Three Native American children look on with confusion, hurt and dismay as a group of eager young adults wearing cliché warbonnets explain how they honor the awesome-but-totally-extinct Indians by using them as mascots. It’s a job for Spirit Rangers!
Spirit Rangers is a new, feel-good Netflix show aimed at preschoolers that is written, acted, directed, and produced by a team of all Native Americans, including Joey Clift (’09 Comm.), comedian and member of the Cowlitz Nation. The show gives a refreshing perspective that portrays the children and their family as living people. They have their own culture, history and kids-cartoon style problems, but they are people first and foremost. That form of representation is important to Clift.
“As I was growing up, I really loved comedy shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy, and the ’90s late-night shows. But because I didn’t really know of any Native comedians, I went to college for what felt like the next best thing: to be a small market TV weather guy.”
To follow that path Clift came to the Murrow College of Communication at WSU to study Broadcast Journalism. He was so dedicated to a broadcasting career that when he first arrived on campus, he checked out the studios at Murrow before checking into his dorm. Soon he was all over Cable Eight, doing twice as many clips for his classes as was needed. His true passion, however, remained comedy.
“Even after I ended up winning a national award for a comedy show I wrote, produced, and co-starred in, it didn’t occur to me I could be a comedian. I was like, Oh! This statue will look cool on my news desk!”
Then, when he was getting close to graduation several of his professors pulled him aside to point out that a career in comedy and writing was a possibility.
“Joey was always very busy writing and creating short films and other programs while he was here at WSU,” Scholarly Associate Professor Marvin Marcelo recalls, “He showed that he had what it takes to be successful in the film and television profession.”
“I was like, really?” Joey says, “Then, when I went to the Murrow Symposium a bunch of WSU alumni working in entertainment pulled me aside and they were like ‘You’re the guy that’s on every cable eight show!’ They were really complimentary, had lunch with me, and explained what the entertainment industry is like.”
After that, Clift moved to California. He became a regular feature in writers’ rooms, working on shows as varied as Lego Ninjago: Decoded and Swamp Talk with Shrek and Donkey, to his own Comedy Central shorts about Native representation.
It also made him a natural fit for Spirit Rangers. It was a chance for him to join a team of Native writers and produce a program that represented Native Americans as actual people in their own right.
“Growing up, I didn’t think that people like me were allowed to be on TV. Now, to write for a Netflix kids show that everybody around the world can watch? Where there are Cowlitz characters who are speaking my tribe’s language? It’s just wild.”
His successes haven’t stopped with Spirit Rangers. As of November, he has a new series of Comedy Central shorts available, and myriad other projects in development.
“I’ve gone from thinking I couldn’t do comedy to having my name and face and voice on Comedy Central shorts and representing my tribe to the world. It’s just been a ride.”
You can join him on that ride by streaming Spirit Rangers on Netflix and watching his new Comedy central shorts on both the Comedy Central “Animated” YouTube channel and Comedy Central social media platforms.
By Thomas Evans, Public Relations Editor/Writer