Humor is Healing
With blue skies and a snowy mountain in the background, the camera focuses on a man and a woman hunting on the tundra. Wind gusts while sunshine illuminates their faces. They lay in the grass, watching and waiting for birds. The husband suggests that his wife try calling them in. Each time he names a different bird, she raises her hand up to her mouth and lets out a bird call. Emperor geese. “Lu-lu-look!” White-front. “Hoooonk.” Sexy swan. “Loo-loo-loo-ooo…?” Each call elicits giggles and laughter from the pair — genuinely delightful moments that they share with viewers around the world.
This is one of many short videos created by Yup’ik multimedia storyteller Noah Cana’araq Lincoln of Toksook Bay. “I make videos because I want to make people laugh,” he says. His voice conveys an easy-going personality that radiates humility, kindness and innocent mischief all at the same time.
Lincoln is self-taught. Many years ago, he began experimenting with voiceovers and free video editing software. As social media became more widespread, he began making more videos and posting them online. For the past year, he has been writing, filming, editing and regularly posting videos on his Facebook page, “Noah Loves Kristy.”
A loving father of six kids, this pizza-making-bush pilot-hunter focuses his media art skills on sharing humorous moments inspired by everyday life in Toksook Bay, a coastal Yup’ik village on Nelson Island in Southwestern Alaska. Some videos follow people cruising on snowmachines over snowy tundra or halibut fishing out on the glassy ocean. Most of the videos are set at Lincoln’s home. “My wife is a full-time health aide and I’m a full-time housewife, taking care of the kids,” he jokes.
The videos have captured the likes and hearts of fans all over Alaska, the Lower 48, and as far as away as Canada, Greenland and Denmark. His videos are especially popular among Yup’ik, Iñupiaq and Inuit people who have expressed their appreciation for his work that celebrates a style of humor that is underrepresented in mainstream Western media. “My humor is more directed toward our lifestyle,” he explains. “It’s different from other cultures, but most of the Native people, they understand. They know this kind of humor. They get it,” he says.
Most of Lincoln’s videos are less than 3 minutes long. Some spontaneously capture unscripted situations. Others are planned in advance. When his wife, Kristy, joined him in the videos, they became even more popular. Occasionally, their kids and other community members are guest actors in the videos, lending variety to the interactions.
Lincoln especially looks forward to the editing stage of the artistic process. “Cutting, editing, going back and watching it, putting in filters, and music. That part is the most fun part.” The computer, editing software, and other equipment supported by the Rasmuson Foundation award have been critical tools for regularly creating content and improving his skills.
Growing up in Toksook Bay, Lincoln’s life has always been steeped in humor. In his community, Yugtun is spoken as a first language and the Yup’ik worldview is a source of strength. Humor and laughter are so important to Yup’ik culture that the traditional family structure defines a special relationship between certain family members who are considered to be ilurat and nuliacungat, or “teasing cousins.” Genetically, teasing cousins are cross-cousins whose parents are siblings of different genders. Socially, teasing between the cousins is not only common, but it is also expected. “Humor is a big part of how we get along, like keeping the bond stronger with humor,” explains Lincoln. “I’d say, it opens up the relationship more. Like they could tease each other, and they’ll love each other at the same time.”
Equally important to laughter and teasing is awareness and sensitivity. “There’s limits to humor, and some people overdo it,” Lincoln explains. “You can tell where the boundary is by watching the other person’s reactions and keep it within the limits. You don’t get too personal, just stay in the friend zone.”
As a humor artist, Lincoln is cautious when navigating the tricky waters of the social media world. His videos avoid politics, profanity and dark humor so that people will not be offended or hurt. His greatest wish is for his videos to be a positive force in people’s lives.
“People message me on Facebook and they talked about how depressed they were before,” he recalls. “One lady, her daughter committed suicide and she was sad. She couldn’t find humor anymore until she came across our videos. And she started laughing. And for a moment she was happy. It really touched me when she told me,” he remembers. “I am happy I made an impact on their lives. That during their sorrow, they forget for a moment that they’re hurting.”
In addition to making his humorous videos, Lincoln has also made music videos for local musicians and celebratory videos to capture the excitement of basketball tournaments and other community events.
Some of his work addresses the difficult issues that affect nearly every person in Native communities: substance misuse and suicide. As a survivor of suicide and someone who has lost family members to alcohol, Lincoln knows firsthand why it is important to face these challenges. “In my videos, I want to show people that you matter, everybody matters. I want to help individuals who are struggling.”
Lincoln plans to continue making videos that he hopes will make a difference in people’s hearts and bring a little more joy to their lives. “Like our elders say, if you worry too much or if you’re feeling sad, don’t focus too much on those feelings. Try lift your spirit up. Part of healing is laughing.”