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Fort Lewis College graduate brings Native American comedy to Durango

Josh Emerson’s stand-up is loud, funny and riffs on race
Denver comic Joshua Emerson of DeadRoom production company will perform with others at Colorado Native: A Native American Comedy Showcase on April 15 at Stillwater Music. (Courtesy of Jeff Stonic)

Comedian Joshua Emerson of Denver is bringing the funny – Native American style – to Durango’s Stillwater Music in April for a one-night show with hopes it will help launch an annual comedy festival in town.

Emerson’s roots as a stand-up comic reach back to his days as a student at Fort Lewis College.

“You’re always gonna see your ex at (City Market), you know what I mean?” he says. “It’s such a small town – it’s like a little bit incestuous. If you stick around long enough, if you become a Duranga-tang you’ll just like date everybody and you’ll know everybody’s business. I loved it. Like Snowdown. It’s so insane that for like 40 years the town has celebrated being cooped up with a drinking festival. So yeah, I love Durango.”

Emerson’s stand-up group and production company, DeadRoom, began with him and two other FLC students and is one of the only Native American comedy showcases in the world, and the only one in Colorado, Emerson said. DeadRoom is named for that silence stand-ups experience when their jokes fall flat with the crowd. Emerson graduated from FLC with a degree in economics in 2019 and left Durango to go on to stand-up success across the country.

“But I started comedy in Durango,” he said. “It’s such a lovely scene to me. My first big show was at the (Henry) Strater Theatre and it made me feel like a comedian. It was before I was ready for it. But it was just one of those things, like I learned how to tell jokes with DeadRoom at El Rancho. And so we feel having a comedy festival in Durango is just a great opportunity. It’s an excuse to come back to Durango once a year because it’s a beautiful place to be.”

Launching the comedy festival this April fell through because of funding issues, so Emerson is bringing the multi-comic one-night show, “Colorado Native: A Native American Comedy Showcase,” to Stillwater Music April 15 instead. The show will headline Albuquerque-based comedian Joshua Fournier, who is Diné (Navajo), along with Emerson, Jason Alexander (not the Seinfeld Alexander) and others.

Emerson’s comedy is loud and funny, and though it’s not all he talks about, his sets riff off race because he says humor is a great way to talk about it because he can create tension and then relieve it with jokes. Emerson’s mother is Diné and his father is white.

“I love white guilt,” he says during a set at the Comedy Fort in Fort Collins. “That’s actually why I grew out my hair long – to make Caucasians feel uncomfortable when they make eye contact ... white guilt has actually paid for my rent the past six months ... and granted it was just calling up my white dad saying, ‘Hey pops, remember how you divorced my Navajo mom? Rent’s due b----!’”

Emerson said it was getting dumped by his girlfriend while at FLC that made him dive into comedy. The crying clown is kind of trite, but he said there’s something about taking something that makes you cry and using it on stage to make people laugh.

“I like white women because I like making my ancestors cry,” he says during his set in Fort Collins. “ ”... I’ve never dated a girl named Cheyenne or Dakota, though – because I’m Navajo and I’m loyal all right. ... When I hook up with a white lady, I will steal a scrunchy from her house and wear it on my wrist like a scalp.”

Denver comic Joshua Emerson credits his mother as his biggest inspiration for learning how to be funny. He dove headlong into stand-up after getting dumped while a student at Fort Lewis College. (Courtesy of Carleen)

Emerson’s mother was his biggest inspiration in terms of learning how to be funny. Indigenous humor has a charisma of being comfortable in your own skin and being able to joke in the moment.

“It’s a strong roast culture, especially Navajos,” he said. “Like if you come in wearing something silly, you’re gonna hear about it, and you should, you know? It’s light-hearted bullying. That’s the way I received affection my whole life.”

Emerson describes himself as “Native as (expletive)! Like I am Native, dog.” But he makes clear he is a “comedian who’s Native, not a Native who is a comedian.”

When he’s not doing stand-up, Emerson works as the jumbotron announcer for the Colorado Mammoth, a professional lacrosse team in Denver, as well as for the Colorado Rapids, the MLS soccer team. He also works for Creative Nations, a Native American Arts Collective in Boulder. His part-time jobs, as well as his degree in economics – where he studied how people act in groups – all wraps into advancing his stand-up performances, he said.

Emerson encourages Durango residents to come see the April 15 show and pitches it as “something during the shoulder season in between hot tourist times to get people in the bar laughing and drinking and just having a good time,” he said.

When asked to close with a one-liner, Emerson allowed that one-liners are tough before giving one up – “I went on a date with an Eskimo last week but it got cut short because she wasn’t Inuit – which is so (expletive) stupid!”

To purchase tickets go to www.deadroomcomedy.com

gjaros@durangoherald.com

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