A comedian can’t be censored.
It’s their job to talk about the world and how they see it, said international comedy star Russell Peters, 47, in a recent e-mail interview with Star2.
After all, “it’s their point of view – and hopefully, it’s funny!” he quipped.
Peters, a Canadian from an Anglo-Indian family, is one of the world’s most successful comedians. He started as one in 1989 and shot to fame in 2004. His performances are usually sold out, and he attributes part of his success to YouTube. In 2014, he told Larry King on his show Larry King Now, that YouTube started two-thirds way into his 15th year as a stand-up comedian. Someone took his specials, edited them and uploaded them to YouTube.
“It struck a chord,” he said, of his rise to fame since then.
Making people laugh
King told Peters that he “gets away with making fun of other people’s cultures and saying things other people don’t, or can’t, say”.
He also makes fun of everybody, including his ex-wife, whom he once described as “a Ferrari without the engine” – and that made her laugh.
Peters’ comedic style is “observational comedy”. He uses humour to highlight racial, ethnic, class and cultural stereotypes. He impersonates the accents of various ethnic groups and pokes fun at them.
Although Peters has “a licence” to speak his mind, yes, even in Saudi Arabia, he knows his limits.
What then is taboo on stage?
“Just religion,” he insisted.
On whether political correctness is a hindrance to the art of comedy, Peters said: “I don’t think political correctness has any place in comedy. Comedians are truth tellers. We have to be able to express ourselves without worrying about people’s sensitivities. We don’t set out to offend but there’s always going to be someone who processes what you’re saying through their own filters – we can’t control that. Comedy isn’t for the sensitive.”
Peters told King that “people don’t get offended” because he speaks the truth, especially when they are aware of his intent, which is to make people laugh.
But if they do get mad at him, he puts it down to “a misunderstanding”.
Peters explained: “I don’t set out to offend or provoke anyone. I just talk about the world – and how I see it. Oh, and hopefully, it’s funny.”
Hooked from the first giggles
Comedy was just something Peters “wanted to try”.
He said: “The first time I went on stage, I got a few giggles, even though I was terrible. But those giggles got me hooked. I told my parents and they said, ‘That’s nice.’ I might as well have said that I was going to become an astronaut!”
What were his fears and joys in those early days?
Well, he divulged that his only fear was “not getting better or not getting any laughs”.
“I loved being on stage and would take any gig anywhere. It was never for the money. I would just do it for gas money or even just for food at a club,” he said.
A comedian isn’t born overnight, though.
It takes at least eight years for a comedian to find his voice, Peters said.
“It’s my calling. I guess the fact that I still love doing it after almost 30 years keeps me in the game. It’ll be interesting to see where some of the new kids land as they get better at their craft,” he said.
Back in 1992, American comedian George Carlin gave him the best advice ever about being a good stand-up comedian.
“He told me to get on stage as much as possible. It doesn’t matter where, just get up there and do it,” said Peters.
An often-used punch line in his shows is: “This is going to hurt really bad.”
“Well, I hope they don’t expect me to say ‘this is going to hurt really bad’ … I haven’t used my actual phrase, ‘Somebody’s gonna get hurt real bad’ for years now. I even tried to tell the joke a couple of years ago and couldn’t remember it properly,” he said.
Adventures around the world
Peters’ Deported World Tour will take him around the world well into 2019. He has travelled to over 26 countries, done over 200 performances, and has more than 300,000 fans.
He returns to Asia with this tour featuring “all new material” and one of David Letterman’s favourite comics, the legendary raconteur of weird stories, comedian Jake Johannsen.
Peters said: “I’m pretty happy with this new set – which is unusual for me because I’m my own worst critic.”
He last toured Asia in 2015/ 2016 to sold-out houses. He returns to “live touring” after taking time off stage after filming his last special, Almost Famous, for Netflix in April 2016 in Toronto. In between, he has produced and starred in his own comedy-drama limited series for Netflix, The Indian Detective (which aired on Dec 19 last year).
His movie The Clapper – with Ed Helms and Tracy Morgan – was out in limited release on Jan 26. Another movie, Supercon, will be out this year, as well as Adventures In Public School with Judy Greer.
Having been to Malaysia twice before (in 2012 and 2015), he said: “You’ve got a great mix of people and cultures. People acknowledge their differences and joke about them but they all seem to get along pretty well.”
Pluses and minuses
Being on a world tour takes Peters away from his loved ones.
He confessed: “The hardest part of this job is being away from my daughter (Crystianna Marie). She just turned seven and she’s this ‘person’ whom I can joke with and who is very, very funny too. She always makes me laugh. Being away from her is the hardest thing in the world.
But, of course, being a comedian has its perks, too.
He admits that he loves his job “definitely”.
And he added: “I get to travel around the world and make people laugh (at least I hope they’re laughing). What could be bad about that?”