Influential and pioneering Native comedian Charlie Hill died on December 30, and Native standup comics have been paying their respects. Here, Howie Miller of the Pow Wow Comedy Jam shares his.
I first met Charlie Hill in the Spring of 2004 at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival in Canada. He came up to headline “Welcome to Turtle Island,” a showcase of Native talent from Canada featuring some of Canada’s best Native stand-up comedians. Charlie and I hit it off immediately. I love all things nostalgic and that includes watching the glory days of television (Carol Burnett, The Dean Martin Roasts, Laugh’in, The Richard Pryor Show, etc, etc.) If it was comedy, I watched it. I knew all the sketches and it was a pleasure to talk to Charlie about it as he knew all of the people I grew up watching on reruns and on tape.
In 2009 my good friend Russell Peters was helping to produce a series of multi-ethnic comedy showcases for SHOWTIME. I was called down from the cold Canadian winter to be the final piece of the “Native Slam No Reservations Needed” show which Charlie was hosting. Charlie and I met in the make up trailer and started doing old school bits and impressions. It was then that he admitted to me that when we first met in Canada he thought my name was Sonny and that he had told people all about this new kid from Canada named Sonny. He felt bad and I told him that the fact that he remembered ME at all was honor enough.
I know he was a father figure to a lot of up-and-coming comedians, including me. Marc Yaffee and I did a show with him at the Bad River Casino in 2011 and the drive from Green Bay was amazing… the stories that Charlie told about L.A. in the 70’s and 80’s, the people he met, the shows he was on and helped write…. I think we laughed the whole way. Marc and I had early flights the next day from Green Bay so we left after the show and drove back through the night to drop Charlie off at his home. We had about six hours to wait so Charlie invited Marc and I into his home to sleep and treated us to a fine breakfast before sending us on our way. A true friend and gentleman.
Marc and I are presently working on producing a comedy tour that we had planned on having Charlie join us on. He will still be a part of this as we will be dedicating the tour to him. I’ll miss him but he’s not going too far away as he will always be in my heart and mind and my soul. May the Creator welcome Charlie home and share a laugh or two with him.