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Russell Peters doesn't make stereotypes, he sees them

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, February 14, 2018  /  09:09 am
Russell Peters doesn't make stereotypes, he sees them

Storyteller: Russell Peters delivers his jokes, usually based on his observation of everyday life, at the O2 Arena in London in 2010. (Russell Peters and AEG/File)

If there is something funny about whatever you are doing, then you better believe he has a funny thing to say about it.

The 47-year-old comedian has been in the business for more than 30 years and has made it his business to rustle jimmies all around the world.

Peters has a very keen eye for observational comedy and he can bring out laughs out of almost any sensitive issue, with enough care.

He attributes his style to his idols — the similarly irreverent George Carlin and the light-hearted nature of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy.

Racial and cultural stereotypes of any kind are poked fun at in his material, but he does so by inviting those who he makes fun of to laugh at themselves and to reflect.

Particularly as someone of Indian descent, some of Peters’ signature bits are those that skewer Indian stereotypes as he sees them. It has become part of his instinct to merely point out and bring up the traits and behaviors of people, regardless of culture, and have a good-hearted laugh about it.

From store clerks to Saudi princes, nobody is safe from his commentary.

As a result, his material can come off as easily offensive.

“I don’t set out to offend. If someone is offended, that’s more to do with them and how they are processing what I’m saying as opposed to what I’m actually saying. I’m not responsible for someone getting offended,” Peters said in a recent written interview.

Peters is currently gearing up for his upcoming world tour, aptly called the Deported World Tour, which will stop by Jakarta on Feb. 27th. This will be Peters’ third live appearance in Jakarta after performing here in 2015 and 2017.

Considering Peters is one of the most popular foreign standup acts in Indonesia, it is not strange to see that a bevy of young Indonesians have been influenced by Peters’ irreverent and observational style.

Standup comedy in general has blown up to the point where some of the country’s top performers, such as Ernest Prakasa, Raditya Dika and Kemal Pahlevi, have evolved into doing other projects such as directing, writing or acting.

Peters himself has starred or cameoed in several films and television shows, but he insists that the standup life is the one for him.

Jam-packed: Russell Peters performs at Acer Arena, meanwhile renamed Allphones Arena, in Sydney, Australia, back in 2010.Jam-packed: Russell Peters performs at Acer Arena, meanwhile renamed Allphones Arena, in Sydney, Australia, back in 2010. (Russell Peters and AEG/File)

“The only thing I’d say about doing standup is that it’s a calling. You do it because you have to. You don’t get into it to become rich,” Peters explained.

Today, Peters, who constantly creates content and performs tirelessly, is one of the highest-earning comedians in the world.

Though not his end goal, he has become rich, selling out venues as big as arenas around the world.

He highlights a particular sold-out show in 2007 at the Air Canada Centre in his hometown of Toronto as his most memorable and emotional show because it was then, in his third decade as a standup, that he felt like he had truly made it.

“I don’t know where else I’ll be if not a comedian. Maybe selling shoes or driving forklifts or something,” he joked.

In the world of comedy, probably the worst, harshest piece of criticism that a standup can receive from an audience is silence. It would take an incredible joke to pull oneself out of that rut, especially when they are on stage and their punchline is met only with crickets and empty, open eyes.

Peters went through that experience in his initial years navigating the open mic stages, and it seems he still does even today, although the difference now is that for every one silent audience member, there are hundreds more laughing.

“It was never about money, for me. I loved standup so much that I would be doing it just for gas money or for some food at a club. The only fear I had was realizing I had not gotten any better,” he said.

The irreverence of his ethnically charged material means that some may not appreciate his style of comedy, especially those who are sensitive to political correctness. This would also pose a problem for some listeners in the ethnic groups that Peters playfully stereotypes.

For Peters, to come to a comedy show with such a mindset defeats the purpose of going there.

“I don’t think political correctness has any place in comedy because comedians are the truth tellers. We have to be able to express ourselves without worrying about people’s sensitivities.”

In the end, as all comedy is subjective, comedians will always come across audience members who dislike — or take offense — to their work. It is a reality that no comedian can control their audience, no matter how many comedians secretly wish they could.

“Not everyone is going to find everything you say funny. Sometimes people will laugh at every group except themselves, which makes me nuts. You’ve got to laugh at yourself too,” Peters explains.

“[And besides], if they don’t have a sense of humor, why are they at a comedy show?”

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Russell Peters will make his third live appearance in Jakarta on Feb. 27 at The Kasablanka.