UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Actor Tatanka Means brings laughter, inspiration to UND campus

Comedy crosses cultural boundaries, taps into what makes us all human, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ actor suggests 

Tatanka Means
Hollywood actor Tatanka Means does standup in the Mermorial Union Ballroom in Wednesday, Nov. 15. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Comedian, Hollywood actor and apparel entrepreneur Tatanka Means brought laughter to a crowd of UND students, faculty and staff, in an appearance on campus on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Means, who appears in Martin Scorsese’s recently released “Killers of the Flower Moon,” brought his message of positivity (and his standup routine) to the event, which was organized by Keith Malaterre, director of the Indigenous Student Center. Malaterre hosted the event, which drew not only laughter but also good-natured groans or wry smiles after a comically risqué quip.

Means (who has heritage from the Navajo, Oglala Lakota, and Omaha Nations) joked that he was profiled while checking in to his hotel: “Do you have a reservation? What’s that supposed to mean!?” he shouted.

While he meandered through jokes about how to meet women at powwows (it’s a lot of looks, facial expressions and winks while pretending to drum, he said), Means didn’t spare himself (or his two long braids) from his routine:

“Mom (feigning crying as a grade-school student), they keep pulling my braids!”

“That’s because they like you!”

“But this was the bus driver!”

The laughter continued as Means veered into comically uncomfortable territory. He called for all the Indigenous people in the crowd to make some noise – which they did – but the laughs kept coming as he called out “How about the white people?!”, to limited and nervous applause.

As for his joking about sensitive topics, Means let it be known that he’s not out to enlighten his audiences; he’s out to make them laugh.

“I’m not a Medicine Man, I just got good medicine, man!” he said of his comedy.

But Means brought his act to a close with a positive message: that Indigenous students at UND are setting a good example for people back home. He thanked them for coming to his show and let them know that their presence on campus is meaningful to their peers.

“Thank you for being here,” he said, “You inspire everyone back home. It gives them the strength to do the same thing.”

Comedian Johnny R.
Comedian Johnny R. opens for Tatanka Means on Nov. 15, 2023. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Preceding Means on stage was Johnny R. “The Outlaw,” a standup comedian from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Johnny said he has known Means for several years, and the two have worked together.

Johnny didn’t waste any time jumping right in: “As you can probably tell, me and Tatanka are twin brothers … that’s not the joke,” said the stocky comedian, notably shorter than the slender, 6’4’’ Means. “He got all the height, the good looks and the charm. I got all the width!”

The Outlaw (so named for getting kicked out of the hotel after his first show for celebrating so exuberantly) warmed up the crowd with jokes about being the parent of 12 children (“They’re all in the van outside. They’ll be all right; I left them my phone out there, I left them some chips).”

Johnny said he has aspirations to work in Hollywood like Means, but said he needed to have a word with the producers of The Hulu show “Reservation Dogs,” because, well, he didn’t see any actual reservation dogs on the show. “You walk anywhere (on the reservation) there’s like six, seven, eight, nine dogs that follow you, right? Go on, get out of here!” he said, pantomiming shooing a dog away.

Following his performance, Means did a bit of Q & A with the crowd. One attendee asked if the film “Killers of the Flower Moon” closely resembled the non-fiction book on which it was based.

Means said Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, after speaking with members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, decided to deviate from portions of the book to focus more on the Indigenous characters in the story, rather than other plot points. Means credited the famous director and his superstar leading actor for finding importance and meaning in the ideas expressed by members of the Osage Nation.

Editor’s note: “Killers of the Flower Moon,” (out now) is about a series of murders that happen in the Osage Nation in 1920’s Oklahoma, following the discovery of oil on the Osage tribal land. Means plays the role of undercover agent John Wren.

Prior to the evening’s entertainment and Q & A, Dan Henry, director of the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program at UND, offered a prayer for the group. In doing so, he alluded to Means’ nature as a sober entertainer.

“We ask that you give us the ability to show mercy and love for those who are needed, for those who are battling addictions, for those are battling diseases, those that are grieving over lost loved ones,” he prayed.

The evening concluded with plenty of selfies and conversations, as Means obliged attendees with a meet-and-greet session.

Tatanka Means signs autographs
Tatanka Means signs autographs for attendees of his standup performance on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Phot By Adam Kurtz/UND Today.