Benefit

Two really funny rez guys

Native American comedy duo James and Ernie headline ‘Laugh with Your Library’ benefit

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Here in Taos, we love our libraries. We show the love with our bond votes and our enthusiastic use of library facilities. This week, the University of New Mexico-Taos Library will be showing some love and appreciation to the community.

The 14th annual “Love Your Library Day” event this year is called “Laugh with Your Library.” The evening of performances, raffle prizes and fun will be headlined by the award-winning Native American comedy duo known as James and Ernie. Opening for the headliners will be Taos’ own Improv Medicine comedy troupe.

The all-ages show is Friday (Feb. 9), 7 p.m., at the UNM-Taos Bataan Hall, 120 Civic Plaza Drive.

Fans have been known to spot James Junes or Ernie Tsosie III walking around town solo or shopping for groceries, and to run up to them joyfully shouting, “Hey, it’s James’n’Ernie!”

The duo has been performing together since 2002, soon after their first meeting.“I got into comedy by signing up for a comedy competition, as a self-challenge to overcome stage fright and social anxiety, and that is where I met James,” Tsosie said. “This was in Farmington, N.M., in April 2001. I think that I’ve always been funny, but I didn’t realize that it was “stage worthy” or that I could make a living out of being funny.”

Both men were in recovery from alcohol, and they bonded on a spiritual level as well as with their comedy. The duo’s website reads: “It’s great to be a Native American; it’s even greater to be a sober, drug-free and abuse-free Native American.”

“We decided from day one that we wanted to do more than just entertain people. We wanted to have a positive message,” Tsosie said. “So, since then, it’s been very important to have some sort of positive message to give back to our audience, especially the youth. We will continue that tradition as long as we are performing.”

James and Ernie have toured throughout the U.S. and Canada, from the rancherías of California to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. They’ve visited tribes across Native America, sharing their healing comedy and strong testimonies of surviving and defeating drug addiction, alcoholism, childhood abuse and more.

Along the way, they have garnered a slew of accolades for comedy and film. But Tsosie is more eager to talk about more personal accomplishments. “Besides being a comedian, I am a husband and father. My wife Miranda and I will be celebrating our 23rd anniversary this month on Valentine’s Day!” The couple has four children, ranging in age from 27 to 6 years old. “I made sure I’ll be busy parenting until I’m like 70 years old,” Tsosie laughed.

Tsosie said he and Junes were excited to be returning to Taos for the show. “Taos was one of our first stops when we’d just started the duo, and it was a wonderful experience. We had a lot of people show up, and I think some of the videos of those shows are actually still on YouTube from the early years.” (See James and Ernie in a 2009 appearance at the Taos Pueblo Community Center: youtube.com/watch?v=hOdkMpfm8V0.)

The “Love Your Library” theme has a special resonance for Tsosie. “I am looking forward to it because I myself love to read, and I am an avid reader. I have my own personal library at my home, and I am constantly reading from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I’ve got books everywhere — on the table, in my truck, the living room and, of course, the restroom. You can get a lot of reading done in the bathroom,” he quipped, “especially if you love to go to buffets!”

Opening act Improv Medicine will feature Taos actors Irene Loy, Hollie Laudal, Becky Ciletti, Devon Hoffman and the troupe’s founder, Jason Pfeiffer. The performers have used their improvisation talents not only for joyful entertainment, but in partnerships with local organizations to facilitate better communication, especially working within the health care profession to build more trust between patients and health care providers.

“Improvisation is nothing more than creating something spontaneous and collaborative in the moment,” Pfeiffer said. “Just like life. The more you practice improvising, the more comfortable you become with making decisions in the moment and not second-guessing yourself later.”

“We love preparing each show for the specific audience we’ll have,” Loy said. “And in this case, it’s especially fun because students need to laugh, to take the pressure off, to take themselves and the process less seriously, even while they’re doing something very serious.”

She added that audience members will have the opportunity to volunteer input and even become part of the act. “We’re looking forward to warming up the crowd for James and Ernie, and to having a fun evening with everyone there.”

“This annual event is not just about bringing the college library out into the community, but to help showcase all of UNM-Taos,” Library Director Kathleen Knoth said. “Our staff really felt strongly that humor was important at this time. We gravitated towards James and Ernie because they so embody what we can do with their lives if we strive to be clean and sober. We felt this was a message we could stand behind. All proceeds go toward the UNM-Taos Library, which is open to everyone in the community.”

Tsosie quoted a verse from the Book of Proverbs: “‘A happy heart is medicine for the soul, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’ That’s our message to our audience these days. Keep your joy. Be happy, stay happy. And comedy is the perfect way to do just that.”

Tickets to the show are $10, free to youth 12 and under.

For more information, call (575) 737-6242 or email unmtlib@unm.edu.

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