A new show that pokes fun at Canada's 150th anniversary and uses humour to explore the country's history makes two Manitoba stops this week — and besides being backed by one of Canada's best-known comedians, it's giving a pair of Indigenous performers a chance to showcase their comedic talents.
Canada, It's Complicated will make Manitoba stops on its cross-country tour at Winnipeg's West End Cultural Centre on Wednesday and the William Glesby Centre in Portage la Prairie on Thursday, before continuing its tour with upcoming performances in Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and Yukon.
Directed, co-written and co-produced by Mary Walsh, of This Hour Has 22 Minutes fame, the satirical revue takes humorous jabs at Canadian history while keeping Indigenous stories at the forefront.
"When we start the show, people are immediately taken aback because the opening song and dance number is The Foundation of Our Nation is a Big Fat Lie", said Dakota Hebert, one of two Indigenous actors in the seven-person production.
Canada, It's Complicated began its tour in Goose Bay, N.L., in early September, with more than 40 shows scheduled across Canada. The tour will wrap up in mid-November in Haines Junction, Yukon.
The show uses comedy to tell stories about Louis Riel, Africville and other pieces of Canada's 150-year history. The show was written by Walsh and others, including Thomas King, who often writes about Indigenous Peoples.
"If you're doing something on how Canada was born and how it was raised, you have to have Indigenous Peoples as the focus," said Hebert, who is Dene, from English River First Nation in Saskatchewan.
"We don't paint John A. Macdonald to be the saint that history has made him out to be," said fellow cast member Chad Anderson, who is Cree and from The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba. He landed the role after the producers saw clips of him doing stand-up comedy.
Both Hebert and Anderson said they were concerned at first about how their characters would be represented in the production.
"I was a little worried coming in thinking that I was going to be playing the stereotypical stoic Native man," said Anderson.
But both he and Hebert said the show's producers were able to ease those concerns by giving the cast more creative freedom in the production, including allowing them to choose parts of their wardrobe.
When the two stand-up comedians are not performing in the production, they're taking the time to hit up every city and town's open comedy jams along the tour.
Despite often being the only Indigenous people in the room at many of those comedy jams, they said they are taking the opportunity to break down stereotypes about Indigenous comedians. Feedback has been positive, Hebert added.
"We're, like, the only two Native comics that people have met before. When it turns out that we're the funniest ones, it just blows people's minds," laughed Hebert.
For more information about the show and tour dates, check out the Canada, It's Complicated website.