Charlie Hill: Google Doodle pays tribute to the first Native American comedian on national television
July 6 marks Native American comedian Charlie Hill’s 71st birthday, and on the special day he was honored with a Google Doodle. He was the first Native American comedian to appear on national television. Hill, who was of Oneida, Mohawk, and Cree descent, played a major role in addressing Native American rights issues and criticized those who categorized Indians on various talk shows.
On July 6, 1951, Charlie Hill was born in Detroit, Michigan. Hill was a small child when his father moved the family back to his home on the Oneida Nation reservation in Wisconsin. Young Charlie had begun to develop an interest in humor just before this move. Hill was heavily inspired by Dick Gregory, who mixed humor with significant activism for Native American rights, although being a Native American comedian in those days was a bit unusual. Hill attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and majored in speech and drama after graduating from West De Pere High School in 1969.
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Hill participated in several theater groups during this time and after graduating. This included the La Mama Experimental Theater Club and the Native American Theater Ensemble. Hill then moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s. During this time he studied good techniques and tricks from other comedians and tried to gain knowledge and inspiration.
Hill was invited to perform at the Comedy Store, a famous Hollywood theater where he met the likes of Richard Pryor and David Letterman. In 1977, Hill made his debut on the network show “The Richard Pryor Show”. His appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” made him the first Native American comedian to do so. Later, he made several appearances on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ and ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’. Hill has also guest-starred on various shows like ‘Roseanne’ and ‘Moesha’.
In 2009, Hill received the Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Award. This was followed by an award from “Native Americans on the Web”, honoring Hill as an activist through comedy. This award was given to him for his countless years of support for native Indians and his efforts to end cultural discrimination.
The Google Doodle was illustrated by French Indigenous artist Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell. According to the artist, Hill was a huge inspiration and this collaboration changed his life. On the Google Doodle website, Alanah said, “I felt the spirit of Charlie Hill throughout the illustration process. Meeting his family and being able to better understand who he is helped me feel connected to him. By illustrating Indigenous people and culture, it makes it so much more meaningful when it’s by an Indigenous artist, and being an Indigenous artist from the same people as Charlie meant that I could use my teachings and knowledge of our spiritual ways to capture who he is. , and I’m incredibly honored to do this work.” Alanah also shared some prototypes of her Google Doodle of Hill on the blog. Check them out:
Hill died on December 30, 2013 of lymphoma in Oneida, Wisconsin. His tireless efforts to empower Native Americans through the art of humor will never be forgotten. Happy birthday, Charlie.