This will be my third post about Russell Peters , the stand-up comic. In my first post about him, in February 2010, I wrote that he was zany, cerebral and a master of accents , particularly Chinese and Indian. I said that he had a great sense of timing and that his ribbing of the audience was good-natured rather than hurtful. My second post , in February 2012, was not as complimentary. Though he was perhaps the leading comic in the world, I felt that he relied too much on his quick wit, picking out people in the audience and making fun of them in a way that was mean-spirited , not funny. He seemed to be resting on his laurels, uninterested in developing new material. My verdict on him … Russell Peters : he used to be funny. Almost all of those who commented on my post agreed with my assessment.
I didn’t think I’d be writing about him again.
Then, last month , all of a sudden , that particular post received an unprecedented number of hits. I was surprised. I found that Peters had embarked on a world tour , playing to full houses all over the globe. Netflix also had released not one, but two, Russell Peters videos, both available on streaming. One, Russell Peters Notorious, featured a sold out performance in Sydney before an audience of 14,000. The other was a set of four thirty minute docu-videos, Russell Peters vs. the World, that took us behind the scenes as Peters prepped for the tour. It gave us a picture of Peters , the man and the comic. I discovered that Russell Peters, despite my feeling that he was on the down slope of his career, was more successful than ever. Had I been mistaken in my assessment? Was there more to him than I had thought? To answer these questions, I not only saw Notorious and the docu-videos but I also sat through several of the earlier videos including Russell Peters Green Card Tour which I had been unable to finish last time.
The verdict ? Russell Peters has changed a little, but not for the better.
His stand-up act is still the same as it was two or three years ago. For most of it , he continues to pick out people in the front rows, ask them their ethnic background, and make fun of it and of their physical endowments. What is different is that, nowadays, many of his ” jokes” are about their sex life. To give him his due, he is extraordinarily quick thinking and able to mine humor from these impromptu forays. Full marks to him for having the guts to go onstage without a fully scripted act, confident that he will be able to wing it successfully. I don’t think these are setups; these are really persons whom he picks out at random and makes fun of. In one case , for instance, he finds a Lebanese man sitting with his Syrian wife and elicits the fact that they have four children. Quick as a wink , he cracks ” Good for you , man. They didn’t withdraw ; why should you ? ” But, more often than not, these sallies are tired,filthy and embarrassingly unfunny. At another point, he notices a fourteen year old boy in the second row and proceeds to expound the joys of jerking off. I will never understand why any adult would bring a minor to one of these shows. Perhaps I’m behind the times but it makes me uncomfortable listening to this drivel. Sometimes, I wonder why someone doesn’t climb on the stage and punch him out because of the things he says about them. I think it is because , even as he is poking fun, there is a good-natured air about him which is disarming. He is much more relaxed and natural in his onstage persona, an improvement from three years ago when he appeared forced, his schtick malicious.
Earlier in his career , Russell was screamingly funny when he used his wide array of accents and mined his childhood experiences for his humorous stories. I suppose that he can’t continue to use the same material but he doesn’t seem to be able to come up with anything new. He said as much in a newspaper interview a couple of years ago. I wish he would hire a team of writers to come up with new routines. Many great comics have done it in the past. Why can’t he ?
I think I know why his routines stick mostly to insult comedy. In one of the docu-videos, he is asked why members of the audience are not upset when he picks on them. He replies that it is only those that he doesn’t pick on who get upset at him. If this is true , and it seems that it is , why should he bother to deviate from what is successful. Give the audience what they want. Not only is it easier, it’s guaranteed to be successful. Financially , that is . Artistically .. who cares? Apparently , Russell does because at one point in an interview , he says , with some heat, that even though his performances are so successful, the critics always put him down and he can’t understand it.
The Russell Peters vs. the World videos paint a picture of Russell as a likeable overgrown kid with a potty mouth who likes to hang out with friends, loves hip hop and porn and enjoys cruising the mall and buying stuff. He works hard at his craft, is loyal to family and friends and has not forgotten his roots and his early struggles.He is also to be commended for supporting up and coming comics and giving them a chance on his shows. He regrets his short-lived marriage but adores his two year old daughter, Christianna. The videos are marginally interesting but do give some idea of the hectic nature of a comic’s life.
So .. what do I now think about Russell Peters standup routine? The man is undoubtedly talented but his act caters to the worst instincts of his audience. He overdoes the insults and focuses too much on sex , likely because he knows that this is what the audience wants. If I were to assign him a letter grade , it would be a C+, where clips of his early performances (available on Youtube) would elicit an A.
Of the two Netflix videos , I would give Notorious 2-1/2 stars, Russell Peters vs The World 2 stars.