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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Lehmann.
The Globe and Mail, November 9, 2001

Part 4 of 7: Forbidden zones

Dead Dog Cafe But there remain forbidden zones, limits of Canadian restraint. King knows his humour can jab, but it better not punch. Call Canadians naive. Don't call them racist.

That frustrates someone who believes humour must be political - and worries his collaborators, who fear their art is the new vaudeville.

"We're a circus that comes to town and sets up next to the white community," King says. "As long as you don't let the lions and tigers out of the cage, it's okay."

At 58, he is a bundle of contradictions, which he concedes while sauntering into a steak house, dressed in slacks and a floral golf shirt. At 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds, he is the biggest man in the restaurant, looking more like a Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker than a noted author.

He is also equal parts first class and first nations. He insists on flying business class because of his size, although indulgence is not something he avoids anyway. He can rattle off the names of Toronto steak houses and golf courses he frequents with his friend, native actor Graham Greene. He also has a big house in Guelph, Ont., where his second wife teaches at the university, as well as two cars, three cats and vacations in Costa Rica.

"I'll be honest with you. I've got no interest in being poor," he says.

Just the same, King has a passionate socialist streak. He wants his humour to be about poverty as much as discrimination. He also targets big corporations whenever he can. Air Canada, Nortel, Monsanto - they will all make an appearance in the Regina show, and not as models of a good society.

To King, big corporations should be thrown on the same scrap heap as Canada's aboriginal policy because they are both issues of class. When he moved to Canada, he was offended by Ottawa's apparent unwillingness to grant Indians more land - the core to all native identity, he believes. But he also grew disturbed in the 1980s and 1990s as he watched the growing gap between North America's rich and poor, between its big companies and small communities and especially between it governments and first nations.

The gap can be seen right outside the wood-panelled steak house, where downtown Regina is anything but funny when it comes to aboriginal people. In the early evening, the long shadows of spring race down deserted streets and pedestrian malls, their only company being wayward natives.

With crime gangs now operating from reserves around the city, Regina is already referred to as Canada's car-theft capital. Aside from a casino, there are few economic opportunities for the thousands of natives coming off rural reserves

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7 plus a related story):

Photo Essay
Backstage pass

1. 'I think people in Canada didn't know Indians were funny'
Using humour to force the two societies to re-examine each other, and themselves

2. 'Socially relevant' humour
Using comedy to tell ironic truths, however painful

3. Appealing to the audience
The racier the humour got, the more fan mail came in

4. Forbidden zones
'As long as you don't let the lions and tigers out of the cage, it's okay.'

5. Laughter "is the great leveller" in native society
Finding his way on the stage

6. 'I was tired of being poor'
Edna Rain takes up acting after decades of abuse

7. The curtain falls
The three performers leave the way they arrived - in different directions

Related: Dead Dog Café Listeners react



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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