The Comedy Couch

 RUSSELL PETERS - June 11, 2007

Russell Peters

Russell Peters: Hi, Guy MacPherson.

Guy MacPherson: How are you? I appreciate you talking to me. Certainly you don't need any help from the media to sell your shows.
RP: (laughing) The media's never exactly ever helped me in the past.

GM: Oh, really?
RP: I'm friends with them now.

GM: Were you trying to get attention and people were ignoring you?
RP: Yeah, people were like, "Oh look, Ron whatever-his-name-is is coming to town!"

GM: Ron James?
RP: Yeah, Ron James. "Oh look, Jimmy Flynn!" (laughs)

GM: So now is your chance to go "Screw you, media!"
RP: Yeah.

GM: I see you've added a fourth show to the Orpheum. This is just unheard of.
RP: I know. We tried to get GM Place but it was booked.

GM: Really? Wow.
RP: Yeah. I did two nights at the ACC in Toronto.

GM: When was that?
RP: Well, it's coming up next week. In exactly one week. Monday and Tuesday next week.

GM: That's got to be a thrill for you.
RP: Uh, it's a thrill and a good way of learning how to shit your pants.

GM: How many does it seat?
RP: The way we have it configured, 14,500.

GM: And two shows.
RP: So 29,000 tickets.

GM: Are you just constantly pinching yourself seeing if this is all real?
RP: I am. It's funny to me because I don't really get caught up in the hype because I don't live here anymore. So I don't hear any of the hype. I'm very far away from it. I'm trying to create other buzz in other places so to me I'm still working on it all the time. But when I come home and I see other comics and people that I used to work with out here... I have a phenomenal memory. I remember every single thing that anybody ever said to me, ever did to me, who was nice to me, and who was not nice to me. In the business, at least. And I see how these guys react to me. It's all smiles and "I'm so glad to see ya! You're doing really well!" I'm like, "Wait, I remember you being a dick to me back in the day."

GM: It teaches you something, doesn't it?
RP: It really does. And my thing is, how does he know? I didn't tell him. And then I'm like I guess there's a lot of hype going on while I'm not around.

GM: But you're big everywhere, too. Or is it the biggest in Canada?
RP: I'm definitely the biggest in Canada. The fans in Canada have been there since day one. They're the originals. When people say that's your roots, that's literally my roots. I've just cut this tree off and replanted it somewhere else and it started growing, but the roots are still here.

GM: You're in Los Angeles now?
RP: Yeah. 

GM: I saw you at Yuk Yuk's maybe the last time you played there.
RP: At the Century Plaza Hotel?

GM: Yes.
RP: That would have been... That was Halloween weekend in 2002.

GM: Your memory is phenomenal.
RP: I remember that Thursday was October 31st that year. And the club wasn't full because it was Halloween. And I go, "I'm losing frickin' people to Halloween? How does that work?"

GM: It was full the night I was there so it couldn't have been Halloween night.
RP: The rest of the weekend was sold out but the first night it was not.

Russell Peters

GM: How did you transition from playing the clubs into a superstar? It just seemed to happen all of a sudden. I know you've been at it for, like, 17 years.
RP: Eighteen years.

GM: But there was a moment when you went from club comic, and doing the odd bit of TV, to superstar status.
RP: I really don't know how it happened. I know the internet did it, really, for the most part, but still, there's lots of guys on the internet. I don't know what made it pop for me.

GM: And it wasn't something you did. You didn't set out to flood the internet with yourself.
RP: No, I never did that ever. I'm still a jackass. I still only know how to check my e-mail.

GM: So somebody out there did it and you're happy about it.
RP: Yeah. I'm definitely not mad at it. (laughs)

GM: Your career reminds me, not in style but in the way it's happened, of Dane Cook and Brian Regan. Real grassroots support without the aid of a weekly series. And you might even be bigger than them because you play the whole planet.
RP: Well, Dane's definitely the biggest one in North America. Or America, at least. And Brian I'm not too familiar with.

GM: Did you hear about Dane Cook at Yuk Yuk's?
RP: They turned the mike off on him?

GM: Yeah. I was there for that, too. They started blaring music to get him off the stage.
RP: That is not cool. That's Canada. No appreciation when a star walks in.

GM: How many countries have you played?
RP: I think the only continent left is South America, because they don't speak English.

GM: And Antarctica.
RP: Oh yes, Antarctica.

GM: Were you skeptical at first going to some of these places? Or were you just going, "Let's just see what happens"?
RP: I knew there were fans there but I didn't know how rabid the fans were. I went to Dubai in March and they had riots in the store when my tickets went on sale. The computer crashed because there was an overload of how many people wanted tickets. We were only going to go in and do one show. So people actually started getting into fistfights over tickets in Dubai. So they called us right away and they added a second show, that sold out. So then we added a third, then we added a fourth.

GM: And these aren't just ex-pats, are they?
RP: No, that's the thing. I was expecting it to be mostly ex-pats because Dubai's demographic, 52 percent of the population is Indian. I was expecting maybe they're ex-pats, maybe they're all Indians. I walk out on stage and about 80 percent of the audience is Arab. And it's not like they were just there, like, "Let's see what this guy's all about." They were fans. They were like into it. I actually talk about it in my new show right now.


GM: I saw the DVD [Outsourced]. And this show is completely different?
RP: Completely different.

GM: And now do you have a chunk on Arabs?
RP: Absolutely. I kept getting e-mails from Arab kids going, "Hey, why did you forget about the Arabs?" It's funny because people are more complaining to me asking me why I didn't pick on them.

GM: It's like an honour, isn't it? It's like being insulted by Don Rickles.
RP: I guess, yeah. I love Don, too.

GM: I spoke to Derek Edwards a couple weeks ago and he said that American comics, he finds, don't take the joke right to the end because the audiences don't expect it. Whereas in Canada, they do. Is Canada a great training ground for comedy?
RP: I think nowadays, the new style of comedy in the States is guys really booking a joke. A lot of guys took a page out of Dane Cook's comedy and are really just going for that energy and really selling the shit out of a joke. Every now and then a guy comes along and changes the game a little. If you watch Dane Cook or Carlos Mencia or Jo Koy, you'll notice their energy is always up and they'll sell the shit out of it. Now, the difference between the three of them is Jo's hilarious. So funny. His energy's up there but his material backs it up, you know? And Dane will sell you something that nobody else could sell you. He'll tell you the carpet is green if the carpet is green and he will make you laugh at the fact that the carpet is green because of the way he tells it to you. And Mencia will just yell and his fans will laugh.

GM: What about playing all the tiny little towns that you've had to play in Canada just developing your act over the years?
RP: I played all of the interior back in the day, Penticton, Kamloops, Cranbrook, Vernon. Vancouver, Vancouver Island. I did every inch of Alberta. Saskatchewan.

GM: Does it help?
RP: Of course, everything helps. I've always equated comedy to boxing. All those little towns are just little fighters that you're fighting along the way to get to the title.

GM: Did you have that perspective back then?
RP: Yeah. I always knew that I wanted to make it; I just didn't know that I would. I mean, I always told people I would but I honestly didn't believe it.

GM: Or even how to go about doing it?
RP: I didn't know. But the whole way I knew these are the means in which I gotta go in order to get to where I need to get to.

GM: How did you get started? What put you up on the stage to begin with?
RP: I don't know. I'd just turned 19. I was working in shipping and receiving at the Toronto Star.

GM: That's why you hate the media!
RP: Yeah, fuck the media and their heavy newspapers! (laughs) Can't you just e-mail the news out?

GM: Were you always the funny guy making your friends laugh?
RP: Yeah, I made my friends laugh. But everybody has the one friend that makes them all laugh. And amateur night was always full of the one guy who made their friends laugh. And some would only be able to make their friends laugh. (laughs)

GM: When you got up there, was it a slap in the face?
RP: I was terrible.

GM: What were you like?
RP: My friends laughed! (laughs) No, they didn't even. That's how bad I was; my friends didn't even laugh. They were like, "Ooh, okay. Maybe he's not funny." I mean, I didn't bomb. Retrospectively I'm sure I did, but at the time I heard a couple of snickers of laughter and I was like, "Okay, that's good, I can try this again." It wasn't uncomfortably silent.

GM: How soon after that did you get back up?
RP: I went back up about two months later.

GM: At what point did you realize you could make a living at it?
RP: I think I quit working at a steady job around '94 or '95. Around late '94. And started going out on the road then. I went on amateur night for, like, four years, which nowadays is pretty unheard of. There are guys come and do amateur night for like a week and they're getting work the next week.

GM: You're like the old-timer now going, "In my day...".
RP: I really feel like that now, too, you know? It's funny because when I came in in '89, all these older comics were telling me about how I missed the heyday: "Ah, you should have been here in the early '80s. They'd have limos and bitches and coke and weed." I'm like, "Oh well." So I came in right as comedy had died because of Evening at the Improv and Comedy on the Road and stuff like that.

GM: And now you look back on that time as the heyday.
RP: I honestly think to myself I couldn't have come in at a better time.

GM: Why's that?
RP: Because I didn't have any pressure of trying to get on A&E. I didn't have any pressures of trying to do this, trying to do that. There was nothing for us to do. It died. It effectively had died. Dice was the last big rock star in comedy.

GM: Speaking of Dane Cook and you and Dice, guys who have played arenas, is it harder or easier the bigger you get? I'm thinking of when fans get to your punchlines before you do.
RP: That's why you gotta change your material all the time. Because as far as material goes, it's harder. As far as getting your act as polished and as sharp as it was initially, it's harder because there are so many other factors. It's harder to get into the clubs to make it happen because you're on the road.

GM: Do you work out new material on stage or do you drop in at clubs?
RP: I go to the Laugh Factory and the Improv. I go around. It's funny, Dane and I are friends so I called Dane when I got the ACC shows and asked him what I should do for an opener, and blah blah blah. And he had some good advice.

GM: There's no protection of his scene.
RP: No, not at all. We have really different demographics. I think he's pretty secure in his position.

GM: You've always done the racial humour, but are you doing it more now since you've hit it big? You used to do other material, didn't you?
RP: Yeah. Now it's a more concerted effort to try and hit every ethnic group before I quit this style of comedy. (laughs) I don't want to leave it open to other people to try and mess with. This tour here is my last round of cultural humour before I start writing in another direction for the next tour. There are some things in there already. I performed on the USS Eisenhower, that's in my act. I describe that whole tour and what that was like, performing on an aircraft carrier.

GM: So you'll have all these diehard fans who will then be more accepting of anything you have to say.
RP: We're hoping.

GM: I know you say people ask you to make fun of their background, but does anyone ever take it the wrong way?
RP: The thing is, if they do do that, they're really missing the point of what I'm doing. Because my intention is never to get that reaction; my intention is to make you laugh. And because of the way I write, I don't write from a place of "I think this is what happens", I make sure I know what the real deal is. Somebody said something to me the other day and I said, "You're going to really have to read a history book before you start challenging me on things." I'm trying to remember what the guy said to me. It even made me feel good because I felt clever. (laughs) And that doesn't happen often. It'll come to me shortly.

GM: So much for your memory.
RP: I know. I got memory for things in my career not people in the street.

GM: What about the reaction from the Indo community? Is it universal love and affection for you or are there some going, "Don't talk about this!"
RP: I only see the positive. I'm one of those guys who ignores the negative because negativity will bring you down. It sounds cliché but it really will.

GM: I'm going to write that down. Had you spent much time in India before touring there?
RP: No. That's why it was really cool to do that.

GM: So it was your first time there?
RP: First time performing there. I had been to India as a kid. Your parents take you to see your grandparents, that kind of stuff.

GM: But to go there as Russell Peters, Celebrity, is different.
RP: I'd been there as Russell Don't-Play-In-The-Streets, but this was my first time as, [acts like a screaming fan] "Russell Peters!"

GM: Were you more nervous than usual?
RP: I talk about it in my act, too. I really just pull from what's happening in my life. That's how I write material. People always say, "You do racial comedy." And I don't, exactly. I do cultural comedy. Because race and culture are two very different things. They're extremely different. There's black people from America and then there's black people from Africa. Racially they're the same; culturally they're extremely different.

GM: Right. Like North American Indian as opposed to India Indian.
RP: Well, no, because they're not Indian. They're not even from India.

GM: I meant people like you, born and raised in North America as opposed to...
RP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. They call us ABC's. I don't like that term. It sounds stupid.

GM: What does it stand for?
RP: American Born Confused.

GM: Are you still trying to get a sitcom?
RP: We're working on something.

GM: Are you taking acting classes or are you a natural?
RP: I do take acting classes, much as I would like to think I'm a natural. My acting coach says I have great instincts but she could just be very encouraging.

GM: When was the last time you bombed?
RP: Man, that can happen any time, any night.

GM: Not so much anymore, though? Is that a relative bombing?
RP: I guess it's relative. But either way, it never feels good. I think the minute you think you're above bombing, that's when you're going to take it in the ass. No, no comic is ever above bombing.

GM: And I guess there's more pressure when they're paying specifically to see you.
RP: Yeah, when people know you, the expectations are higher. It's never out of the question. It's the same thing with boxing. You always have the chance to get knocked out. Never underestimate your opponent, no matter how much of a creampuff you think he is.

GM: Did you ever box yourself?
RP: Yeah, nine years. I think that's why I do the boxing comparisons all the time.

Russell Peters

GM: I read on your website that you're not a fan of the Bollywood films.
RP: It's not that I'm not a fan. It's just that if you gave me the option between cutting my testicles off or making me watch one of those films, I'll be like, "Get those knives sharpened up, would you?"

GM: Is this something you'd dare to say on stage?
RP: I said it in India!

GM: How did they take that?
RP: They loved it. I said it in India with Bollywood actors in the audience and I pointed to them and said, "Your acting in your movies is shit." (laughs) And the audience went nuts.

GM: Man, you could cut off your balls because they're big enough.
RP: If it were a matter of opinion, like horror movies. Some people like them, some people don't. "I'm sure they're good, but it's not for me." But Bollywood films, I don't know how anybody could fucking like them. It just seems ridiculous. Like, who goes, "That was a good movie. When they fucking danced around that tree, what a great time!"

GM: But they're huge.
RP: Yeah, but you know, for that matter Britney Spears is huge, that doesn't make her talented. Paris Hilton's huge and she's got no talent.

GM: What about that Richard Gere situation?
RP: That was a little ridiculous of the Indian government to react like that. That was so out of control. Honestly, it was embarrassing for me as an Indian man. Because when you go to India, it is not like that. That's why for them to put that impression of India out there is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

GM: Was it just a conservative faction of the government?
RP: I don't know who they were doing that for but it did not help us on any scale.

GM: Would you see people kissing in the street there?
RP: Yeah. Not full-on making out, but you see them kissing. I made out with some chicks on the street over there.

GM: Did you!
RP: Not like homeless chicks, but you know. (laughs) I made out with a Bollywood actress. That's as far as you're going to get. You're not going to be able to bang any of them.

GM: Were there certain things you couldn't say on stage there that you could say other places?
RP: You know what's funny is in India? They got every joke. Every nuance, every insinuation. They got it. They were with me 150 percent. They got it better than the Indians who left India get it. It was mind-blowing to see how on point they were.

GM: Are there any taboo subjects?
RP: No, that's the thing. I did like a really dirty set. I was ending with this whole Indian porn thing, about how I'd love to see Indian porn. That's how I was closing my show and I'd have standing ovations every night.

GM: You couldn't have been that nervous if you were talking about Bollywood and Indian porn.
RP: As nervous as I'll ever be, you gotta take that energy and make it work for you. Same thing in boxing. If you're nervous you're going to get knocked the hell out. It's how you deal with it.

GM: Did your parents ever try to arrange a marriage for you?
RP: Nah, we're Catholic. They don't do that.

GM: Okay, Russell, thank you very much.
RP: No problem, young fella.

GM: I'm older than you! Thanks so much.
RP: Are you going to be at the shows next week?

GM: I hope so. You know, journalists are cheaper than Indians.
RP: Well, we can make it happen for you.

GM: If you can make it happen, I would. Is Dan Quinn opening?
RP: I'm going to put Dan Quinn on the shows, yeah.

GM: Will your fans sit through the opening acts or do they just want Russell?
RP: If you keep the guys on for the right amount of time they'll be fine. But yeah, Dan's a good kid. I've known him for a long time. We hung out in L.A. a lot, too. And now he moved back home to B.C. so I said, "Hey, if you're going to be there, why don't you come on my show?"

GM: You're a loyal guy.
RP: I pride myself on being loyal.

GM: And on your DVD I saw Angelo Tsarouchas.
RP: And Angelo was in Dubai with me.

GM: So you're looking after the people that were nice to you on the way up.
RP: I certainly am... My allergies are killing me today.

GM: Is it hot there?
RP: It is, but my allergies don't bother me in L.A. And I get all the smog, too.

GM: Take some medication.
RP: I can't. It makes me too dopey. Not that I don't sound dopey right now as it is. My eyes are all puffy now.

GM: Maybe it's me.
RP: I'm allergic to the media. I break out in bad reviews.

GM: (laughs) You don't get any bad reviews. I checked!
RP: We get those guys removed. The Indians run the internet.


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