dirt under her fingernails from chasing her kids around the powwow grounds all day & she smelled like camp fire.” Having spent much of his life experiencing powwow culture, McMahon’s laconically vivid narrative depicts a human and hilarious odyssey of sex, lust and falling in and out of love in a setting and style few writers have explored before. At the end of chapter one, the young character goes to the sacred fire in search of guidance to help him win Glenda’s affection. McMahon tweets, “Firekeeper hears my prayer & says, ‘It’s messed up that your asking the spirits to help you snag. Good luck with that.’”
What separates McMahon’s Twitter fiction from that of other writers is his brazen mix of erotica and ethnic humor. Its PG-13 content, at times, addresses awkward topics involving masturbation, sexual fantasy—even pubic hair. McMahon says he simply gleans his material from what he knows, while exploiting cultural stereotypes as a way to draw enlightenment for all who reads his work. He spoke about the time he encountered a couple at a powwow having sex in a tent. This scene made its way into his narrative in chapter four. The main character, turned down by Glenda, stumbles upon a similar situation. As McMahon tweets, “They’re having ‘The Roundest Dance’ in that tent. You can tell they’re chubby – they’re weezin’ & barely able to talk.”
As a comedian, McMahon says he’s not afraid to confront the uncomfortable, even if it may challenge indigenous sensitivities about the taboos of sex. “I want [readers] to understand that having sex in a tent is difficult no matter who you are,” he says. “It’s just content and writing with integrity that will bring us all closer together. We’re human.”
Having tent-sex becomes the proverbial reward the young protagonist tries to pursue. Along the way, he burns down his own tent, crashes an indigenous wedding, and even joins an all women’s drum circle for the chance of having a one-night stand. But McMahon wisely ends each chapter leaving the reader to guess what will happen next. In chapter six, the hero is swept away by a tree that supernaturally transforms into a powwow dancer. They fly into the future to imagine the unwanted consequences of the young man’s ways. When asking the tree why it has given him this vision, “Tree laughs, ‘Be smart when horny.’ He picks me up. We shoot through the bush. Back across the river, over the hill.’”
Will the hero heed Tree’s warnings? Will he ultimately win the heart of Glenda Old Crow? Presumably we’ll find out in Chapter 7. As for McMahon, whether he will try his tweets at another novella has yet to be determined. A husband and father, he’s juggling family life with the challenges of pursuing a career in comedy. Last week, he signed on with a small record label to bring his stand-up routines to an mP3 player near you.
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Native Comedian Ryan McMahon & His Alter Ego Get CBC Comedy Special – Calgary Herald
“It’s a little too angry.”
That was the feedback native Canadian comedian Ryan McMahon says he received from the folks at Just for Laughs in 2008 when he did a showcase for the comedy festival organization, which was passing through Winnipeg on a search for new talent.
“It’s a little too Chris Rock, and we don’t know if people are ready to hear from the native Chris Rock,” they explained.
They wouldn’t be the only ones taken aback by the Ojibwa/Metis comedian. “I’m an intense dude. Too intense for most people,” admits McMahon, 35, who will be performing at Willow Park Wines and Spirits Saturday night, shooting Unreserved, a comedy special to air this summer on CBC-TV.
A good deal of McMahon’s show finds him riffing on the contentious history of natives, politics and race relations, and while that has been winning the comedian a significant fan base, it’s also proven to be unsettling for many.
This was compounded at the Just for Laughs showcase, McMahon says, when he was mistaken for Caucasian, as his father is half white. McMahon made a joke about his fair skin in his set: “I don’t look like the native guy they cast in the CrimeStoppers ads,” he cracked. “I look more like the white cop that beats him at the end of the commercial.”
Unfortunately, the Just for Laughs reps missed this context-giving first part of the show, he says, and blasted McMahon: “ ‘I don’t know who you think you are,’ ” came the feedback.
“‘A white guy telling Native jokes? Don’t you dare!’
“I had to stop them and say ‘You missed the setup,’ ” McMahon says. “I’m Indian blessed with an Irish last name, and, trust me, it’s not fun for me at the pow wow. So, while I respect your concern, I live it.”
The entire Just for Laughs experience made the comedian “take inventory” and that’s when he introduced Clarence Two Toes to the world, first in the form of his Red Man Laughing podcasts.
Clarence Two Toes is the Slim Shady to McMahon’s Marshall Mathers, if you will. He’s the outrageous alter ego that can get away with saying things that McMahon cannot.
“He’s definitely my dark side,” McMahon says. “He’s the guy that opens doors for me to talk about things that people don’t want to hear from the native guy that doesn’t appear to be native.”
The podcast “exploded,” McMahon says and soon he incorporated Two Toes into his standup show.
It represented a significant breakthrough for the funnyman, who had been on the comedy trail since 1999, when he came to Toronto from his childhood home in Fort Francis, Ont., to study at the famed Second City comedy school.
McMahon’s shows work as a split set, effectively, with the comedian performing the first half as himself and as Two Toes in the second.
“Ryan is more personal,” McMahon says. “It’s a reflection on my experiences and my view of things, while Clarence is more social commentary. . . . Through Clarence I want to deconstruct everything, all our history, our religion, our cultural beliefs and world views. The way the government treats us.”
McMahon stresses that even though Clarence is funny — “you’re getting a lot more of the ‘Indian-isms, if you will,’ — he’s not a standup comic. In fact, some have taken the character to be rather confrontational.
“But people are more willing to go along for the ride, because I’m in a costume. I think if I were to say a lot of the stuff Clarence says, it would be a lot easier for people to jump off board.”
Giving the stage to both himself and his Two Toes alter ego has its complications.
At times, McMahon will have the crowd onside but then audience members will turn on Two Toes, squirming uncomfortably or angrily leaving the show. In other cases, Two Toes will be the crowd favourite while McMahon is less popular.
This divisive dynamic is enhanced by the comedian’s pull no punches approach.
“I can’t ignore all the racism and the challenges native people experience,” McMahon says. That said, he doesn’t shy away from putting his own people on the hot seat. “A lot of the time (the challenges natives face) are due to our own garbage,” McMahon adds.
McMahon’s unflinching double act brought him to the attention of CBC executive producer Steve Glassman who has championed the comic.
“It’s not just about the funny,” Glassman says. “He really understands the issues and he does a great job reflecting them with humour. . . .
“I talk about him like he’s a
native George Carlin.”
Right now, McMahon estimates that his fan base is 70 per cent
native, but he’s hoping the Unreserved special will open him up to a wider audience.
“This is as much about trying to raise the profile of aboriginal people in a good, positive, funny way, as it is about trying to have pure comedy fun,” McMahon says.
“But we’re doing some crazy things that may shake people up.”