Laughter is the Best Medicine: Indigenous Comedian Sasha Mark Shares His Story
People used to tell Sasha Mark, "Sasha, you are very funny. You should do stand-up." His standard response was "Ew. Gross. Never. Ew." but after working with a fellow comedian named Issa Kixen, Mark found himself becoming a standup comedian. He did his first shows with them and “it's been nonstop ever since,” as Mark says.
Sasha Mark is a Cree man from Treaty 1 territory, and grew up as an urban Indigenous person in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Mark now lives in Vancouver, BC on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Before starting his career in comedy, Mark was studying to be a teacher at the University of Winnipeg.
I think that education is multifaceted and it doesn't just exist in a building. You can learn anywhere.
In the three short years since he started in comedy, Mark has done over 100 shows in bars, performing for corporate audiences and in comedy clubs like Yuk Yuks. He was on The Laughing Drum on APTN for two seasons. His comedy skills came from his university English, theater and film education and from an Indigenous comedienne named Cara Lytwyn in a 20 week writing course at Prairie Theater Exchange in Winnipeg. He honed his skills through taking workshops, but also “just looking around and seeing the things that are funny around you all the time,” he explained.
I think that connecting with people that we really care about is so important in terms of making things feel human in the art that we do and the way that we interact and it brings life into the things that we do.
Mark made a big move to Vancouver in search of new opportunities after feeling like he’d done all he could in his current community. He has advice for students considering doing the same. He suggests finding community in your new hometown and to stay connected with people from home through phone, texts or mail. “There is a place for you wherever you go. Wherever you put your feet, you can find the people you need, and trust that,” he said.
They always say laughter is medicine. It's not medicine for COVID, unfortunately. So that sucks, but in a way it is still medicine for what's happening.
Mark grew up poor in Winnipeg, where his family struggled with food security and lack of access to heat. Mark found refuge in school, meal programs and extracurricular activities. He also had a parent leave at a young age. Now as a comedian, he brings those stories to his work, where he faces racism and questions about why he brings his identity into his comedy and why he’s so “political.”
As Indigenous people, we have to be political. We are political by nature. We exist politically because we were forced into living like this. Us being alive is a political statement.
His advice he would offer to his younger self is to be kind, to remain open, to practice humility, to avoid burnout and take care of himself. He talked about how much pressure there is to be constantly working and doing things at school, work and extracurricular and how that contributes to our wellbeing. “As somebody who used to work over 100 hours a week, I think it's really important to really analyze when we need to take care of ourselves. And I would definitely say it's okay to be gentle with yourself. And if you do need help, just ask for help. You don't have to be so stubborn,” he continued.
While navigating the challenges of the pandemic, Mark is doing digital stand-up shows, working from home, and enjoying haircuts from one of his roommates. He’s been working with his therapist and connecting with family. Family is important to Mark; he credits his hilarious younger brother as being his inspiration for comedy and his family generally for inspiring him to be funny. He’s inspired by other comedians but hasn’t spent a lot of time watching comedy specials himself.
Ultimately, Mark is inspired by life happening around him. “There's funniness everywhere you go and you just really have to listen to it and find it. And you can be inspired by so many things, even if it's so little or if it's so big,” he says. As someone whose initial reaction to becoming a comedian was "Ew. Gross. Never. Ew.", he’s come into his own as a comedian. While he didn’t become a teacher in a formal sense, Mark gets to school audiences on the reality of life as an Indigenous person, and finds some laughs along the way.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.