A little research pays dividends for comic in touring show coming to Farmington Civic Center

Kasey Nicholson says Native audiences differ from place to place

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Comic Kasey Nicholson is part of the Native American Comedy Jam, which pays a visit to the Farmington Civic Center this weekend.
  • The Native American Comedy Jam takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23 at the Farmington Civic Center.
  • Tickets are $30 and $60.
  • The show features Kasey Nicholson, features Donovan Archambault, Tonia Jo Hall and Tatanka Means with host Ashley Callingbull and musical guest Spur Pourier.

FARMINGTON − As Kasey Nicholson likes to say, funny is funny, no matter who is in the audience.

But without a little bit of preparation and research, he said, a joke that kills that one night in one location can slightly miss the mark on another night somewhere else.

Nicholson, who is part of the nationally touring Native American Comedy Jam coming to Farmington this weekend, said he doesn't worry much about how his material − much of which involves reservation life − resonates with non-Native audience members.

"I try to make my jokes from a Native perspective but make it relatable to folks in general," he said, noting that approach has worked well for him.

What's trickier, he said, is wording his material precisely for the different Native audiences he faces.

"Even with Native crowds, Northwest Natives are not like Farmington Natives," he said. "It takes a lot of adapting. The premise (of the joke) might be the same, but I would throw in different references."

Nicholson said that was one of the first things he learned about doing stand-up comedy when he began his career back in 2010.

"It came as a surprise when you throw a joke out, and it doesn't have the same bite in one place as it does another," he said. "I've learned you have to revamp it to suit your audience."

Nicholson said he takes the time to research hang-out sites, culture, well-known local figures and history and other elements before performing in a location for the first time. He incorporates those elements into his material, changing the specific references to suit his audience, and that helps his jokes succeed more often, he said.

"That itself will establish a connection with the audience," he said, rattling off a list of nationally known comics he has watched who employ that same trick. "Whether it's Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle or Kevin Hart, they always start with something unique about that venue."

That task isn't necessarily as challenging as it may sound. Even though Indian Country is spread out across the continent, Nicholson said the Native community is, in many ways, like a small town, and its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies – a gold mine of opportunity for a comic − tend to be more similar than dissimilar, he said.

That has helped make the Native American Comedy Jam a success, said Nicholson, who lives in Puyallup, Washington, but spent much of his youth in Montana as a member of the A'aa'nii'nin (WhiteClay) Nation of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Nicholson said the tour, which was put together by Mike Ruffin, has stayed fresh, even for its featured performers, over the last year and a half by featuring different hosts and musical guests as it moves from city to city.

"Exactly," he said. "That breaks it up and people seem to really it enjoy it."

After earning a bachelor's degree in health and human development and a master's degree in rehabilitation and mental health, both from Montana State University, Nicholson moved to stand-up comedy full time in 2014. But that didn't mean he was turning his back on his work in the wellness field, he said, explaining that he simply rolled those two careers together.

"I did put more comedy into my (motivational) speaking than speaking into my comedy," he said. "I find that laughter breaks up the monotony of long speeches. And laughter is very healing for our people."

Tatanka Means is one of four comics featured in the Native American Comedy Jam at the Farmington Civic Center.

Much of Nicholson's material is culled from his experiences as a Native man, he said, though he believes it remains accessible to non-Native audiences.

"A lot of it is personal stuff," he said. "I like to call it trauma comedy. A lot of it is stuff that is emotional and traumatic. But it can also be stuff like seeing my wife give birth to our child. Seeing a baby come out into this world is not a bad thing, but it's traumatic when you're seeing your wife in pain."

Nicholson also does a bit about being spanked as a child. But he occasionally wanders into territory that specifically deals with indigenous issues, such as the time a white man with whom he was having a conversation asked Nicholson to "prove" he was Native.

"He was joking," Nicholson said, but the request still stung, he said, noting it made him wonder why it was incumbent upon him to demonstrate his lineage as if he were a show animal of some sort. But rather than stew about the comment, Nicholson decided to use the experience in his act.

"That night, I made a joke of it," he said, explaining that it went over well because so many other Natives in the audience could relate to it. "I still use it off and on."

This weekend's show also features Donovan Archambault, Tonia Jo Hall and Tatanka Means with host Ashley Callingbull and musical guest Spur Pourier.

The Native American Comedy Jam takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Tickets are $30 and $60. Call 505-599-1148.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: