The Gift of Gab

Long before political correctness was a “thing,” comedians Bruce Williams and Terry Ree crossed the line on a regular basis. In fact, they stomped all over it. But they didn’t necessarily take sides — they took aim at everybody. If you were in the public eye and you were caught doing something stupid, your actions were fair game. Williams & Ree not only made fun of you and earned laughs at your expense, they might even have written one of their saucy little ditties about your situation — and their audiences would be laughing their butts off.
Despite their longevity in the business, things haven’t changed. They still love to skewer anyone who ruffles feathers.
Then again, the duo might just take their personal political agenda in a totally different direction. Their issue? No more Hostess Twinkies and Cupcakes. Hey, if you’ve been on the road as much as “The Indian and the White Guy” and have grown to expect these “important” comfort foods to be available no matter what little hole-in-the-wall gas station you fill up at, you might be compelled to take action. And that’s what they did. They took a stand and wrote a song about their plight — “The Ding Dong Song” — even filming an accompanying video as their exclamation point (check out their website, WilliamsAndRee.com to see it).
Of course, like the cream-filling of the Ding Dong center, this cute little song’s center is filled with secret ingredients, double entendre and humorous innuendo. And, just like anything Williams and Ree do, the song is ridiculous, sublime and funny.
Williams & Ree have that innate ability to see the humor in everything around them. And that’s a good thing to possess when you have enjoyed a run as long as this comedy team.
Williams & Ree are a music and comedy force of nature. This long-running duo doesn’t follow guidelines or conformity, spinning comedy gold from the union of a Plains Indian (Ree) and a “Western Angloid” (Williams). To these guys, nothing is off limits.
Originating out of the Dakotas, this music and comedy team has been together since the late 1960s. They first met at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, as members of a band who filled time between songs with comedy sketches. Their humor soon became more popular than their music. Much of the duo’s banter plays upon the stereotypes held of Native Americans.
Their message is one of love, harmony, commonality, deceit, debauchery, the ridiculous and the silly delivered with music and song parodies.
The comedic pair has earned a CMA vocal duo nomination and their television credits include “Country Kitchen,” “HeeHaw,” Laff TV and Comedy Central. They currently host four country music festivals around North America and are featured on Sirius Radio and their own irreverent podcast, “The Red, White, and Slightly Blue Show.” Williams & Ree regularly headline shows at fairs, festivals, theaters, casinos, and small, out-of-the-way dives.
Their comedy albums include The Best of Williams and Ree, Taking Reservations and Way Up Norsk. They also made two independent films in South Dakota, Williams and Ree, The Movie and Totem Ree-Call.
They remain one of the very few comedy teams still working today and the only one that performs at the Avi Resort & Casino on a regular basis. The nice part of that is getting to talk to Bruce Williams, who might just take on the voice character of “Lawrence Welk Jr.” when calling for the interview.
Sometimes the interview takes on a somber note, but no matter the tone, Williams is always on his game. You never know what he’s going to say, which is the fun part, no matter whether it’s on stage or on the phone.
Here’s how our conversation went this time…

Where are you guys today?
We just got out of a memorial service for Mel Tillis. It was awesome. There were two others, one in Florida and one in Clarksville, Tennessee. Those were more funeral-like. This one was at the Ryman Auditorium and it was star-studded, a lot of great music and now I’m squiring around his ex-road manager, who also did time as our manager, and his name is Donny McNamara. He’s sitting right next to me as we’re driving. After listening to Mel Tillis’ hit after hit after hit, and the incredible songwriting ability that he had, my own songwriting ability pales in comparison.

But you do have a gift for it if “The Ding Dong Song” is any indication. Will you guys be doing that song at the Avi?
Oh, yeah, of course. That’s our hit.
Any new projects and silly songs in the works?
I’ve got an album coming out, kind of a solo album and then the Indian and I are working on our own YouTube channel. We’ll be putting out some silly videos and stuff for our fans and paparazzi.

Talk a little about your creative process.
We’ve just been able to kind of work like we do on stage, when we’re just driving around and stuff. Sometimes we come up with the funniest stuff that way, it’s just our natural gift of gab. Of course, the Indian is always opinionated. My job is to interrupt his flow.

New political jabs…
That Donald Trump has been a fountain of material, for sure. When Obama was in there it wasn’t that funny, but Trump is just been so off the charts. All the comedians that were struggling before, now are getting the highest ratings. Colbert has a cartoon series he’s doing now with Trump in it and they’re airing it.

Are you and the Indian on opposite sides of the coin in those political arenas?
Absolutely, he’s a lifelong Democrat, and then Trump came along and he voted for Trump and he’s been stumping for Trump the whole way. Not me. (He laughs).

At least you guys are still together and not pummeling each other when the cameras aren’t rolling like the Smothers Brothers used to fight.
That’s true, but that would be fun. They did fight a lot, but they were amazing in that their chemistry will never be repeated. Politics is all the Indian wants to talk about. So I have to switch things up and either do something off kilter or do a silly song. Of course, we’ve been playing with the notion that the Indian is the Indian version of Harvey Weinstein — how we’re grateful we didn’t become more famous, where the women would be coming forward saying, “Oh, the Indian touched me.”

That could have landed him in jail and you guys would lend a whole new spin on “A Boy Named Sue.”
It would probably be more like “A Sioux Named Boy.”

Comedians steal material from each other all the time. Does that ever bother you guys?
Theft goes without saying. It happens all the time, but there’s no license to comedy. Years ago when we were working the Comedy Store, in LA, Robin Williams did one of our chunks of material on television and we were honored because it was him. We were like, “Cool!” But all the other comedians were like, “No! He does that all the time.” He didn’t do it maliciously, he would just have that mind, that would go wherever it was. He’d stand in the back of the room and listen to all those comedians, and he was bound to absorb some of it. He just had that gift.

You have that gift too for off the cuff, spur of the moment stuff, too.
Well yeah, we’d like to think that, too. But it doesn’t happen like it did for him. We’re not stars, we’re hot burning balls of gas.

Well your fans might disagree.
It’s cool that people still show up for our shows. It’s fortunate that it continues to be that way even into our golden years. We’re experiencing that nice little rush. We’re blessed that the snowbirds from the Midwest go to Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. And it keeps the rumors of our demise at bay. You know, the “are they still alive?” question. I think we’ve got another life now because there’s a niche left over from the Smothers Brothers’ retirement — and those are some big shoes to fill.
We’re filling their shoes with Sioux love. We don’t have any backstage fights anymore — at least, none that I know of. We were in Elko, Nevada once and we saw these Ukranian comedians, the Mathis Brothers, come off the stage and duke it out in the dressing room. We wondered, “is this what we have to do to be comedians — we need violence to pick things up?” We’d never seen anything like that. They would beat each other bloody and come out and do their thing. The Sioux guy is a mellow character compared to that…until he’s pissed and then there may be a small fire—but it only burns out the white people.


WILLIAMS & REE

Avi Grand Ballroom

Saturday, Feb. 10 (6 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets