Standup comedian Don Burnstick views laughter as natural healing. A Cree from Alexander First Nation and a residential school survivor, he sees a great need for healing. As a comic, he views his role as activating that “endorphin rush” people experience during laughter.
“Right now people have their double shot of vaccine; their guard is down, they are relaxed, and people are opening up to humour. I’m just the conductor. I conduct the laughter for one-and-one-half hours. It’s something people really need now,” said Burnstick referring to COVID and the shock still reverberating across the nation at finding hundreds of Indigenous children in unmarked residential school graves.
Currently a Morinville resident, Burnstick is slated to perform a full-scale stand-up routine as part of the Cattail Crossing Golf and Winter Club Concert Series on Friday, Nov. 26.
“The show is not just laughter. It’s a complete cultural experience of reconciliation in a beautiful way. There will be comedy, flute music, and moose prepared in the traditional way. We want everybody to come together and heal with laughter,” Burnstick said.
In addition to the regular dinner menu, Out of Bounds Restaurant chef Brooke Babyak will cook a dish of moose stew and bannock prepared in the traditional Indigenous way. Burnstick and his nephew, Billy Jennings, personally bagged the moose, and Indigenous protocols are used to prepare the feast.
“We feed you, make you laugh, and heal you from within,” said Burnstick, who discovered from his personal experiences that laughter is a powerful antidote to depression.
As a young man he spent time on the streets addicted to alcohol and drugs. Finding strength within, Burnstick successfully turned his life around, spending more than two decades performing standup.
Prior to developing an onstage persona, he was trained as an alcohol and drug counsellor, and worked as a wellness youth worker. When The Gazette contacted Burnstick, it was National Addictions Awareness Week. The comedian had just completed a tour of eastern Canada and stopped in Timmins, Ont., to lead an addictions workshop.
“I do standup, but this [workshop] is because of my commitment to myself. I see it as something necessary.”
Leaning on the advice of his elders, the local comedian has discovered universal humour by using his cultural heritage as a guide. As an internationally-acclaimed comic, he wishes more people would recognize the important role humour plays in healing.
Currently a respected member of the Indigenous community, Burnstick has transcended his early at-risk years to being a shoulder for the community to lean on in times of distress. For him, the discovery of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at residential schools is especially painful. Throughout his life’s journey, Burnstick always believed there are four important parts to healing after encountering hardship: prayer, sharing, crying, and laughter.
“I still feel that. But there is a lot of work to be done. The magnitude of what happened is horrible. We did it. A section of Canadians hurt other Canadians. My hope and prayers are that we get uncomfortable. When you go further into discomfort, you become proactive. If you bury it, it will hurt you more. But if you open your heart and mind, there is resolution.”
As he likes to say, healing starts with people of every stripe gathering together for a shared festive meal and laughter.
“I want people to leave laughing and floating on air. This show will help ease stress and make people feel good. I will do my darndest to have a good show. I will feed people and guarantee them a good time.”
The concert runs 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. For tickets visit www.cattailconcertseries.com. The club is located at 24427 Township Road 542, Lancaster Park, Sturgeon County.