Don Burnstick never set out to be a comedian.
© Submitted photo
Don Burnstick will be including Prince Albert in his winter comedy tour on Jan. 20 at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.
“I kind of fell into it,” Burnstick said. “I went to a conference and they had this other comedian up there and he wasn’t doing so well so the organizers asked me to get up there and tell (stories).
“It was comedy night and I went off with improv, making fun of people and that’s how it went,” he added. “All of a sudden after that people were asking me for how to book me and get shows. It kind of turned from the little snowball into the monster it is today.”
When the First Nations comedian first started performing 18 years ago, his shows were geared toward First Nations people but over the years it has found a mainstream following.
“The only other comparison I have for it is Russell (Peters),” Burnstick said. “When he started he was just an East Indian comedian for the East Indian people in Toronto. They all went to his shows and then he made that transition into mainstream.”
Since he started out performing for First Nations crowds, many people think his shows are only for Aboriginals.
“A lot of people think it is just for Natives and it is not -- it is not just a Native show,” Burnstick said. “If you are a Saskatchewan person you are going to see it is just about Saskatchewan.”
He believes the gap between First Nations and Caucasian people can be bridged by humour, like what has been done in the past by African Americans, Francophones and East Indian comedians.
“What we do is make fun of stereotypes -- by making fun of the stereotypes we broaden the horizons that we are professional people, we are contributing members to the community,” Burnstick said. “Not every Native is a gangster, not ever Native is a drunk. We make that transition but first we acknowledge and make fun of it.
“That is what comedy is -- it’s making fun of exaggerated fun of something,” he added. “That is what I do and then showcase the professionalism of it.”
Since his show is becoming more mainstream, he is being asked to headline comedy festivals and other events.
“That was never my goal -- My goal was never to do comedy and start hitting the festivals and headlining,” Burnstick said. “My thing was I just wanted to go in and make these people laugh who are in the community somewhere because that was my target group in the grassroots communities.”
As a comedian, Burnstick takes a different approach from many others on the circuit.
“(I create a routine from) observation and being away of what is going on and because the world is changing so much and there is so much information out there -- just being aware of what is going on,” Burnstick said. “I have some stuff that really works that has established my fan base, some really funny stuff I do at my shows and I still do a lot of that but a lot f it is nuance, coming up with stuff.”
Since he has been in Saskatchewan many times, when performing here he will talk about many subjects people from the province can relate to.
“I know a lot about it, so when people come to my show they think it is about them,” Burnstick said. “What I do is make them part of the show.”
He also improvises a lot during his routine, feeding off the audience.
“That is where the magic happens and I trust that,” Burnstick said. “When I go to these festivals, a lot of these comedians have scripts and want to stick to a script. With me, I don’t use a teleprompter, I don’t use any of that stuff. I just get up there and go off -- see what happens.”
The Prince Albert show is part of his Saskatchewan tour. He will be headed to Regina and Saskatoon before heading north.
“I’m not getting sponsored by a company or anything like that -- I am just going on my name,” he said. “I am going to book these places and hope people come out … To go out and trust that I have a fan base and they will come out once I get the word out, I’ve really done well doing that.”
His comedy is also clean and appropriate for many age groups.
“That coincides with my values and things that have been taught to me,” Burnstick said. “I have been alcohol and drug free since 1985, so that is 29 years. That is a long time.”
When he first started performing, his Elders told him not to swear and not to perform in bars.
“I don’t do these comedy clubs, I don’t do bar shows, I don’t do any of those things,” Burnstick said. “I do community events, community gatherings, I don’t swear and I don’t do my shows in bars so I started blazing this other trail of going into the communities.
“It is wellness based to a degree and I understand the responsibility I have to being entertained and being a role model, not just for our people but for society,” he added.
Being a funny Native in front of a group of drunk Caucasians was not what Burnstick wanted to be.
“Going to a comedy club, it’s a real hit and miss,” Burnstick said. “Some people go just to heckle people, some go there to get drunk, and some go to visit. You are an unknown comedian who has to get up and do your thing. That is a really tough gig.”
Burnstick has a large fan base, which was evident at a show he put on at the Battlefords Casino last weekend.
“We just had a big show in Battleford Casino this past weekend and it was sold out, people were scalping tickets, there was a lineup,” Burnstick said. “The show started at 8 p.m. and there was a lineup at 5:30. It was crazy.
“It tells me that I have really touched and have a good connection with my fans and they are really responding to and love my humour,” he added. “I want to keep it that way. For a comedian, once you start swearing you go to a place you can’t come back from. It is easy to swear on stage, very easy, but it is very difficult to tell a clean, dirty joke. That takes talent.”
There have been many interesting things Burnstick has witnessed while performing.
“I’ve induced labour, I’ve had people pee themselves, I’ve had someone lose consciousness because they couldn’t get oxygen to their brain -- they passed out they were laughing so hard,” he said. “People are actually getting hurt and physically things are happening to them.
“Getting people laughing is not a hard thing, keeping them laughing is,” he added. “That’s the key. I really have established this really grassroots community laughter thing that has really resonated throughout the country.”
Burnstick will be doing a show at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Jan 20.
“It is a fundraiser for the athletes in the Prince Albert Grand Council area for the Indigenous Winter Games,” Burnstick said.
Tickets for Burnstick’s show are available through the Rawlinson Centre box office.
“It is going to be a lot of fun and it is going to be nonstop with lots of laughter,” Burnstick said. “Go to the bathroom before you come to the show though -- I highly recommend it.”