Through his lively cross-cultural, politically incorrect standup routine, most of us believe we have a handle on First Nations comedian Don Burnstick. After all, we’ve come to know him through of his self-deprecating “redskin” humour and discovered a universal connection.
What tends to fly under the radar is his generous philanthropy. The Edmonton-based comedian, who just purchased a house in Morinville to be closer to family living on Alexander Reserve, has committed to providing financial support to the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies for the next four years.
“They have a huge enrolment of aboriginals and Métis. I’ve done very well for myself and I want to do my part to help others,” said Burnstick.
Through the four-year commitment, Burnstick will mount benefit comedy shows two years and donate financial support for the other two years.
His first benefit comedy show with Jaydon Flett takes place Friday, March 31 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre in the Students’ Union Building. The theme is Don Burnstick live: I haven’t laughed this hard in years.
Jerry Cunningham, the community engagement and advancement officer for the faculty, explained the funds will purchase badly needed computers in the faculty library.
In addition faculty students, both aboriginal and non-indigenous scholars, are eligible to apply for temporary emergency funds. Burnstick’s added infusion of funds will provide a broader range of assistance to more students.
Cunningham, a close friend of Burnstick who met him through hockey two decades ago, was instrumental in organizing the comedy show.
“Don said the best students are in our faculty. In order to have a better future, we need to support our students today,” Cunningham said.
He noted Burnstick is a natural born storyteller who bases much of his humour on his life. The youngest of 15 children growing up on Alexander, Burnstick used a variety of weapons to defend himself including humour.
Later violence and thoughts of suicide were never far away while living on Edmonton streets in drug and alcohol haze. But in 1985 at 21, the young maverick sobered up at the urging of elders and trained at the University of San Diego in holistic urban youth development.
“Don’s comedy is definitely based on experiences from his life. He says really funny, quirky things and we indigenous people like to make fun of each other. We like to tease each other.”
Burnstick, who has creative and financial control over his brand, invited Jaydon Flett to open for him after meeting her in Winnipeg. A national news reporter for APTN News, Flett is a standup regular.
The duo performed at River Cree and brought the house down. Burnstick attributes much of the evening’s success to Flett.
“Jaydon is very stable and has very good material. She’s very young, very modern and very current. She’s a woman and she can talk about things I can’t,” laughs Burnstick.
If he has one bit of wisdom to impart, it’s live your life.
“Take control of your skill set, feed it and it will take you through life. A lot of people don’t use their skill set. People settle for jobs they hate or marriages that are controlling. But taking control of your skill set gives you freedom.”
Don Burnstick Live with special guest Jadon Flett
Friday, March 31 at 7 p.m.
Myer Horowitz Theatre
University of Alberta Students’ Union Building.
8900 – 114 St.
Tickets: $30 includes parking at Stadium Car Park