Being a stand-up comedian is one of the most nerve-wracking jobs there is. Doing stand up means having to be funny, winning over the audience , keeping them laughing and doing it over and over again.Immigrant comedians have it even tougher . Most of them create a niche by talking about their immigrant experience but are not able to build on their beginnings and reach a mainstream audience . One who has been successful in making this transition is Russell Peters , an Indo-Canadian stand up .
Peters has been doing his comedy routines for twenty years and some of you may have heard of him and seen his videos. I only came to know of him about three years ago when a friend brought over Russell Peters … Comedy Now , a 2004 video. It was hilarious and Peters had us all laughing out loud with his routines. Among the comedians who influenced him Peters lists George Carlin, Steve Martin, Don Rickles and Eddie Murphy and you can certainly see traces of them in his routines. Peters is cerebral , he is zany and he does “insult” the audience , though he is not nasty as Rickles was. He has also mastered different accents ; Indian , Chinese, West Indian, Latino ,etc. All of them are good but the Chinese and Indian accents are the superb. His early subject matter was about growing up brown in a mostly white Canadian society and he riffs on Indian culture, racial stereotypes, and racism. This may sound heavy ; however it is anything but. He has a good-natured way about him , has a rubber face and is a master of timing. He does occasionally toss in a four letter word and his videos are definitely not for the very young. I have since watched his 2008 video Russell Peters .. Red , White and Brown which was filmed in the sold out 5,000 seat WAMU theater( formerly the Felt Forum ) in Madison Square Garden . It too is excellent though perhaps a tad below his earlier efforts.
Peters is not really an immigrant since he was born in Toronto to Anglo-Indian parents who had migrated from India. Perhaps that accounts for his greater ease in tackling subjects of interest to a mainstream audience. He is at his best when he employs his wide range of accents and talks about growing up in a multi-ethnic society. He is less successful when he strays from these topics. I’ve seen a clip of him performing for the trips aboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower and it was not one of his better performances. If you haven’t heard him before and would like to get a peek , check him out on YouTube. The best of the clips, in my opinion , are the ones titled Russell Peters.. Comedy Now, Beating your kids, the Accents clip and African Names. Peters is the only comedian other than John Pinette ( another Canadian comic) whose performances I could enjoy and laugh at over and over again.
Russell Peters’ career has really taken off in recent years . In addition to his videos and live performances all over the world, he has had performed on radio and TV , has hosted comedy shows and is developing a sitcom. Between June 2008 and June 2009 , he earned in excess of $ 10 million. Nice to see talent rewarded. If I were to meet up with him I’d like to use a bit from one of his shows where an Indian on the street says to him ” Russell! RUSSELL!! R-U-S-S-E -L-L !! Mindblasting , man….simbly mindblasting !
P.S ( 2012); Sadly , Russell Peters is no where near as good as he used to be . Read my 2012 post, Russell Peters: Not so funny Any More