Irreverent as it was, the Chennai crowd — cutting across age groups — loved Russell Peters’ stand-up act

In the U.S., this would have been just another stand-up routine — jokes on race stereotypes, gender roles and sex — delivered with impeccable timing. But purely in the context of the Chennai audience, the Notorious Russell Peters World Tour just seemed a lot funnier as the huge television screens around showed us the responses of the people who were at the receiving end of the jokes.

Personalised jokes

Apparently, people in the first few rows had to sign disclaimers that they had no problems getting picked on. And Russell picked the candidates to personalise his risqué jokes — an American, an Indian, an Anglo Indian and his Scottish girlfriend and a 70-something South Indian.

And he was set; the packed hall at Chennai Trade Centre was going to be all laughs for an hour-and-a-half.

Clearly, Chennai is starved of quality entertainment. Or international acts. Russell’s YouTube-aided cult following ensured that cars jammed roads for over a couple of hours outside the venue. The young crowd, mostly under 30, filled up the seats by 7 p.m., an hour before the show. The pass did warn ticket holders that the material was suitable only for those over 16.

A DJ kept us entertained for an hour and announcements were made — that those found recording video or audio would be “ejected” out of the hall. Not even texting would be encouraged during the show. The huge bouncer-like security guys, part of Russell’s crew, kept walking around the hall to intimidate anyone who had their phones out. They wore black T-shirts with his now popular line ‘Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad’. Even the security guy was picked on later during the show: “When a woman is pregnant, she thinks she’s fat. She’s not. She’s pregnant. The security guy you see around, on the other hand, is fat. He’s not pregnant.”

J. Chris Newberg, a U.S.-based comic, did the opening act, strumming his guitar along his little songs and jokes that were mostly self-deprecatory and partly rude. The kind of tone a comic would have if he were performing on the pavement for indifferent passers by. Yes, a lot of cuss words. He set the right mood and warmed up the audience for more irreverence before Russell Peters took the stage.

Madras roots

Russell started out greeting everyone “in Madras” and swore at anyone who had a problem with him calling it that. Apparently, his grandfather was originally from Madras before he moved.

After a few jokes about how hot India was and poking fun at languages of the North and the South, he picked on his favourite — funny names / translations. He then moved on to the Arabs and explained how they don’t know to say ‘No’ or ‘I don’t know’. (His world tour had a few stops in the Gulf before he brought the material to India, hence the large chunk dedicated to Arabs).

Not many Chinese jokes this time. Russell then switched to a segment about why a birthing room is no place for a man to make pregnancy-related jokes before his closing act that dwelt on the sexual habits of the young and the old. This was the portion that left half the audience scandalised.

They couldn’t stop laughing, shocked as they were. The material was so irreverent and explicit that it didn’t spare even senior citizens. But one look at the 75-year-old man and his wife, and how much they laughed at the sex jokes (involving them), nobody would ever call Chennai conservative.