When comedians Bruce Williams and Terry Ree first came on the scene, political correctness wasn't a "thing," but ranting politics was definitely their thing.
They didn't necessarily take sides — they took aim at everybody. If individuals were in the public eye and they were caught doing something stupid, their actions were fair game. Williams & Ree not only made fun of these people and earned laughs at their expense, they might even have written one of their saucy little ditties about the situation — and their audiences were laughing their butts off.
As young comedians in the early '70s "The Indian & The White Guy" performed in the same clubs as other up-and-comers like Robin Williams in places like the Comedy Store, where hanging out in the kitchen telling stories after shows might have been the best seats in the house.
Despite their longevity in the business, things haven't changed. They still love to skewer anyone who ruffles feathers, because politicians still walk among us and they're still prone to making dumb mistakes.
Then again, the duo might just take their personal agenda in a totally different direction. That issue might be something as frivolous as the lack of Hostess Cupcakes in the usual places. And, just like anything Williams and Ree do, the song is ridiculous, sublime and funny.
Williams & Ree have that innate ability to see the humor in everything around them. And that's a good thing to possess when you have enjoyed a run as long as this comedy team.
This long-running duo doesn't follow guidelines or conformity, spinning comedy gold from the union of a Plains Indian (Ree) and a "Western Angloid" (Williams). To these guys, nothing is off limits.
Originating out of the Dakotas, this music and comedy team has been together since the late 1960s. They first met at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, as members of a band who filled time between songs with comedy sketches. Their humor soon became more popular than their music. Much of the duo's banter plays upon the stereotypes held of Native Americans.
The comedic pair has earned a CMA vocal duo nomination and their television credits include "Country Kitchen," "HeeHaw," Laff TV and Comedy Central. They currently host country music festivals around North America and are featured on Sirius Radio and their own irreverent podcast, "The Red, White, and Slightly Blue Show."
Their comedy albums include The Best of Williams and Ree, Taking Reservations and Way Up Norsk. They also made two independent films in South Dakota, “Williams and Ree, The Movie” and “Totem Ree-Call.”
Their message is one of love, harmony, commonality, deceit, debauchery, the ridiculous and the silly, delivered with music and song parodies.
They remain one of the few comedy teams still working today and the only one that performs at the Avi Resort & Casino on a regular basis. They return to the resort on Saturday, Jan. 18 (7 p.m.).
Here's how our conversation went this time…
Where are you right now?
We're in Nashville, I'm chowing down on quinoa, after all the bad stuff I ate over the holidays. Now I'm trying to do something healthy for myself after all that.
What have you guys been up to lately?
The Grand Ole Opry has been utilizing our services a lot the last year or so and that's awesome. The crowds have been great.
Run into any old ghosts?
Yeah, the ghosts of old jokes (he laughs). We have to really clean up and do our best Smothers Brothers routine. It's funny, the other guys on the show have to sing and then we come out and whoa, we're kind of a surprise. We've been really fortunate to get on. In our business it's a right of passage we're not otherwise qualified for.
Any new stuff in the show?
We've been doing the "Indian Casino Blues" song. It's from our last musical record, High Falutin'. It goes over great especially at Indian casinos because that's what it's about.
You're here a little early this year.
They wanted us there the same time as the Pow Wow — they wanted some of the natives to come to our show. Oh, yeah, the natives love our show, but we get a few millennials who are like, "Oh, this is racist." But for the most part, the natives understand it for what it is — parody and allegory. We start off by saying if you think this is a gospel show, you're in the wrong place. Our show is not politically correct.
Is Terry still as politically incorrect as always?
Yes, he's still a Trump Stumper … he is and that's just wrong. But we don't "heavy-hand" it so much any more because, first of all, it divides your audience when you do that, unless you've got a good thing to say or a good joke to use that's foolproof. That Donald Trump has been a fountain of material, for sure. When Obama was in there it wasn't that funny, but Trump has just been so off the charts. All the comedians that were struggling before, now are getting the highest ratings.
You and the Indian are on opposite sides of the coin in those political arenas?
Absolutely, he's a lifelong Democrat, and then Trump came along and he voted for Trump and he's been stumping for Trump the whole way. Not me (he laughs).
What are your thoughts about returning to the Opry?
We've been doing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville again. We did it years ago when we were on the Nashville Network, but it's been 25 years since we've done it. It's crowded, there's so many acts that want to do the Grand Ole Opry, you know. It's the last granddaddy of them all, a right of passage kind of thing. We get to do eight minutes, so no wasted words. We get right in it and it's really helped tune up our show, yeah. It's gotten us back to working hard on timing and doing our show and powering through rather than veering off into some sort of diatribe — and that's creating new material for us and for Terry, who's usually going off in a rant about "you damn white people."
Talk a little about your creative process.
We've just been able to kind of work like we do on stage, when we're just driving around and stuff. Sometimes we come up with the funniest stuff that way, it's just our natural gift of gab. Of course, the Indian is always opinionated. My job is to interrupt his flow.
We should have a few new gems, but lately we've been going back to some of our older bits, dusting them off and bringing them out, yeah, 'cause we realize people want to see them, if they can remember them. The ones that don't remember them, it's a new bit. When it comes to jokes, we never throw anything away … it's called recycling, repurposing.
Your fans are still out there in droves and they still love what you do.
It's cool that people still show up for our shows. It's fortunate that it continues to be that way even into our golden years. We're experiencing that nice little rush. We're blessed that the snowbirds from the Midwest go to Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. And it keeps the rumors of our demise at bay. You know, the "are they still alive?" question. I think we've got another life now because there's a niche left over from the Smothers Brothers' retirement — and those are some big shoes to fill.
We're filling their shoes with Sioux love. We don't have any backstage fights anymore — at least, none that I know of. We were in Elko, Nevada, once and we saw these Ukranian comedians, the Mathis Brothers, come off the stage and duke it out in the dressing room. We wondered, "is this what we have to do to be comedians — we need violence to pick things up?" They would beat each other bloody and come out and do their thing. The Sioux guy is a mellow character compared to that — until he's pissed and then there may be a small fire — but it only burns out the white people.