Books·My Life in Books

Comedian Ryan McMahon on the 6 books that changed his life

Ryan McMahon shares six books that shaped his life and work.
Ryan McMahon is a stand-up comedian, host of the Red Man Laughing Podcast and one of the hosts of Canadaland Commons. (

In his new documentary Colonization Road, Anishnaabe comedian Ryan McMahon tells the story of Ontario's roadways. The journey takes him back to the roots of colonialism, when roads were built by European settlers, and through a history of broken treaties, decades-long boil water advisories and reconciliation missteps.

Below, McMahon tells us about some of the books that have shaped his life.

Dancing On Our Turtle's Back by Leanne Simpson

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist. (Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography )

"Leanne Simpson takes us on a journey of Anishinaabe nationhood and self. This classic articulates the struggle many Indigenous peoples face in regards to identity, cultural resurgence and decolonization. This book changed my life, my art and my way of experiencing the world — it made me brave enough to acknowledge that I had work to do on myself as an Anishinaabe person. It challenges me to dig deeper into our language, our stories and our past and present."

In the World of Karl Pilkington presented by Ricky Gervais

Karl Pilkington gained popularity as a radio producer on The Ricky Gervais Show. (Twitter/HarperCollins)

"Ricky Gervais and his sidekick, Karl, are outrageously funny together. I've never really seen a comedy duo so strange, raw and hilarious. In In the World of Karl Pilkington, transcripts of their conversations are made available and they prove that Karl Pilkington is not only a genius, but he may be funnier than one of the funniest men on the planet. Sometimes juvenile, often quoteable, this book has carried me through many a flight and many a rainy day at the lake."

I Am Woman by Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle is a Canadian First Nations Coast Salish poet and author. (Columpa Carmen Bobb Photography/Press Gang)

"We are in the beginning stages of a full national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country. Canadians need to understand the weight that colonialism bears on Indigenous communities in Canada. Lee articulates Indigenous women's strengths, humanity, beauty and power in one of the most important books I've ever put my hands on, I Am Woman. Every time I see Lee, I thank her for her kind heart and mind — Canadians should do the same."

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

Benjamin Hoff is the author of the Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet. (Penguin Books/

"I've given a few dozen copies of The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff to friends/family over the years but when gifting it, I always mention that 'I heard it was good.' I never mention that I've read the book and that I have three copies of it and that I take it with me everywhere I go. I also never mention that it introduced me to Buddhism and a personal journey of being the best version of me I can be."

The Truth about Stories by Thomas King

Thomas King won the Governor General's Award for fiction in 2014 for his book The Back of The Turtle. (House of Anansi)

"As a storyteller, writer and comedian, I admire Thomas King for his approach in tackling tough subjects. The quest for 'the truth' through the work we do as investigators of society and its downfall is almost never done. Somehow, King illuminates 'the truth' in a way that inspires me and keeps me searching. 'The truth about stories is, that's all we are.' Indeed."

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga

George Ryga was a Canadian playwright and novelist. ( Books)

"Still relevant today, this piece of theatre is a classic that I don't think gets enough credit. It was panned when first produced in Canada, but, in the early days of Native theatre, I'm not sure viewers and critics really had a base understanding of Indigenous people or our communities. Themes of systemic racism, the violence it perpetrates and the Indigenous struggle are themes that ring true today — simply devastating to think we've not made progress here. I recently picked up my copy of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga and I cried my way through it in a single seating"


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