November 29, 2023

Hues of Heritage: A Celebration of Native American Month with Joshua Emerson

Tai Bickham


Throughout the month of November we celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Joshua Emerson is a Navajo comedian residing here in Denver who is making his mark in the comedic scene by bringing his honest and relatable perspectives on life to audiences through laughter. He is part of the comedy troupe, DeadRoom Comedy, Co-Chair of the Denver American Indian Commission and a contributing member to City Cast Denver. Joshua has a passion for advocacy and raising the creative voices and social issues of Denver’s indigenous community.  

We sat down with Joshua as part of our Hues of Heritage video series, spotlighting those within our community who create, educate, motivate, and encourage exploration. You can also catch Joshua’s standup performance as part of the Cowboy Comedy Show on Thursday, January 18, 2024 at MCA Denver at the Holiday Theater.

joshua emerson

What do you love about Denver?

I really see an opportunity to help make Denver one of the best cities in the country, in the world. There's really an opportunity to sort of leave your imprint here right now. There's so many good creatives here. We have great mountains, great nature, and so I feel inspired by that. I am a Western native, so I also feel inspired by the fact that indigenous people have been here since time immemorial. And so, there's a little bit of sense that I belong here, but I'm also continuing to grow here. 

What would you like to see more from Denver?

I mean, housing is one thing, but beyond just the logistics, I think there's a sense when I came here, this idea of a Colorado native, a Denver native, that there's this settler culture that people are very proud of that have problems with as an indigenous person. And I guess it's beyond just creating the white guilt around how problematic that settler culture could be. I think there's a future where both of us are here making Denver a better place, that we're able to find empathy and create community and make Denver a beautiful city, both indigenous people and non-indigenous people. That's really what I'm working towards is bridging the gap that indigenous people, we matter, our issues matter, but we're also trying to build a future together. And what that future is, I don't know, but I want it to be good. I want it to be better. 

How has your lineage informed your creative practice? 

Indigenous humor is a huge part of indigenous culture. When I go back to the res, I get my ass roasted over and over again, and it's out of love. But everybody's laughing. Everybody's sort of riffing off of each other to get another joke, and then the entire room laughs. And that's the way I grew up. The funniest people in my life were Native. And that's the other important thing about comedy when I started pursuing my career. There weren't that many Natives out there. There still isn't. And so the only way you change that is to create opportunities for that indigenous humor to grow.


What are three words that motivate you?

Bacon. Bacon and bacon!

I think empathy, that's a huge one. I went to prep school. I'm half white, half Navajo, and when you go to prep school, everybody's white, and that was hard for me as a kid. Now, I'm sort of glad for it because I'm able to go into a room with those prep schoolers who have grown up and become leaders in these communities and am able to talk with them in a way that they can internalize. I think there's a lot that can be said in terms of the way that we communicate, and it's important to have people that build those bridges because there's a lot of misunderstandings that impede progress when it comes to creating community. So definitely empathy, and second is drive. My father is one of the most driven people I've ever met in my life and someone I look up to. And there's a sense of being able to just constantly ask the most of yourself to continue to grow so that you can be stronger and you can be better for the people that you love. Sort of being that umbrella that was really attractive to me and something that is very humbling. Part of growth is failing over and over again until you are able to build yourself up. It's just tiny, tiny failures and from that, you get stronger and stronger and stronger. You're able to do more and understand more. And lastly, love. Love at the end of it, love over everything. God is love. Me and my girlfriend, we've been able to find something in each other that allows us to do very difficult things. And having that in your life, it makes the successes so much more. I don't want to say that it's more important, but it feels good to celebrate with somebody. And with the successes or failures, you understand that both of those are temporary, but the love that is there in your life, it continues to grow. It’s okay that the successes and failures happen because this is life, and then that's part of the process, but you're really building the rock in that foundation. 

That's beautiful. Thank you.

Watch the full interview on our YouTube Channel!