Ahead of his Chennai visit, funnyman Russell Peters tells Sudhish Kamath that his humour comes from acknowledging different communities
The most popular comedian of Indian origin is visiting India yet again to make fun of every race, especially our own. On the eve of his visit, We shot Russell Peters a few questions over email and he mailed back his answers. Excerpts from the email interview.
A lot of criticism about your acts has to do with people misunderstanding or misinterpreting your intentions and branding your jokes as racist… though you do make fun of brown, black and white people and associated stereotypes equally. don't you?
There’s always someone who’s going to interpret my material as racist, but it’s not. Racism comes from intent and power. A racist will tell a joke about a group of people only when they’re not in the room. I’ll talk about a group of people only when they’re in the room. My humour comes from acknowledging different communities. That’s what my fans are responding to — they know that I ‘get it’. I understand them. I take the time to understand them. I get more complaints from people when I don’t talk about them. I’ve had guys come up to me after a show and go, ‘You didn’t talk about Latvians! You didn’t talk about us’. I’m thinking, ‘Damn, I had like 20 minutes on Latvians!” (Which I don’t, by the way)
I’ve seen racism in my audiences. For example, I’ve seen people laugh at every other group, but then clam up when it comes to their community. You can’t laugh at everyone else and then not laugh at yourself. You shouldn’t be at my show if you can’t laugh at yourself.
A friend who follows your work says you have never made fun of any religion (though I have heard a few Jew jokes). Any holy cows you are afraid to offend?
I don’t touch religion. There are people prepared to die for their religion…
Would you have any tips for young stand-up comedians in India, based on your 24 years of experience?
I’d give them the same advice that George Carlin gave me back in 1992, when I was only three years in the game. He told me to get on-stage as much as possible. It doesn’t matter when or where. My own personal advice is that it’s not a race. There’s no finish line. You do stand-up because you have to do it. If you’re doing it to become ‘famous’, you’re wrong. If you’re doing it to become a millionaire, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. In 2003, I was flat broke. I’d been doing stand-up for 14 years at that point. I loved it and just kept at it.
Is Hollywood something you are serious about? Source Code did get you noticed. What’s cooking next?
I’m serious about it, but I know that the industry is still confused by me. They’re not quite sure what to do with me. Hollywood is a bit like high school. There are cliques. I’m an outsider and don’t belong to any of the cliques. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at anything, I think I’ve done pretty well without them… That being said, I’m currently developing a sitcom with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and their company, Overbrook. We’re still in the early days of figuring out the show, but it’s been pretty cool working with them so far.
(Russell Peters Notorious World Tour India began with New Delhi on October 25. It will be held in Mumbai on October 26 and 27 at MMRDA Grounds; Chennai on October 29 at the Chennai Trade Center; Bangalore on October 31 and November 1 at the Koramangala Indoor Stadium)