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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Remembering a pioneer, Charlie Hill

The Native American comedian from Oneida leaves a legacy.

PHOTO: Stand-up comedian and comedy writer Charlie Hill gave a nod to Oneida, where he grew up, throughout his career. Neyom Friday website photo

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Turn back the clock to Oct. 12, 1992. American calendars say it’s Columbus Day. The United States is marking 500 years since it was discovered. Wait a minute, says a Native American Indian from Oneida in Northeastern Wisconsin.

“Do you know how it feels being told you were discovered by somebody who got lost?”

Speaking on national TV is Charlie Hill. He’s performing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Leno has introduced Hill as “an old buddy of mine.”

True, Leno and Hill were buddies from days when they were breaking in on the comedy club circuit. Hill had many other compatriots from the limelight. Among his friends forever were David Letterman and Roseanne Barr.

Hill died Monday, Dec. 30, in Oneida due to cancer. He was buried Friday, Jan. 3. He was 62.

I wrote about and spoke with Charlie Hill many times over the years. Looking back, he carried with him a sense of responsibility. In the big picture, his biting comedy spoke for more than just Charlie Hill.

Here’s more from his national TV gig of Oct. 12, 1992:

- “How do you discover a place where people are already living? But they tilt the history books – ‘We discovered this land. There was nobody using it, and we claimed it.’ So using that logic, I saw a Ferrari in the parking lot and nobody was using it. I discovered it.”

- “Then after Columbus, the missionaries came. They brought us the Bible, and we had all the land. And now we got the Bible, and they got the land. To this day, there’s still a religious conflict. Catholics are angry at us ’cause we took their most sacred ceremony – bingo.”

- Hill introduced himself as an Oneida from Wisconsin and said. “We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.”

Speaking with Charlie Hill was always a rush. Humor poured from him, just in conversation. The serious and the comical were welded. It was an amazing facility. He was expert at what he did with the heart and soul of a pioneer.

Charlie Hill traveled the land with his stand-up humor, appeared many times on late-night TV, wrote for prime-time series, acted in TV series and was featured in documentaries, among many other accomplishments.

Death has silenced a big voice for Native Americans. For Americans as a whole, come to think of it.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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