What’s in a name? Everything for Eeland Stribling. The 25-year-old fly fisher and comedian based in Colorado has a name saturated in African heritage and American history. Eland, with one ‘e’, is a Serengeti game animal. Stribling’s grandpa, a wildlife biologist, chose his grandson’s name in honor of the largest African antelope.
The significance of Eeland’s last name is even more striking. The Striblings owned Eeland’s ancestor’s as slaves in Mississippi. His family’s native name was lost. Once his relatives were emancipated, they embraced freedom as Striblings because it was the only name they knew. Eeland’s grandpa, who he calls Papa, still lives in Mississippi. He’s an early riser.
“He’d be on the water by 3 a.m. holding his spot,” says Eeland. “That was the first kind of fishing I did and I really hated putting a hook through the worm or crawdad. I would feel so sad, I would try to let them escape without Papa seeing.”
His other grandpa, the one who named him Eeland, goes by Gramps. He’s the guy Eeland caught his first fish on a fly with. A grayling at Joe Wright Reservoir near Fort Collins. That’s Eeland’s first honey hole, but not his favorite. High alpine lakes in wilderness, the kind of hook time you have to hike for, are his favorite.
“I took a 2007 front-wheel drive Volvo to Montana for spring break one year and fished the same spot for two days,” Eeland says. “I had to. It snowed and my car was beached in enough snow to lift the tires off the ground.”
He taught himself how to fly fish. He ties his own flies too. His first batch proved pointless. He fished them with Gramps and Gramps’ buddies. No one caught fish, but Eeland embraces that failure with laughter. Like his dating debacles, it’s great material on stage.
“Last time I went to a club and tried to pick up on a girl, I used my only pick up line, ‘Do you like chocolate?” he said on stage before the pandemic cancelled live shows. “She was like, ‘Is it gluten free?’ I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Eeland is a new-to-the-scene comedian, which lends itself nicely to his other name with significant meaning. On Instagram, he’s @blacksteveirwin. He performed his first stand-up comedy routine on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018.
“I’d much rather talk to 1,000 people than chit chat with one person,” he says. “It feels good. Always. Something about being on stage talking about whatever I want that’s really personal, it’s freeing to be up there.”
He’s three years into his comedy career and he’s already made bellies shake in Denver, Portland, Austin, Nashville and Chicago. He had a tour planned for 2020, but the pandemic swallowed that.
“The pandemic makes it way easier to talk about stuff I didn’t talk about before,” Eeland says. “The world is on fire, people are sick, celebrities still think we care about them so why not talk about whatever? Let’s just throw it up and see how people feel about it.”
He’s joked via screen since the pandemic started, but the in-person connection is sorely missed. He’s wants that live crowd vibe. That’s why he’s one of the first acts for a club opening in Fort Collins in 2021.
“I’m banking on comedy making a huge comeback,” says David Rodriguez, Comedy Fort owner. “People are going to be making up for lost time and a lot of that is going to be hanging out with friends and seeing cool shows.”
David watched Eeland’s first performance, an open mic event in a music hall. Eeland’s stage presence had spark, but he had no idea what David meant when he said, “Great set” afterward. Eeland was so new, he didn’t know what a set was.
“He seemed to really enjoy it and feel comfortable and happy on stage his first time, which is a rare thing,” David says. “A lot of people are intimidated and nervous their first time. I was nervous my first time.”
Eeland, then a student at Colorado State University, ended up hosting open mic events on campus. He also co-founded the college fly fishing club before he graduated in 2018. He has a degree in fish and wildlife conservation biology. Like Gramps, and Irwin, he’s into animals. He’s also into teaching others. He’s an educator for Lincoln Hills Cares, an organization founded in 1922. Back then, it was the only resort in the West accessible to African-Americans. It’s mission is outdoor education and cultural history exploration for the nation’s next generation of leaders.
“Eeland is fascinated by nature. He has wonder and a want to understand more so than a lot of folks I know,” says Jay Johnson, who fishes with Eeland and for Animal Planet’s reality series Fish or Die. “He actually gets it and he gives me so much hope. He has so much potential to change the world in a positive way.”
While David sees stage presence in Eeland, Jay sees the opposite when he fishes with him. Eeland turns inward on the water.
“He’s definitely an introvert,” Jay says. “His release from the introvert lifestyle is to be extremely extroverted on stage. When you’re in that situation, you write your silent observation and then make it public. If you have humor in your soul, you get to deliver some pretty funny stuff. He’s very fortunate in that form.”
Eeland’s dream routine would be working with wildlife and teaching families about natural resource conservation during the day. He’d tell jokes on stage at night. If no one paid him for comedy again, he’d still do it and make his living in conservation but he doesn’t want to have to choose. His connection to both makes him an unintentional poster boy for diversity.
“I grew up doing outdoor adventure stuff as the only black kid,” Eeland says. “You learn how to walk into a room and position yourself. It takes a person who hasn’t been the majority to navigate the world. My mom always told me, ‘Toughen up. The world is shitty, but you can do cool things with it and be well with it.’”
Be well Black Steve Irwin. And bring the laughs. Bring them loud and unrestrained. We’re more than ready.