Wednesday's Google Doodle celebrates the 71st birthday of Charlie Hill, a Native American actor and standup comedian who challenged racial stereotypes and drew attention to oppression while defending his native identity.
Hill was born in 1951 in Detroit and moved at 11 to the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin reservation his father grew up on. As a kid, Hill fell in love with comedy watching TV programs featuring Dick Gregory, a Black satirist who used his comedy to draw attention to social injustices.
Hill majored in speech and drama at the University of Wisconsin–Madison before joining the New York theater scene and then ultimately moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting and comedy. His big break came in 1977 with an appearance on the Richard Pryor Show, a short-lived sketch comedy TV show hosted by the Black comedian who also used humor to break down racial barriers.
It proved to an unpredictably pivotal moment for Hill. When Pryor and his head writer approached Hill about appearing in one of the show's sketches, Hill turned them down, arguing that that the sketch was rooted in offensive, demeaning stereotypes. In response, Pryor offered the sketch's time to Hill, who said he wanted to perform some of his standup material addressing Native American stereotypes, which he did.
"You know, a lot of you white people never seen an Indian do standup comedy before," Hill said during his appearance on the show. "Like, for so long you probably thought Indians never had a sense of humor. We never thought you were too funny either."
Afterward, he became the first Native American comedian to appear on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and made frequent appearances on late-night talk TV. He would also make multiple appearances on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and become a writer for the TV shows Roseanne and Moesha.
In 2009, Hill was honored with the Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Award. Hill died at 62 in Oneida, Wisconsin, in 2013 after a brief battle with lymphoma.