Happy 71st Birthday Charlie! July 6 Google Doodle celebrates Native comedian Charlie Hill

Charlie was an Oneida/Mohawk/Cree comedian that first appeared on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977 who then went on to take the comedic world by storm

Today’s Google Doodle is a tribute and celebration of one of the most-loved comedians in the world of Native comedy, the Oneida/Mohawk/Cree comedian Charlie Hill.

Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell, a French-First Nations artist from Oneida Nation of the Thames.

Here is the entire announcement as released by Google

July 6, 2022

Charlie Hill’s 71st Birthday

Today’s Doodle celebrates the 71st birthday of Charlie Hill, the first Native American stand-up comedian to appear on national television. Hill—who had Oneida (Onʌyoteˀa·ká·), Mohawk (Kanien’kehá:ka) and Cree (Néhinaw) heritage—worked his way to comedic fame and was one of the first performers to take a public stand challenging Native stereotypes on major talk show programs. Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell, a French-First Nations artist from Oneida Nation of the Thames.

Hill was born on this day in 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. At age 11, he moved to the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin’s reservation where his father had grown up. On weekends, the Hill family enjoyed watching comedy shows together. Hill was particularly moved by comedian Dick Gregory, who fused activism supporting the Native American civil rights movement with comedy in a way he had never seen before. Hill was inspired to do the same. Having set a vision for his future, he later enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, majoring in speech and drama. 

After college, Hill moved to New York City and became involved with the La Mama Experimental Theater Club and later moved to Seattle and joined the Native American Theatre Ensemble. After a few years of practice, he headed to Los Angeles to pursue his dream and work as an actor and comedian. 

He stood out among his contemporaries as a talented musician who would often incorporate the harmonica into his performances. He was also an avid reader who spent hours in the library educating himself. He set a high standard for himself and dedicated hours to studying other comedians to learn about different styles, timing, and the development of a routine. He would regularly ask other comics for tips and feedback for his own performances.

In the 1970s, Hill earned a spot to perform at Hollywood’s famous Comedy Store, a scouting ground for major network TV. There, he became fast friends with some of the top comedians of the time. 

Having made a name for himself in town at the age of 26, Hill received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to debut on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. This was not only a pivotal moment for Hill, but for all Native people who were seeing someone who looked like them on TV for the first time. However, the show’s writers asked Hill to portray a demeaning Native stereotype to which he refused. He felt his duty to stop the perpetuation of racist stereotypes was more important than any career opportunity. 

After his debut, Hill became a regular on late-night talk shows and exclusive comedy clubs. He went on to perform stand-up around the world and appeared in films and TV shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman, Roseanne and Moesha.

In 2009, Hill received the Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Award from the Screen Actors Guild. 

He also won the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award for his exceptional work as a Native artist. 

Happy 71st birthday, Charlie Hill! 

Pictured: Charlie Hill (Courtesy of The Hill family)

Pictured: Charlie Hill (Courtesy of The Hill family)

Special thanks to the family of Charlie Hill for their collaboration on this project. Below the Hills share their thoughts on the Doodle and Charlie’s legacy.

Many people don’t know that Charlie had a vision of becoming a comedian since the early age of ten. Many had never heard of a Native American comedian and often scoffed at his notion of wanting to become one. Regardless, Charlie was never deterred from pursuing his dream. When Charlie was on stage, he was in his element. Time and space didn’t exist, and he loved making people laugh. He believed it was the best kind of medicine. Through his comedy, Charlie promoted healing and reminded Native people of their resiliency, capabilities, and creative abilities. Storytelling and humor have always been a part of Native American culture and he reminded everyone of this. He established the visibility of Native people and fought to end stereotypes, while also creating a new wave of accurate representation. Charlie was an incredibly caring person, authentic, and very driven. He was never about the accolades and didn’t like talking about himself.

 When Charlie wasn’t on stage, he could be found in a local bookstore or a coffee shop. But most of the time, Charlie’s attention was on his family. He would say his most outstanding achievement was his children and grandchildren. He loved spending time with his wife and kids, and his favorite thing to do was make them laugh. Our father had a very special relationship with each of us. He took an interest in what we loved. Whether it was a particular band or martial arts, he would learn about it to teach and encourage us. He was so proud of anything we did, and he enjoyed being our father. When his first grandchild was born, he was so uplifted and happy that all he could do was talk about her. Our favorite memory of our father was spending time at the beach and watching the sunset—it was one of his favorite moments to share with us.

 Dad, we are so proud of you for who you were, all that you accomplished, the doors you opened, and the multitudes you have inspired and continue to inspire. You were the best father anyone could ever ask for, and you will always be our hero.

We are forever proud of him and honored to collaborate with Google to remember him on his birthday. Our family is very grateful and honored that the legacy of Charlie Hill is being celebrated with a Google Doodle.

May his spirit live on and inspire many to pursue their dreams.

– The Hill family

Pictured: Left to right  Back row: Nabahe, Diné Nizhoni, Nanabah, and Nasbah (Charlie’s children) Front row: Charlie with Tasbah (granddaughter) on his lap and Lenora (wife) (Photo: Courtesy of The Hill family)

Guest Artist Q&A with Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell

Today’s Doodle was illustrated by French-First Nations artist from Oneida Nation of the Thames,  Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell. Below, she shares her thoughts behind the making of this Doodle: 

Q: Why was this topic meaningful to you personally? 

A: Both Charlie Hill and I are Haudenosaunee from Oneida – I’m from Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Charlie is from Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. We originate from the same people, both have matrilineal cultures and societies, and have very similar ways of life. As an artist, I create artwork specifically for Indigenous people that can relate to the teachings and meaning in my work. To be able to illustrate Charlie, depict his closest connections and things that were meaningful to him, and create an honourable representation of his spirit for his family, is incredibly fulfilling to me.

Q: What were your first thoughts when you were approached about the project?

A: I was so excited and honoured to do this work. Depicting people was outside of my comfort zone but I knew that with the support of Charlie’s family and the creative team at Google, I would be able to create something that resonated with everyone. 

Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle? 

A: Definitely – I drew a lot of inspiration from Charlie’s work, as well as elements found in Creation. I studied Charlie and learned so much about the things that he loved. He was a very creative and intellectual person and so I wanted to depict him doing the things he loved most: playing the harmonica, performing, making people laugh, reading, representing Indigenous people and paving the way for other Indigenous performers. Charlie resonated with sunsets and forests, and so I wanted him to be in his favourite places doing his life work. Illustrating Charlie allowed me to find the intersection between a lot of beautiful elements. 

Q: What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?

A: I felt Charlie Hill’s spirit throughout the whole process of illustrating him. Meeting his family and being able to better understand who he was helped me feel connected to him. When 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. This was a life-changing collaboration and I’m incredibly honoured to do this work.

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