Native American activists pressure more venues to dump comedian

Update 12:48 p.m.May canceled postponed the rest of his shows in the region, Fargo Theater reported.


[Update 10:47 a.m.]The Star Tribune reports the Burnsville performance has been canceled. postponed


Ralphie May, the comic who was booted off the schedule at a venue in Bemidji, Minn., is finding new fame by being infamous.

May has been apologizing for several weeks for a 12-year-old video that surfaced on YouTube with racist overtones toward Native Americans. He says it was edited and taken out of context.

“I’m sick of hearing about how we’re supposed to boo hoo over **** Indians, and **** was 120 years ago. **** get over it … Nobody 150 years ago was making you drink now. Dry up you buncha alcoholics and go get a real ******* job,” he says in the clip.

May says it was taken out of context because it didn’t include the punch line, which was something about how he was still mad that “Dances With Wolves” beat out “Goodfellas” for best picture in 1991. It’s a punch line that doesn’t really soften the sting at all, actually.

May performs tonight in Fargo, N.D., tomorrow night in Sioux Falls, S.D., and in Burnsville in Thursday and now the controversy is following him to every venue.

Activists in Fargo said they don’t plan to urge the show be canceled, but they plan to protest it. And May tweeted that he’ll join them.

In Sioux Falls, some Native American leaders called on the city to cancel the comedian’s performance at a city-owned theater.

According to the Argus Leader newspaper, City Councilman Kenny Anderson Jr. said he watched one of May’s routines and didn’t think it was racist.

“It isn’t what they’re trying to portray it as,” Anderson told the paper.

KELO says city officials ducked all offers it extended them to talk about the comedian.

“City government shouldn’t get into the business of deciding which speech is deemed too racially offensive,” KELO commentator Greg Belfrage wrote yesterday. “However, its really troubling to me to see city officials hide under their beds and duck an issue.”

Meanwhile, the Star Tribune reports today that Native American activists in the Twin Cities are asking Burnsville’s Ames Center to dump May’s Wednesday night event.

But the city manager says it’s up to the company that runs the center on the city’s behalf.

In a statement issued Tuesday, American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Clyde Bellecourt called the clip “the most racist thing I’ve ever heard.”

Bill Means, co-founder of the International Indian Treaty Council, added, “We demand Ralphie May postpone or cancel the show or we will be outside demonstrating” outside Ames Center. AIM also wants May to meet with American Indian leaders.

“His routine is degrading, demeaning and disrespectful of Indian people,” said Means, who intends to say more at a news conference scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the AIM Interpretive Center on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.

Wednesday’s performance is May’s last appearance in the upper Midwest before he heads to Illinois, Iowa and St. Louis.

  • PaulJ

    So, once again; who to believe.

  • Mike Worcester

    //May has been apologizing for several weeks for a 12-year-old video that
    surfaced on YouTube with racist overtones toward Native Americans. He
    says it was edited and taken out of context.

    Is it fair to continue to punish someone for remarks made over a decade ago? If he no longer holds those views and no longer uses Indigenous people as the source for his act, does that make a difference? Just asking the question.

    • This, I think, is the key question. Is redemption possible in the age of social media? And, if so, how is it achieved?

      • Leann Olsen

        Isn’t saying that you heard the criticism and are willing to talk about it A HUGE step? Thousands of comedians would just double down in this situation. Ralphie May is no idiot. This is really the fault of the booker. Know enough about the comedian BEFORE you book them. If there’s a chance that they have said anything that could be controversial don’t book them. 10 minutes online would tell you that. If you book a comedian and you are not a comedy club YOU are responsible for the fallout. If you have any doubts, book a “clean” comedian. You can set expectations with the performer before you send them a contract. If you don’t have any doubts about whether a comedian will say (or has said something) insensitive, off-color, racist, sexist, etc. you don’t know enough about comedy and should not be a booker.

        • Rob

          I think we’re conflating “controversial” with telling racist, sexist or bigoted jokes.
          They aren’t the same thing. Racist bigoted and sexist jokes are offensive and demeaning, which is way more than just being “controversial.”

          • Leann Olsen

            I decide what kind of comedy I like and support. I decide what I think is offensive to me. I’m not supporting or defending Ralphie May’s comedy past or present. I’m saying if it’s your job to book a comedian you’d better know how to do your job. You’d better know your venue, potential audience and the talent you want to book. Know your community. Will a protest be a barrier to your event or is it just free speech, comes with the territory? Do you allow people to vote with their dollars? Or are you under obligation to provide only entertainment that upholds certain beliefs? If you’re booking the talent you can play it however you want, but if you get into a mess where you have to cancel a show you haven’t really done your job.

  • Angry Jonny

    FWIW, this is the same community that made no efforts to prevent Usama Dakdok and his angry anti-Islam schtick from coming to town. I’m not sure where Bemidji draws their line.

  • Rob

    I for one won’t be shocked if it’s discovered that Ralphie has made similar comments much more recently. Williams and Ree were bad enough.

    • Angry Jonny

      There seems to be a preponderance of comments on various news sites who are confusing the first amendment with a decision by a venue owner to cancel a show due to the performer’s unsavory material. I think the Sanford Center made the right decision, given the nature of May’s comedy and their location in the middle of the three poorest reservations in Minnesota. Perhaps if somebody had done a little more research, they could have avoided the whole incident altogether.

    • Angry Jonny

      Williams and Ree are still a thing, too, regrettably.

  • Dan

    He’s been apologizing for several weeks? Didn’t this just become a “thing” a week ago?

  • Dan

    This is pretty much Ralphie May’s comedy in a nutshell: making fun of his weight and a racially insensitive bits, stereotyping, etc. He’s not my cup of tea personally, but hard to see how any venue that booked him would be surprised that something like this is out there. I’m only familiar with him because he was on a network TV show.

    I do think if you’re going to condemn him for a bit, you should have the whole bit, I don’t necessarily agree with just cancelling his shows over an edited clip.

    Edit: according to the Strib, May is saying he is “postponing” the Burnsville show and two other upper Midwest shows

    • Angry Jonny

      This is why booking agents and talent recruiters should do a little more research into who they book where. Ralphie has every right to do whatever bit he wants, but it probably won’t go over terribly well in certain areas.

      He gave a pretty interesting interview on WTF.

      • Dan

        If not for the edited/old clip? The show, and his usual somewhat offensive act, would have gone over fine with the people who bought tickets, and I’m guessing there were many.

      • He’s done several shows, btw, at Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

        • Angry Jonny

          So if it works for Mahnomen, it must be good for Bemidji then.

  • MarkUp

    There’s a great HBO special from a few years ago called Talking Funny, which was a round table discussion on the craft of comedy with Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis CK. At about 14 minutes, Rock talks about setting up the premise of a joke, and I wonder if that’s part of the problem Ralphie May is dealing with. Either the premise wasn’t set up correctly, or it can’t be set up correctly at all.

    At 26:00 they talk about comedians going for the easiest joke and biggest laugh, and caliber of comedians. That may be the best insight from a comedian’s perspective on this issue.

    41:00 they talk about is there something you should not make a joke about, and the answers are great.

    I’m not suggesting May is at the same caliber as the comedians featured, but it’s a fascinating discussion on how comedians make people laugh.

    Fair warning, adult language is used; don’t watch with the kids in the room.

    • Dan

      I’ve seen Louis CK trying out new material, and that’s his process. He picks a subject and riffs on it for 5-10 minutes. Some gets laughs, some doesn’t. The stuff that works ends up in his specials, and/or in a later show’s finale.

      I’ve also seen Lewis Black go crazy after he perceived an audience of Minnesotans to be offended at a bit making fun of Germans (a bit that was already on one of his albums IIRC).

      • MarkUp

        If you liked Black losing his mind, look up Bill Burr’s Philadelphia incident. 12 straight minutes of him ripping into a booing audience. As the epic meltdown keeps going, you can’t tell if the audience is booing him off or booing him for more.

        • Dan

          Personally, I didn’t like it. The way I perceived it, the joke didn’t get laughs because his show was basically reciting routines most of the audience had heard on his albums. Having heard subsequent albums, I think he was pretty much out of material.

          But then, I wasn’t exactly in the front row.

    • Dan

      Ralphie May, while not being the same caliber, should still be able to try stuff out in his own, dumb voice. You’re offended? OK, me too. Call him out. Protest. But not try to end his career, by stopping other people from listening to him.

      Basically here is every Ralphie May set I’ve seen:

      “Hey look at some of the things minorities do, isn’t that silly? It’s OK for me to say that because I’m fat, plus I love you guys. We are all the same! Peace!”

      I haven’t exactly followed his career after Last Comic Standing, but nothing leads me to believe he’s changed it up.

  • Angry Jonny

    If I went to a Ralphie May show and the world ended, and St. Peter asked me how I spent my last hours on Earth, I don’t think “I paid a fat, vulgar, white Southerner to make fun of Native Americans” would be a good answer.

  • Not Amused

    This is ridiculous. He’s a comedian. This is what they do. I don’t personally think he’s at all funny, but this is an example of the PC police absolutely running riot. This is why Donald Trump is going to win a major party nomination for president. When a comedian can no longer tell jokes (off color or not), we’ve crossed the Rubicon. If you don’t like his humor, don’t go to the show. It’s as simple as that.

    • Angry Jonny

      I don’t think anyone is preventing Ralphie from telling whatever jokes he wants to.

    • Rob

      yes, we wouldn’t want to listen to comedians who demonstrate that they have the ability to be funny without being racist, sexist or bigoted. what fun would that be?

      • Dan

        I don’t think the story was Ralphie May or anyone else stopping people from listening to inoffensive comedians.

        • Rob

          correct. And when there are so many smart, funny comedians whose acts aren’t based on racist and sexist stereotypes, why pay money to see a crude, boorish, offensive comedian? Inquiring minds want to know.

          • Dan

            I personally prefer inoffensive comedians, like Bill Cosby.

          • Rob


      • Not Amused

        That’s not the point at all. Like I said, I don’t think Ralphie May is funny. I think he’s a hack. But it’s the fact that his jokes just aren’t clever, not because they are based on stereotypes. Comedy can be great regardless of it being blue (Richard Pryor?) or completely clean (Jim Gaffigan?) The reason this upsets me is because “activists” have decided for everyone what is and is not permissible to talk about. It offends me as a free-thinking person. I personally would not spend one cent on a Ralphie May concert, but if other people want to do so, that is their business. He seems to be popular enough to continue being booked (at Native American run casinos, interestingly), so if that’s the humor people want, they should be allowed to have it. This is America.

        • Rob

          And as P.T. Barnum famously said: Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the tastes of the American people.

  • Leann Olsen

    So they are booking Will Spotted Bear in his place, right?

  • Ann

    This is the wrong time for Ralphie May to play the victim card. His words are just as offensive taken out of context as they are in context. There isn’t room for race in jokes anymore. There just isn’t. How disappointing. When people call you on your ****, own up to it and apologize. Don’t blame someone else. That was not a genuine apology. I, too, am the product of public schools and I know that racist jokes aren’t appropriate.

    • Phil B

      He isn’t playing the victim in the least. In no way am I a fan of his, or his joke, but I think he is handling this just fine. He is willing to listen to the protesters and meet with the community leaders. I think this is another case of people getting off on being angry.

      • Angry Jonny

        If coming from a reservation that still carries the trauma of a mass shooting and taking a stand against garbage that works against your people for the profits of others is “being angry”, then I guess it’s justified anger.

        • Phil B

          I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have been angry for his joke. I’m saying that it has been 12 years and he is admittedly willing to learn from this and meet and listen with the people who he offended. What more can people want from the situation? Nothing will ever change in the world if people aren’t given opportunities to learn from their past mistakes.

          • Angry Jonny

            If he wants to learn, then fine. Good for him. I’m glad he gets to go on having a career as a comedian with gigs at other places. It’s too bad he doesn’t get to dictate the terms of his own miraculous revelation about his racist material.

        • Phil B

          I may be wrong for lumping this situation into the many online outrages that happen. It just feels like some people only want to be angry. They do not want things to actually change or forgive.

          • Angry Jonny

            Some people are. Bemidji/Red Lake is a tough area. There’s a lot of struggle, a lot of poverty, a lot of alcoholism and chemical use, and trauma. So when some classless jerk comes along peddling cheap shots at the wounded for his own gain, it undermines the tireless work of so many others. Somewhere else, fine. Not here.

          • Phil B

            That’s fair

    • Angry Jonny

      “I’m a product of the US Public School System.”

      Please explain, then, the countless other public school graduates who manage to go through life without being a vulgar racist.

      • I don’t think he’s a particularly good public speaker, so I think it probably comes off as blaming someone else for his view of 12 or so years ago. But, it’s true that for most Americans, there is nothing but a racist view perpetuated in what little kids are taught of history in the public school system (and I suspect in most other school systems).

        And even among those of us who consider ourselves enlightened, I’m not entirely sure we’re as innocent as we think we are. The Star Tribune did a tremendous series on Native American schools, and, for the most part, it was meant with crickets.

        There’s VERY little outrage about Rosebud, al Jazeera’s investigation into Little Earth went virtually unnoticed. and if there was one international story that SHOULD have attracted some attention, it’s the one from Attawapiskat First Nation which has declared an emergency because 5 percent of its population has attempted suicide, just since September. As The Guardian points out, that’s been more than a generation in the making.

        I have not yet heard this guy’s act so I don’t know if jokes about Native Americans are still part of it or whether that was a thing from a dozen years ago. I do know the fact he says he’s ignorant and wants to be enlightened, seems like a good first step. But, like I say, I’d like some indication what his act is now vs. what it was a dozen years ago and whether there’s been any evidence of personal growth on the subject.

        Unquestionably, based on the tape being circulated, there’s cause for anger. But it’s also undeniable that there’s cause for anger and outrage about conditions for Native Americans that aren’t being met with anger and outrage and that doesn’t seem like an appropriate response to that reality.

        As for the rest of us — white “us” — in this country, given the presidential campaign, Chief Wahoo, and the Washington Redskins,, I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that a public school graduate becoming a racist was a one off.

        • Angry Jonny

          I understand and agree. I don’t consider myself to be particularly enlightened about this topic either, I’m simply stating what I know from growing up here. But I’m willing to venture a guess that there are plenty of racists and non racists that come from both public and private schools.

          I think the “I’m sorry, I’m ignorant, I want to learn more, teach me your ways” is the apology of somebody who isn’t genuinely concerned with reparations. A simple “I’m sorry, I should have known better” would probably have sufficed. Otherwise it’s just another Indians fan in a Wahoo sweater.

          • You may be right. But I would have loved to hear the discussion that was going to take place in Fargo. I don’t have a sense of whether he’s defensive or contrite. That feels like a missed opportunity to me for some important conversation, that might — might — have been instructive to others who also could use it..

          • Angry Jonny

            Or a great opportunity to sell out-of-stock hockey jerseys. Sorry for seeming cynical.

          • DavidG

            On the flip side, how long are the victims of this kind of racism expected to be the educators of other peoples’ ignorance?

            That’s got to be exhausting. And those that do take on the task are quite often labeled “race hustlers.”

  • Al

    …seriously, it took 12 YEARS for someone to catch this? You’re slacking, interwebs.

  • lindblomeagles

    Last week Bob Collins blogged about Bomani Jones’ T-shirt protest. Jones, a well respected ESPN journalist and radio show host, wore a shirt similar to the Chief Wahoo shirt many Cleveland Indians baseball fans wear, only his shirt had “Caucasians” written across it instead of Indians. One of the people commenting on that blog believed sports teams names don’t matter, to which I responded, IN SUMMARY, that there IS meaning behind names, and that that meaning really is how our American culture values the importance or NON-importance of one or all of its minority communities. A person is not just mad, for example, they are f—-ing mad. The expletive giving GREATER VALUE to mad when used in oral and written sentences. Bob, RESPECTFULLY AND CORRECTLY, wrote back to me the following, American Indian Movement. This blog HIGHLIGHTS the discussion that took place in that blog last week. Our society, generally speaking, applies less value to Native Americans. That’s why May confidently said these things. That’s why May didn’t think these things would offend paying, mostly Caucasian customers. That’s why May has been able to book this many shows. That’s why some city managers are hesitant to act, and that’s frankly why the American Indian Movement is protesting the event. Yes, every country wants free speech. But with free speech comes greater responsibility. Denigrating American Indians because you feel confident there is nothing they can do to stop you, is showing no responsibility at all, to yourself, your audience, and the people you are offending.