A Best Book of 2021 by NPR and Esquire
From Kliph Nesteroff, “the human encyclopedia of comedy” (VICE), comes the important and underappreciated story of Native Americans and comedy.
It was one of the most reliable jokes in Charlie Hill’s stand-up routine: “My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.”
In We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, acclaimed comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff focuses on one of comedy’s most significant and little-known stories: how, despite having been denied representation in the entertainment industry, Native Americans have influenced and advanced the art form.
The account begins in the late 1880s, when Native Americans were forced to tour in wild west shows as an alternative to prison. (One modern comedian said it was as “if a Guantanamo detainee suddenly had to appear on X-Factor.”) This is followed by a detailed look at the life and work of seminal figures such as Cherokee humorist Will Rogers and Hill, who in the 1970s was the first Native American comedian to appear The Tonight Show.
Also profiled are several contemporary comedians, including Jonny Roberts, a social worker from the Red Lake Nation who drives five hours to the closest comedy club to pursue his stand-up dreams; Kiowa-Apache comic Adrianne Chalepah, who formed the touring group the Native Ladies of Comedy; and the 1491s, a sketch troupe whose satire is smashing stereotypes to critical acclaim. As Ryan Red Corn, the Osage member of the 1491s, says: “The American narrative dictates that Indians are supposed to be sad. It’s not really true and it’s not indicative of the community experience itself…Laughter and joy is very much a part of Native culture.”
Featuring dozens of original interviews and the exhaustive research that is Nesteroff’s trademark, We Had a Little Real Estate Problem is a powerful tribute to a neglected legacy.
Kliph Nesteroff is the author of We Had a Little Real Estate Problem.
“[Nesteroff] has carved out a niche as the premier popular historian of comedy because of his knack for unearthing such forgotten stories…[We Had a Little Real Estate Problem] provides context for an argument about the importance of representation.”—Jason Zinoman, The New York Times
“[A]n illuminating and stereotype-busting history of Native Americans and comedy.” –The Washington Post
“[A] thoughtful, passionate, and extremely well-researched look at the rarely examined history of indigenous American comedy…Nesteroff provides a history of one part of American life that also tells the story of something much more vast."—Brian Boone, New York Magazine (“The Best Comedy Books of 2021, So Far”)
“Kliph Nesteroff explores an overlooked side of comedy in We Had a Little Real Estate Problem. From its account of Native American marginalization to the Cherokee roots of Will Rogers, from the inspiring story of Charlie Hill to the new wave of young, hilarious, Indigenous comedians, this book is a game changer."—Judd Apatow
“Stuck with living out contradictions between what America says and what it does, Native people transformed a hard world of irony into one of wry and satirical humor. Kliph Nesteroff takes readers on a journey through this uncharted Indian comic world—its pasts and presents, legendary heroes and rising stars, insider jokes and desperate performances. The result is a fascinating and rich picture of the life-affirming, revolutionary practices of Native comedy.”—Philip J. Deloria, Harvard University
“My uncle used to tell this one joke, it went — no, no, just read this instead. It’s got the jokes and the jokesters, five hundred-plus years and counting.”—Stephen Graham Jones, bestselling author of The Only Good Indians
“A remarkable book that takes the history of Native American comedy and turns it into a page-turner. It seems like there’s a revelation in every one of its tight chapters. Applause for the book and the exciting artists who populate it.”—Steve Martin
"No one knows the inside story of comedy, and the trials and tribulations of the people who can't stop themselves from making it, like Kliph Nesteroff. It is so cool to observe how comedy lets people tell the truth - and Native Peoples certainly have alot to release through making fun. If you love the story of comedy, this is an untold side (til now)."—Bob Odenkirk
“Nesteroff has written a gem. We Had a Little Real Estate Problem tells the untold story of Native American comedy through contemporary interviews and historical analysis. He chips away at the myths of the stoic or long-suffering fate of ‘The Indian.’ In its place, he creates a vibrant counter-narrative that exposes the hilarious, irreverent, ambitious heart of modern Native America.”—David Treuer, author of Rez Life and The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
"A welcome introduction to an aspect of Native American life that merits broader exposure." —Kirkus Reviews
“Richly researched and told through the vibrant voices of the comics themselves...Kliph Nesteroff’s extraordinary We Had a Little Real Estate Problem chronicles a legacy deserving of inclusion in the history of comedy in the U.S.” —BookPage (starred review)