Stand-up Trish Cook spent a recent Sunday evening telling jokes about her cranky mom into a dead mike for seven people. The performance, part of a comedy workshop at Minneapolis' Phoenix Theater, was far from a plum gig. But it was a natural pit stop on Cook's ongoing mission to educate, as well as entertain.

Lesson No. 1: Indigenous people like her can be hilarious.

That may come as a surprise to those whose only sightings of Native Americans in pop culture are limited to John Ford westerns and "Lone Ranger" reruns. But a new wave of indigenous comics are determined to shatter stubborn stereotypes.

"Our elders can get dirty," said Cook, who is part of Tuesday's NDN Way showcase at the Mall of America's House of Comedy, featuring three local Native American comics and headliner Tatanka Means, the Indian Gaming Association's 2018 Entertainer of the Year. "There's nothing funnier than a tiny Native woman who is killing you with a smirk on her face while she talks about how she used to get frisky."

New TV shows such as Hulu's "Reservation Dogs" and Peacock's "Rutherford Falls" are doing a great job of presenting laughs on the reservation. But there's nothing quite like hearing a stand-up get personal in an intimate comedy club.

"It's good representation," said William Spottedbear, who was a staple at Twin Cities open mics before moving to North Carolina in 2020. "It's good to show that every culture has something funny and true to say about themselves. It's powerful."

Those venturing out this week to enjoy Cook and her partners, Jon Roberts and Rob Fairbanks, might be in for an eye-opening evening.

"If you've never been to a reservation, you might just have heard only about the negatives, like drugs, alcohol and our suicide rate," said Fairbanks, who uses the name "Rez Reporter" onstage and on social media. "I'm not saying that's not here. We're high in all those areas. But it's not all bad. There are lots of positive things."

One thing that may surprise non-Natives is the amount of self-deprecating humor and gentle putdowns they'll hear.

"If a Native American doesn't tease you, then he doesn't like you," said Fairbanks, whose routines poke fun at squawking between tribes and Indigenous people trying in vain to grow facial hair. "When a family cousin is dressed up, you say, 'Why are you all dressed up? You got court?' It's done in a loving way."

Fairbanks and his peers didn't have a lot of role models growing up.

One exception was Charlie Hill, who made multiple appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night With David Letterman" before his death in 2013.

Fairbanks remembers his grandfather beckoning him over to catch one of Hill's last TV performances.

"I thought it was so cool to see a Native American on national TV doing comedy. It blew my mind," said Fairbanks. "It gave me a whole lot of hope."

Another influential force was Williams and Ree, a duo that's been billing themselves as "The Indian and the White Guy" since they started performing together in the early '70s. They've appeared everywhere from "Hee Haw" to the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

"We're like a bad marriage," said Bruce Williams, who will be appearing Friday with his longtime partner at Treasure Island Casino. "Although our relationship has never been consummated."

Their act — two old friends busting each other's chops in song and banter — hasn't changed much over the decades. That can cause some squirming in seats during these more politically correct times. Williams said they've had to start adding a disclaimer at the top of their shows, preparing audience members who might interpret their brand of humor as insensitive or even racist.

"We have to watch our language when we do shows for younger people," said Terry Ree, who prefers to identify himself as Indian rather than Indigenous. "I use old-school, locker-room talk — even if people don't talk that way in locker rooms anymore."

Fairbanks and his peers have a lot of respect for pioneers like Williams and Ree.

"When they were coming up, they didn't have the internet," he said. "They had to physically drive, going wherever they could perform, and weren't always welcomed by crowds. They stuck around and opened doors. If I hadn't seen guys like that, I might have given up. Now I want to spark that flame in someone else that's been holding onto dreams of performing stand-up."

Events like NDN Way can be special even for those who don't dare get onstage themselves. Cook has noticed at past shows that many Indigenous attendees dress like they're going to a fancy restaurant.

She tailors her act to both them and mainstream audiences who think Native American humor started and ended with Tonto.

During her routine at Phoenix Theater, Cook largely talked about her childhood, complaining about how her mother once accidentally burned her with a cigarette and how she had to get haircuts at her father's barbershop.

One of her all-time favorite bits is a story about her dad putting a quarter in her shoe when she was 8 years old, handing her an inner tube and sending her down the creek for a whole day.

"Everyone has a crazy mom or dad," she said. "That's a universal theme everyone can understand."


When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.

Where: Rick Bronson's House of Comedy, Mall of America, Bloomington.

Tickets: $20.

Williams and Ree

When: 8 p.m. Fri.

Where: Treasure Island Casino, 5734 Sturgeon Lake Road, Red Wing.

Tickets: $19-$39.