In one of my earlier posts , two years ago, I had sung the praises of Indo- Canadian funnyman , Russell Peters. I’d written how his 2004 video Russell Peters … Comedy Now , had me in stitches. I’d written “ 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 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. 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. …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 is excellent though perhaps a tad below his earlier efforts.”
At the time Peters was enjoying the fruits of twenty years of hard work . In 2008-2009, he had pulled in over $10 ,000, 000 a year. He was hosting comedy shows on Comedy Central and performing to packed audiences in London and New York. But , already, there were signs of decline. My nephew who had seen him perform live reported that the show was terrible , that almost his entire routine consisted of picking out people in the audience and insulting them .I myself had written “ He is less successful when he strays from these topics. I’ve seen a clip of him performing for the troops aboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower and it was not one of his better performances. “
Recently ,I watched ” Green Card ” , a video of a stand-up performance in London where he played to a packed house. The credits got my hopes up as they had a montage of him in different costumes and headgear pulling all kinds of funny faces.Unfortunately , that was the highlight of the tape. After the opening ” How are you? ” How you doing ?” he began to pick out people in the audience , ask them their ethnicity and make jokes about it. This went on for about 15 minutes at which point I gave up on him and popped out the DVD.
Ethnic humor is okay in small doses , if it is good-natured. Peters goes on too long in this vein and , worse, he comes across as nasty rather than funny. I’m not sure why he has changed from four years ago when he was genuinely funny without being hurtful. Is it hubris , an overweening pride that he is very funny and can do no wrong ? Or is it laziness that makes him descend to this level, making fun of racial stereotypes instead of trying to come up with new material ? Perhaps it is a little of both . Whatever the reason , I will not be watching his newer shows.
Stand-up comedy is one of the most difficult things to do and Peters is not the first to fall into a rut. Most stand-up comedians come up with one or two great routines and then live off them for the rest of their careers. However, continued success as a stand-up demands that you constantly update your routine . No one wants to hear the same joke twice but it is very difficult to come up with new stuff all by oneself . The British comedian Benny Hill is a prime example of this ; he was a big hit in the seventies but insisted on writing all his jokes and skits himself . His shows quickly went downhill as he kept repeating the same jokes over and over again. Perhaps the answer is to use the services of a team of writers as Bob Hope and others did.
My final word on Russell Peters… he used to be very funny.
P.S If you’ve never heard of Russell Peters but would like to see what he is about, check out some of his earlier clips on Youtube. The best of them, in my opinion , are the ones titled Russell Peters.. Comedy Now, Beating your kids, the Accents clip and African Names.
P.P.S You may also find my November 2013 post Russell Peters: Final grade of interest to you.