Support poured in online from Indigenous creators across the country when news came out in September about a new scripted comedy show loosely based on the life of Anishinaabe comedian Paul Rabliauskas.
Rabliauskas has been a fixture in Canada’s comedy scene for nearly 15 years. He’s performed at multiple festivals, including the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Just for Laughs and Oddblock Comedy Festival.
This is the comedian’s first time spearheading his own show, and while the excitement of finally landing a project four years in the making hasn’t worn off yet, something else a little closer to home has Rabliauskas gushing.
The 37-year-old finally got high-speed internet at his home on the Poplar River First Nation, about 400 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
“It’s something that I definitely wished and hoped for,” the comedian said with a laugh during a recent phone interview with The Canadian Press.
“It makes living back home a bit more easier. You don’t feel so disconnected to the world.”
Jokes aside, Rabliauskas says it’s surreal the show was picked up.
The 10-part comedy series titled “Acting Good” was ordered by the CTV Comedy Channel and is being produced by Kistikan Pictures Inc. The series was co-created by Rabliauskas, who is also to star in it, and fellow comedians Amber-Sekowan Daniels, Eric Toth and Pat Thornton.
Kistikan Pictures is a company created by Canadian actor Tina Keeper and Buffalo Gal Pictures to produce Indigenous documentaries, dramatic features, short films and television shows.
“Acting Good” follows Rabliauskas’s character as he returns home after a failed attempt at living in a big city.
The comedian spent the first four years of his life living in Poplar River. His parents eventually moved him and his siblings to Winnipeg where they could get more education.
Sophia Rabliauskas says her son was a storyteller from a young age.
“There was never a dull moment with Paul. He loved pulling tricks on us,” she recalled.
“We were always amazed by his creativity. His imagination was really out there.”
In Indigenous communities, humour is often regarded as medicine. “That’s all we would do is laugh,” said the elder Rabliauskas. She wasn’t surprised when her son decided to pursue comedy full time.
Much of his routines are based on living life on and off reserve including a bit where, after returning to Poplar River from Winnipeg, he learns the hard way instead of his community having a gang problem it has a wolf problem.
For the most part, he said, crowds have been receptive to the content in his sets, although some people have questioned the truth about the challenges of living in a remote community, including no running water and high food prices.
“I’m just trying to normalize who we are to the general public … using humour as a tool to teach Canada about what’s going on in our backyard,” said Rabliauskas.
While his shows are for anyone to enjoy, having Indigenous people present creates a different atmosphere, he said.
“If I go to a show and there’s at least four Native people in the crowd, I know it’s going to be a different energy. I’m definitely more relaxed.”
“Acting Good” co-creator Daniels, a member of the Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba, remembers meeting Rabliauskas for the first time at an open mic show in Winnipeg about nine years ago.
“He just comes on stage and he gets that whole room,” she said. “His ability to connect with almost any audience is so impressive.”
Part of the development of “Acting Good” included spending time in Poplar River.
“It’s really important for (Paul) to do this respectfully. The responsibility you have as a storyteller is huge … we don’t have a lot of these stories in the mainstream so we have to take care of them,” said Daniels.
Popular television has started picking up on the immense talent in Indigenous country withshows such as “Rutherford Falls,” “Reservation Dogs” and “Trickster.”
Rabliauskas said he wants Indigenous youth to know there is space for shows depicting their people living everyday lives.
“That was important for me. To have people that look like us, talk like us and sound like us on the show.
“And I guess have our deadly humour under a microscope.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2021.