Tsosie and friends leave ‘em laughing

By Bernie Dotson
Gallup, New Mexico (AP) Jan. 2010

Ernest David Tsosie III is as much a storyteller as he is a comedian and actor.

There’s the story about visiting New York, with its countless amounts of people, museums and tall buildings.

There’s the one about aging and the importance of diet and exercise, something people everywhere should make more of a priority, he notes in one of his jokes.

In another story, Tsosie speaks of personal bouts with alcohol and drugs, and how prayer and faith in God work wonders.

Through his Native American-themed comedy, Tsosie, who grew up in Chinle, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, shares anecdotes of his personal life, relying on situations and circumstances to make people laugh.

That approach took center stage on a recent Saturday at the downtown Gallup El Morro Theatre, as Tsosie, Natasha Kaye Johnson, Tatanka Means and Drew Lacapa headlined Gallup’s first ever “Commodity Comedy Show,” a nonstop two hour series of acting and comedy sketches.

“This is, basically, what I do, who I am,” informed Tsosie. “A lot of what I do is based on things that I’ve gone through in my life.”

About 250 people turned out for the show, the final leg of a 60-day tour that included stops in Albuquerque and Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of the Navajo Nation. The show is named after the superstar talent part and parcel of its production.

Johnson, from Twin Lakes, Ariz., works as a staff assistant with the Navajo Nation. She and Tsosie had large roles in the 2006 feature film, “Turquoise Rose,” about a Navajo college coed who finds herself caught between two worlds, the modern and the traditional. The film, a big hit with Navajos, was shot around Window Rock.

Then there’s Means, who, like Tsosie, grew up in Chinle. He is the son of acclaimed Native American actor, Russell Means, star of the 1992 box office sensation, “Last of the Mohicans.”

“My first name means ‘Buffalo”’ said Means halfway through his 20-minute delivery. An aspiring actor with several independent film credits under his belt, he said of the origin of his first name, “It was given to me on a Buffalo hunt.”

Besides jokes, Means equally made people laugh about Native American stereotypes and did funny skits accompanied by Johnson and Tsosie.

Clad in tennis shoes, shorts and a T-shirt and braving 20-degree weather, the Whiteriver, Ariz.-based Lacapa didn’t have to do much to be funny. But he proved the perfect opening slot for the versatile Tsosie, who led the show’s entertaining mix of dance, music and standup that kept every single audience member laughing to no end.

“You know you’re getting old when you have to rock yourself to get yourself up from sitting down,” deadpanned Tsosie during a solo segment. “I’m getting old, I know I am,” he said amid raucous laughter, “Because I can’t jump out of the back of a truck like I used to,” he said, referencing the abundance of pickup trucks throughout the Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico.

“Welfare Birthday Party” was a take-off about what somebody “pretends” to get as a birthday present. It featured Means, Tsosie and Johnson receiving the boxes that gifts come in, but not the actual gifts. “Now that’s welfare-style,” explained Tsosie to the audience, holding up an empty rifle box.

Now in his early-40s and not doing as much comedy with his usual stage partner, James Junes, Tsosie – he had a small part in the 2007 independent drama film, “Mile Post 398” – made sure there was no shortage of jokes. Tsosie alone was enough to keep everyone cracking up during the entire show – including a handful of members of the Tsosie family, who sat in the first few rows of the El Morro.

“I try to get out and see him as much as I can,” beamed Ernest Tsosie, Jr., the comedian’s father. The elder Tsosie sat next to John, the youngest son of the Tsosie family. Of the performance, the elder Tsosie said, “A lot of what he (Ernest III) talks about on stage is true and that makes it all the more funny,” he said, smiling and laughing at the thought.

Tsosie, Johnson, Lacapa and Means formed a comedy pact not too often seen in Gallup, a town bordering the Navajo reservation and known more for its record amounts of DWI arrests and fatalities year-in-and-year-out. Each said future film parts are in the works, declining to name the films or their release dates.

The comedy show also meant a lot for the El Morro, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988, and considered downtown Gallup’s lone entertainment draw.

 

 

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