Taking Comedy Beyond Race . . . and Obesity

By Andy Cheng

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Posted May 30, 2012 in Arts & Culture
Russell Peters attributes his modest beginnings like all comics of today to one source: the Internet. Yes, the (extremely) successful comedian from Canada has achieved international fame, probably because he caters to his audiences. Peters finds humor in poking fun at races different countries dislike so much so that he’s made a career out of it touring the world. But the laughs he produces from mocking racial tendencies don’t function as a lampooning of stereotypes; his jokes are those of celebration. He is both commercially and critically successful, selling out shows and bringing home the bread wherever he goes, yet take a moment to understand Peters and you’ll discover that he is very much humble about his accomplishments. Stand-up comedy is his trade, and that’s where he chooses to stay. His new book Call Me Russell: Inside the Outside is now available in-store and on Amazon.com.

It’s been said that the Internet was instrumental to your success. How do you think the Internet contributes to all that you’ve accomplished?
The Internet (absolutely) made me who I am today. The great thing about the Internet, for me anyway, is that it lets the fans choose who they want and what they want. My fans found my stuff and responded. There was no studio, PR firm, network or agency who “created” Russell Peters. What I love about that is that it’s organic and honest and that I was able to work around the “normal” channels for success.

Your comedy often revolves around race and culture. What is it about those that appeals to people and makes them laugh?
The entire world is multicultural. Most people deal with people from other cultures and backgrounds every day, and no matter what they say, or how hard we pretend, we all have opinions of other races and cultures. I say things that we all think everyday, but can’t say at work or school. I don’t think I’m mean about it and that’s what my fans seem to enjoy. I celebrate the differences and by doing that people realize that we’re more similar than we think.

What’s your favorite accent to imitate?
I do have fun with the Hong Kong Cantonese accent. I’ve been told by people from there that it’s pretty accurate. For some reason I can’t do a Scottish accent, I don’t know why.

You’ve acted in a bunch of films and TV shows. Why is it that you haven’t lost your stand-up roots?
Stand-up is what I have to do. It’s a calling. The other stuff is fun, but I don’t “have” to do it. As a stand-up [comedian], the only place where I’m completely comfortable and where I need to be is on stage in front of the audience. It’s where I need to be.

You broke a lot of comedy records in countries you’ve performed in. Why does your comedy resonate with people all over the world?
I’m always surprised by the record thing. I don’t really think about it when shows are going on sale. I come from a working-class background, so I’m just happy that the fans are still there and still supporting me after all these years and that I can make a living (okay, it’s a pretty good living) doing what I love.

You’re one of the highest paid comedians today, you’ve been nominated for Gemini awards (and won one) and your shows sell out all over the world. What does it feel like being so successful?
Oh, I’m huuuuge! No. Seriously, I do stand-up because I love it. I didn’t get into it for the money or because I wanted to be rich. I always tell younger comics that if they’re in this for the money, forget it. That’s not the right reason. Being on-stage, making people laugh, being the best comic you can be: that’s success.

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