The Comedy Group Dismantling Canadian Racism One Bad Take at a Time

We asked Folk Lordz why they went after accused cultural appropriator Joseph Boyden.

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May 11 2018, 2:12pm

When APTN first investigated the Indigenous lineage of Joseph Boyden, noted author of Indigenous-themed novels, nothing about it seemed funny. It’s been nearly two years since Canadians first grappled with the realization that Boyden’s Indigenous ancestry mostly consists of an uncle who stumbled around Algonquin Park calling himself “Injun Joe” to tourists—real name Erl Boyden, real ethnicity definitely not anything close to Indigenous—and the internet is still reeling.

For some reason Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky of the YouTube sketch duo Folk Lordz looked at this messy controversy and managed to turn anger at appropriation into a good laugh. In one of their most recent videos, of a fifteen part series, they interviewed a fictional Boyden about his decision to become a Kookum, a Cree grandmother, because he felt like it, and anyone can.

Todd’s Cree background informs some of the most political aspects of their sketches. Between taint jokes and shotgunned beers the comedians manage to call out systematic racism and remind us the last Canadian residential school didn't close until 1996.

VICE caught up with Folk Lordz to ask about how they make some of the saddest things still going on in Canada funny, what made them come for Boyden, and who they’re going to come for next. Spoiler alert: Ben is looking for an open debate with Boyden whenever he’s ready for it. Todd’s looking to throw down with Jordan Peterson.

VICE: Let’s get into it. Why’d you come for poor Joseph Boyden?
Ben: Look, we’re not trying to necessarily start a flame war with Joseph Boyden. And I’ve read his books and I’ve liked them, but this has been a hell of a year for burying your heroes. So like… fuck him. Whether or not he perhaps has some shred of Indigeneity.

Working from that point of, he probably isn’t Indigenous and probably appropriated it, we were just like, “How can you communicated the absurdity of that level of bald-faced lying and appropriation to someone that doesn’t get why wearing a headdress or redface is offensive?” So it was like… OK. Grandmas. Everyone has a grandma. To show the chaos of saying, “Well I am a grandma…” But you have to have a specific set of criteria to be a grandma, and he’s like “No I don’t have any of that set of criteria but I’m still a grandma, because I’ve been accepted as a grandma.” That clarifies the… I don’t want to say insanity… lack of reason. The lack of sound judgement, logic.

Todd: And I also… we never said he wasn’t Indigenous. We just said he likes to be a grandma.

Did you get any enraged Boyden-bros coming after you for it?
Todd: I haven’t received any hate mail form that one yet.

Ben: I mean, after this story comes out he might come to our front doors and beat the shit out of us, but other videos have gotten a little bit of confused or negative or provoked responses. I think the one that has pissed the most people off was the school sketch, “Teacher Gets Schooled” [about a racist teacher’s Indigenous history lesson], because that one has just so much horrifying racism off the top, and instead of neatly resolving it goes into this place of dark, dark chaos, and guilt, and confusion, and Canada 150 suddenly becomes this shameful, confusing topic.

Lots of people have been like “That was cringy as fuck” “What’s going on with that sketch?” “Why did I watch this?” “What is this?” “This makes me feel bad” “Is this funny?” [unintelligible sound of disgust]. And it’s like… funny isn’t just laugh out loud. It can be barfing a little in your mouth.

Is a little bit of barfing in your mouth, sobering realism the goal for these sketches?
Todd: I think that that sketch really illustrates that within a school setting, within an institution setting, there is no joke that can cure the fact that there is misinformation happening, and being perpetuated. I think most people in our generation grew up with very little Indigenous knowledge in their schools, so the sketch sort of sets up the idea that there’s going to be this great answer to our problems… but there isn’t. Because there still isn’t. Because there’s still work that needs to be done.

Ben: But seriously, if you can get Boyden to debate us on TV, we’ll put on suits and stuff and yell at him. Todd and I are officially making ourselves available to debate Joseph Boyden on national TV, or radio, or internet radio show, or just on Reddit or wherever he wants. But we are ready… to fight him. For justice, for Canada, for comedy.

It feels that a part of your comedy is getting us all off our asses to fight for Canada in a way. Why’s that important, and how do you make it funny?
Todd: I think there are still people today that don’t know anything about residential schools, there’s still people today that have never met an Indigenous person; I know that I am the first Indigenous person that a lot of people in my communities have met and have a connection to. So I think it ranges on the spectrum from people who get it—people who know about colonization, will find these sketches funny and relevant—to people who don’t get it, who will be informed in a way that might be jarring, but in a way that hopefully starts some research. Having absurd comedy, if you don’t get it, that’s great. I think that you can still get something from it. Because it might just make you feel bad. And I think that feeling something is the first step in acknowledging there’s something wrong with the country.

You’ve already tackled Boyden for the good of the country. Who’s next?
Todd: What’s that one professor guy with the pronouns? Like, Jordan… Jordan…

Ben: Jordan Peterson!

Todd: Oh yeah, we would for sure… I could give that guy a piece of my mind. [laughs]

So break it down for me, why go for such dark content over light-hearted, easy jokes?
Todd: Just to keep having Indigenous content around is an active part of decolonization, through Indigenization. Inserting Indigenous content into the narratives that we digest in our everyday, subconsciously changes people’s opinions of Indigenous people, and we’ll be more aware of ideas that Indigenous people have. I think that all of that can be attained just through representation.

Ben: I mean, our reality is dark. We’re living in an ugly, complicated time, with violence that has been sort of obscured. I think our darkness response to the darkness we see around, it’s rather than crying about the horror we see, we want to laugh about it. We want to poke fun at the beast of systemic power and find the cracks in it. We want to jimmy that apart with humour.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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