Laughter isn't just medicine — this Indigenous collective looks at it as a gift

Winnipeg's Red Rising Magazine gives Indigenous youth a place to share their stories, and their comedy night Laughter is Medicine does the same.

Winnipeg's Red Rising gives a home to Indigenous youth's stories, and their comedy night does the same

Ashley Richard emceeing the first Laughter is Medicine. (Facebook/Red Rising Magazine)

There's a reason the old saying "laughter is the best medicine" has stuck around for so long: it's because it's true. And the Red Rising magazine collective is proving that with their comedy night Laughter is Medicine.

Red Rising, a "non-profit Indigenous magazine from Winnipeg providing an unfiltered space for Indigenous youth to share their stories," has been around since 2015. The collective is made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, but it's Indigenous-led. All of its founding members are Indigenous — including Ashley Richard, who helped organize the first comedy night in September of 2016. Now, she's back organizing this one.

She says the show looks at comedy as not only medicine, but also a gift.

"We're focused around the cyclical nature of sharing gifts. In Indigenous ceremony there's always the giving and receiving of gifts, so we want to promote a safe space for laughter and we want to give the comedians a platform to share their gift with the rest of the community."

One of Red Rising's magazine launch events. (Andrée Forest)

Richard has been involved with planning all of Red Rising's events, but she says the comedy showcase — and the energy it brings — is special.

"It's so powerful to walk into a theatre full of hundreds of people laughing. It was such an amazing experience; the energy was incredible. Launching [the magazine] in Vancouver, launching in Toronto, for me those pale in comparison to the comedy night."

In Indigenous ceremony there's always the giving and receiving of gifts, so we want to promote a safe space for laughter and we want to give the comedians a platform to share their gift with the rest of the community.-  Ashley Richard, founding member of Red Rising
The poster for Laughter is Medicine. (Red Rising)

Sasha Mark has only been doing stand-up since June of 2017, but in that time, he's performed at numerous open mics, at the WOKE comedy showcases, at the Queer and Present Danger comedy tour and on APTN. He's on the bill for the upcoming show, and despite feeling like the new kid on the block — there are some pretty well-known comedians performing that night — he's excited for what he thinks is a unique event.

"I'm really looking forward to this event because there hasn't been a lot of opportunity for a group of Indigenous comedians to come together and perform in Winnipeg," he said. "I'm also really looking forward to the mixed audience [Indigenous and non-Indigenous] that will be there to offer support, and I know I need to bring it."

While the first Laughter is Medicine event was a fundraiser to help launch the magazine in Toronto — Richard says the full cost of a full colour magazine run and launch can cost well over $10,000 — the goal of this one is to raise funds for the overall growth and operation of the magazine.

What started out a few years ago as just an idea has now grown into a movement, and the collective has to think about sustainability. The magazine is entirely volunteer-run, which means no one gets paid for what they do, so they have to fundraise for each edition — something Richard knows is limiting.

"Red Rising Magazine was a really random idea and I don't think any of us thought we'd still be doing it still, but here we are," she says. "And we're looking at incorporating this year and finding ways of more sustainable funding, so this event will contribute to that."

Just like last time, the response to this event has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of the people who went to the first one were quick to buy tickets for this one, but there have also been plenty of first-timers. And if those folks are wondering what to expect, Richard isn't giving anything away.

"I can't really say what people can expect — other than to laugh!"

Laughter is Medicine is happening Wednesday, February 14th, at the West End Cultural Centre.