The Jakarta Post
Stand-up comedian Russell Peters. (Shutterstock.com/Christopher Halloran)
Despite the vulgarity in his material and the no-holds-barred roasting of some audience members during his show on Feb. 27 at The Kasablanka in Central Jakarta, nobody in the crowd seemed to let go of their funny bone.
The fact that Peters managed to go through his show without backlash is nothing short of spectacular, considering how sensitive Indonesians can be to material that could be considered “naughty”. This is at least somewhat true on social media, where the country has seen in recent years a rise in the number of people being reported to the authorities or attacked online for having what some consider indecent taste in humor.
The show was opened by a brief and rather bland set by comedian Jake Johannsen, whose musings on the ordinary white-family suburban life were saved from complete dullness through his delivery style.
Appearing after an introduction set to the tune of the 90s hip-hop of his youth, Peters strut out on stage triumphantly as if he knew he would conquer the night without needing to try hard.
Peters is a performer that has understandably mastered the art of pulling oneself out of awkward situations through humor. It was reflected in most of his material, which started with a recent experience at a hospital for an endoscopy.
“I’m just afraid they’ll touch my ass,” he said.
The audience was humorously walked through his entire endoscopy ordeal, from the changing of clothes — “If you just need access to my mouth, why do you want me to get naked?” — to the process itself after he was administered Propofol as an anesthetic.
The story was that he was very anxious about having to take the drug because it was the same anesthetic that Michael Jackson overdosed on in 2009. Thankfully, this experience turned out pleasant for Peters.
“I’m not a drug guy, but let me tell you, Propofol is amazing! I woke up going ‘Yeah! Alright! Let’s do something!’ instead of that usual tiredness I feel after going to the doctor,” he explained, before asking the audience if the drug was legal in Indonesia.
“Sir, if you have the chance to take Propofol by your doctor, I recommend you take it! But I don’t know if it’s legal here,” Peters said as he built up toward what was probably the best line of the night: “[…] hey, if gays aren’t legal in Indonesia, why the hell should Propofol be?”
As the set went on, it felt like he lacked material. Still, even if it seemed as if he was running out of things to talk about, he made up for it by engaging with the audience — often for several minutes at a time — to both create an engaging atmosphere as well as show his charisma.
Make some noise: Canadian stand-up comedian Russell Peters greets fans during his recent performance at The Kasablanka in Jakarta. (AEG/File)
It was all in good fun though. Peters showed his hospitable side by including several members of the audience as part of his act.
One particularly lucky, or perhaps unlucky, 19-year-old in the front row, Dimas, was a particular target for his fun, as he had never heard anyone with the name before and, for Peters, Dimas is a funny name because it nearly rhymes with a certain body part.
His friendly ribbing was taken in good nature by the audience members he roasted, including when he sparked a conversation with a Malaysian couple whose wife was visibly expecting.
“Whatever name you’re going to give that baby, I’m sure it won’t be as bad as naming them Dimas,” Peters said to the uproarious laughter of the crowd.
As per his style, there were a lot of jokes that related to the playful stereotypes of certain ethnicities, particularly about Indians, which is his signature material due to his Indian heritage.
Fondly remembered are his memories with his strictly traditional Indian parents and his childhood, growing up isolated from Indian culture in Canada.
To Peters, India is unlike anywhere else as it is a place where residents seem to have deep-seated irritations with almost all their regional neighbors.
“It might be the most insular place on Earth. Really, you’re more likely to find a non-Indian guy that’s been to more places in India than an actual person from India!” he explained.
In a bit describing his childhood desire to see the Taj Mahal, which is located North of his ancestral hometowns of Mumbai and Chennai, his father seemed to be irked by the young Peters’ inquisitiveness.
“So then, in the middle of the argument, my dad pulls out a picture of the Taj Mahal from his pocket. He says to me, ‘Look at it! Look at it! Are you happy now? You just saw the Taj Mahal’,” Peters recalled, accompanied by the laughs of the crowd.
“Dad, why do you have a picture of the Taj Mahal in your pocket?” Peters asked.
“I knew this day would come,” he recalled his father saying, with the punchline ripping through the room like a hurricane.
Several Indian people in the crowd were brought into his act as well.
One man sporting glasses, Gujarati, bore an uncanny resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi, according to Peters.
“What’s your name, Mahatma?” the comedian asked him.
Some jokes flew over people’s heads, like a bit about Amazon’s Alexa home speakers, which is something that has not reached Indonesian homes yet, and there were several bits on Americanism with punchlines that ended in playful jabs at Donald Trump.
But Peters always brought it back home in a spectacular way, with the room never missing a chuckle.