JFL40: Paul Rabliauskas Is Ready To Share His Culture

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Growing up on the Poplar River First Nation, a fly-in community hundreds of kilometres north of Winnipeg, Paul Rabliauskas exposure to stand-up comedy was limited to the Just For Laughs specials that aired on CBC.

“There’s funny people and there’s lots of funny stories being told [on the reserve] but the act of stand-up comedy just wasn’t in our world,” Rabliauskas recalled. “I remember watching comedy and being enthralled by it – these dudes are just being funny and people are paying them to do that?!

“So that was always a curious thing but growing up on the rez it was never like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I don’t think I wanted to be a comedian until I had moved to Winnipeg and saw it live for the first time and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is definitely something I really want to do.’”

After years of honing his craft and paying his dues, Rabliauskas found himself doing stand-up on a stage at Montreal’s Just For Laughs. He returns to the festival this month as part of the Just For The Culture show (formerly The Ethnic Show) hosted by Alonzo Bodden and also featuring Dave Merheje, Jessica Kirson, Sheng Wang, Yannis Pappas and Zainab Johnson.

“It’s like a who’s who of people that I look up to in comedy,” said Rabliauskas, “and just to be able to sort of be in the same breath as them is so big for me and it’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve done in my career.

“I’m not even nervous I’m just excited to share my energy with all these people.”

He'll also be part of the Jo Koy gala at Place des Arts on July 28.

Rabliauskas is proud to be an aspirational figure in northern communities but said no one should be surprised by the comedic talent there.

“Our people are really naturally funny. I don’t want to get into, you know, tragedy equals comedy and all this stuff but you talk about a people who have suffered a lot…” he said. “We’ve been able to turn that into comedy and it’s a dark comedy and it’s really clever.”

Rabliauskas admitted his material has evolved. “When I was younger, nothing for me was off limits. But then obviously the climate changed a little bit and I got a little older and I don’t want to hurt people anymore. I don’t need my comedy to upset people for jokes,” he explained.

“I definitely calmed down in terms of sort of the edgy things I would talk about on stage. Especially when it comes to our people. Sometimes I feel like we need to protect our people on stage, and I tell young comics, ‘Just be careful what you talk about.’”

Rabliauskas recently wrapped on Acting Good, a 10-part series he co-created for the CTV Comedy Channel (part of Bell Media, parent company of this website).

“I think the show is going to do amazing things in terms of putting our humour out there to the public to see,” he said. “It’s been a dream. It doesn’t seem real. I don’t think it will seem real until it’s out.”

Rabliauskas said he’s comfortable with being labelled a First Nations or Indigenous comedian but, he said, “I think I’m really funny, I think I’m just as funny as the next guy regardless of skin colour or where I’m from.

“Obviously, I think people in Canada really want to hear our stories now more than ever so I’m okay… I’ll be the Indigenous guy if I have to be. I’ll win you over with my comedy regardless, so I’m okay with it.”

Paul Rabliauskas is part of the Just For The Culture show July 13 to 17 and 20 to 23 at Club Soda and July 26-28 at MTelus. Click here for tickets. JFL runs July 13-31 in Montreal.

CHOM is a sponsor of the Just For Laughs festival, which is partly owned by parent company Bell Media