On Tuesday, a YouTube video surfaced in which comedian Ralphie May (Comedy Central, Last Comic Standing, Celebrity Fit-Club and many other shows) targeted Native Americans in one of his stand-up routines.
The video, which is an audio extract (and according to May – a bootleg) of one of May’s performances, caused a firestorm on Native Twitter. Within one day after the posting of the video, nearly 20,000 people have watched, and there have been death threats, fat jokes and more kinds of abuse targeted at May.
Shortly after the video was posted, Ralphie May agreed to speak with ICTMN to say he “never meant to hurt anyone,” and insisted the video was taken out of context. He also said that even though his humor is abrasive and racially-charged, he has never wanted to hurt any ethnic group.
What is the gist of this video and where is it from?
This is from around 2005. They left out the punch-line, which built on the absurdity on the clip In the fact that I am just mad that Dances with Wolves beat Goodfellas for the Oscar in 1992. I have been doing some semblance of this joke and the absurdity of it since 1992.
You have said several times that you have Cherokee ancestry, am I correct?
My great-great-grandfather was an immigrant In Arkansas. When the U.S. government forced the Cherokee onto the Trail of Tears, he fell in love with an Indian girl whose family had died on the Trail of Tears. They made babies.
Though you say it was out of context, can you see why that video was so offensive?
Of course. Indian Country is a nation of people that has been affected by genocide.
I want people to know I have also called out the bullshit regarding the Redskins football team and how if the team name was [about] any other race, our country wouldn’t buy it.
I also know the population of North American indigenous people prior to 1491, before Columbus, was over 100 million, and in less than 100 years, it was down to 9 million. I know these facts, due to my mix-raced lineage, I want to know these things.
I admit I messed up [with that video], but I can also say the joke wasn’t finished and was based on a larger absurdity. I didn’t threaten anyone’s life or incite hatred. Yes I said, ‘Get a job,” but believe me, this is a voice I’ve heard in my own head.
Your humor is racially charged, but on Twitter you say you include all races in your stand-up routines.
Yes, absolutely. If we were all sitting around as different races and as different religions, If you were a real friend of these people, you would bust on them all. The day you don’t mess with somebody, that would be exclusive rather than inclusive. I strive to be inclusive.
We are all fingers on the same hand. We may not look alike, but we are all needed. My children are Jewish, another group of people that have faced genocide, yet it still was not at the scale Native Americans have faced. This nation has many scars, and blood on its hands.
In all honesty, I never want to put anything out with the intention to hurt any ethnic group.
What has the response been?
The response to me has been death threats, fat jokes and fat stereotypes. If you think about this, you might ask, ‘Where does the hypocrisy end? Where does my fault stop and theirs begin?’ If you think about it, this audio is a bootleg, recorded illegally without my permission and used by a hip-hop group. No one has called them out for that.
In the song, it ends with a gunshot, calling for me to be killed.
All of this, again, is absurdity. I truly try to be respectful. One of my best friends is very dark. And I asked him, since he is a black guy, if I can tell jokes about him. He says yes and thinks it’s hilarious. People say I tell racist jokes, and I say, ‘Why, because I have a black friend and I get high and eat pizza with him and tell jokes about it?’
People have also said Bemidji, where I’m going to perform, is a bad place. But it’s not a bad place. A lot of my Native friends there usually come to meet me and we go out and have fun after the show.
Over the past 10 years, I have been the fortunate guest of many Native American tribes and families. I have been asked to perform at tribal casinos, I have visited their homes, gone to dinner, hung out and more. I have even been invited to an Inuit hunt in Alaska and mule deer hunting by the Lakota.
People have also called you a racist.
There was a black activist in Chicago who called me a racist. I invited him to my show. He came with his wife and after he heard my show, he hugged me around the neck and even kissed me and told me he had no idea.
I love people and I love standing up for them when no one else does. My own mixed heritage inspires me to learn my history. Many of the Plains Indians were incredible warriors. They kicked the living shit out of the Cavalry and Custer. Custer was a sonofabitch who committed genocide.
In situations such as this, few public figures respond to the community they may have offended, but you did right away. Why?
I care about people. In fact, my manager and I have decided that neither of us are going to take any payment for my performance in Bemidji. I want to do my show and I will donate my earnings to a local charity. Perhaps a food bank that feeds everyone of any ethnicity across the spectrum of colors, Including Native American people.
You said you’ve traveled to many tribal territories similar to Bemidji – what do Native people think of your show?
When I traveled to other tribes around this nation, afterwards so many people say they are blown away by how much they have loved the show and how gracious I am. I go out and meet with fans and I invite them to hang out.
Whenever I have performed at a tribal casino, I get treated like a king. Do you know how much of an asshole I would be If I didn’t reciprocate with respect and honor? These men and women go out of their way for me.
People talk about political correctness, but when have politics ever been correct? As we know in the reservation system, there has been nothing but bullshit In terms of Native people being given autonomy. They took Native land from tribes, then forced them off it. The taking of this nation was a crime. Too bad no politician has had the balls to step up.
For example, where I will be performing in Minnesota, they built 19 prisons In the past 15 years, How many schools did they build, including on the Rez? How many hospitals? How about unreported crimes against women due to the lack of a police force?
And in terms of casinos, the government is pissed off because Natives are making bank? You can shyster them but they can’t shyster you back? They can’t have gainful employment? They can’t make sure everyone’s needs are met with healthcare and children being taken care of? Growing marijuana would increase the government’s tax base.
Would you say your humor is racially-charged but you are not racist?
That is a very good point. Wow, you get it, man. There is really no other way to say it. If it wasn’t possible to have a racial discussion in this country, there would be no advancement.
Unfortunately, things have gotten out of hand.
What would you like to see come out of all of this?
I am very hopeful people will see my joke as a whole to include the absurdity of it all. My audiences are young and old, white, black, brown and Asian. I give it to everybody.
I hope people can understand I am a man for the people. I don’t wish to exclude anybody in terms of being messed with. If I didn’t do an American Indian joke, somebody would say, ‘Why don’t you make fun of us too?’
I am admittedly a bit disappointed that people took this joke and raised it to this level which has included death threats. My intention is not to harm, it is to endear and show brotherhood and friendship.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
A Native comedian started all of this by posting the video. I invited her immediately to open for me, with pay. I would even invite her to make fun of me if she wanted to. We are comics and we are a different breed. She decided to turn down the offer.
Overall I’m a little disheartened about this issue, but comics are an interesting group of people. There is a camaraderie. To label the video racist? I feel this has been [a case of] guilty until proven innocent. This was all taken out of context. I never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Follow ICTMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wow’s and Sports Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter – @VinceSchilling