Google honored barrier-breaking comedian Charlie Hill, the first Native American comic to appear on national TV, with a Doodle on what would’ve been his 71st birthday.
When Hill was a young comic in the 1970s, he refused to deign to racist stereotypes of Native Americans. Rather, his material addressed bigotry toward Native Americans throughout history, taking aim at White viewers, the forced displacement of indigenous people and even the harmful history of Christopher Columbus and Plymouth Rock Pilgrims.
In 1977, 26-year-old Hill appeared on “The Richard Pryor Show,” the first time a Native American stand-up performed on a program that aired across the US. Per Google’s caption of the Doodle tribute, the show’s writers asked him to portray a racist caricature of a Native American person, but Hill declined.
“For so long, you [White viewers] probably thought that Indians never had a sense of humor,” he said in his set on Pryor’s show. “We never thought you were too funny either.”
Hill, who belonged to the Oneida Nation and also had Mohawk and Cree heritage, moved to the Wisconsin’s Oneida Nation as a child and eventually made a name for himself at the renowned Comedy Store in California, where he made connections that would land him multiple national TV spots.
As his star grew, he still refused to appear in works that would reduce him to a stereotype. He was inspired by the Black comic Dick Gregory, whose material often targeted racism.
“That’s what I’m doing from a Native American viewpoint to defuse that traditional John Wayne mentality,” Hill said in the book “We Had a Little Real Estate Problem,” a history of Hill and other Native American comedians who defied stereotypes.
Hill died in 2013 from lymphoma at 62, but the legacy he’s left is immense, said Kliph Nesteroff, the author of “We Had a Little Real Estate Problem.”
“He was just important to all indigenous communities in North America as this incredible representative who never sold himself out, who never engaged in stereotypes,” Nesterhoff said in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio last year.
The Google Doodle of Hill was drawn by an indigenous creator – Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell, a French-First Nations artist from Thames, an Oneida Nation in Canada.