“Stick to what you know.”
That simple yet profound suggestion lead JR — Dominic Redwater Jr. — to be one of the nation’s most beloved Native American comedians in North America.
On his return home following four years of service in the U.S. Navy, getting ready to start a new chapter in his life and seeking for guidance, a nicely dressed oil worker gave JR that advice. He instantly knew in his heart where to turn — comedy.
JR entered the Navy at age 19. Serving for one year on the USS Independence and the following three years on the USS Carl Vinson, JR was with the Navy for what he calls “four long, wild years.”
Experiencing different cultures, seeing their traditions, eating their traditional foods — it all builds character, he said. His time traveling and serving in the Navy helped him lead a disciplined life with a strong work ethic, morals he still stands by today.
“Those four years were the best four years in my life,” JR said.
Despite his valuable experience in the Navy, JR still cherishes returning home from service in ‘96 and seeing his son, Titan Redwater, for the first time. Titan and his son’s mom were waiting for him on a pier at Alameda Naval Air Station in Oakland, Calif.
Flash forward and JR, now 40 years old and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, is known as the “Reservation Sensation.” It’s a nickname he borrowed from an old friend, and it stuck. It pays homage to his hilarious stories about growing up on a reservation.
Turning to comedy after his Navy service was no surprise. Family and friends always told him he should be a comedian. JR’s sister, Shannan Gomez, said he’s been hilarious since he was a child, and he knew it.
JR made his first standup debut in 2001 at the Irvine Comedy Club and continued performing around Los Angeles. After three years of unpaid open mic shows around Southern California, JR went pro and quit his daily job in 2004.
“I always knew in my heart that I was going to be bigger,” JR said.
In 2011, Showtime featured JR on their comedy DVD, “American Indian Comedy Slam.” Now he’s performing all over North America. In 2008, he spent 10 days performing in Iraq for troops as part of the Lone Wolf Comedy Tour.
Shannan has always viewed JR as just her brother. Seeing him perform on stage for the first time doing what he loved blew her mind, she said. She never imagined he could have an entire audience roaring in laughter.
Despite performing hundreds of comedy shows, one moment stands out among the rest. In 2012, while performing at Majestic Pines Casino in Black River Falls, Wis. for Memorial Day weekend, JR introduced his parents to the crowd. It was amazing seeing the crowd clap and cheer for his parents, he said.
It was also the last performance Dominic Redwater Sr. saw. Just a few weeks later, JR lost his father to a heart attack.
Dominic Redwater Sr. was JR’s number one fan and would be proud of his success, Shannan said. He was always proud to see how much JR accomplished in life. Their father always told JR, “Never forget who you are and where you came from.” He hasn’t.
Today, he’s performing comedy and also giving motivational speeches for youth programs around North America. While he’s a role model for the youth community, he’s also influenced friends to follow their passions in life.
Friend and co-comedian Kasey Nicholson, a member of White Clay Nation of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, also devotes his life to comedy and motivational speaking on bullying, drugs and alcohol, frequently for Native American youth.
During a show in Rocky Boy, Montana, JR encouraged Kasey’s passion for comedy and gave him his first opportunity to perform on stage. Kasey said there’s not enough he can say about JR when it comes to his support and warm personality.
“[JR] is just a down-to-earth guy, family-loving guy, sincere. He puts art into his work,” he said. “You can tell he really enjoys it.”
Comedy allows everyone to share the healing energy of laughter, Kasey said. He and JR frequently focus their show themes on growing up on a reservation, but it’s comedy that non-natives can appreciate as well.
“Indian people are able to laugh at their own stereotypes,” Kasey said. “Even though they don’t live on the res, we’re all able to share that same sense of laughter.”
Don’t miss JR doing what he knows best — comedy! JR and other U.S. veteran comedians will perform for Veterans of Comedy on May 7 at the Swinomish Casino & Lodge. Buy your tickets today before they sell out! For tickets or more information, call 888-288-8883 or visit www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com.