By: ASJAD NAZIR
BEING arguably the greatest and most successful south Asian stand-up comedian of all time hasn’t made Russell Peters rest on his laurels.
The Canadian trailblazer continues to power on with sellout shows, including the world tour of his brand-new offering Act Your Age, which stops over in the UK for big May shows at Utilita Arena in Birmingham (17), OVO Arena, Wembley in London (19) and O2 Apollo in Manchester (21). The 51-yearold has put together another laughter-filled show and was feeling confident about it when Eastern Eye caught up with him over Zoom in New York.
The fantastic funny man was on fine form as he spoke about Act Your Age, comedy, close connection to the UK, why he won’t audition for an acting role, finding happiness and never having seen a Bollywood film.
You have had a remarkable career, yet you remain unstoppable. What keeps your passion for comedy so strong?
Well, for me comedy is not an option or a means to an end. Whether I was successful or not, I would still be doing comedy. If I hadn’t made it, I would still be coming to England and working the Jongleurs circuit. I would be all over the place, just hustling the way I always did before I ever made it.
How do you feel before you go on stage after having done so many shows, in front of millions?
I love it still, and especially now, because I’m in a really good mental space, and very happy. I’m also very confident with the act I have right now. Sometimes I write an act and I’m like yeah, it’s really good and very funny, but I don’t feel the confidence I have with this right now. I’m feeling great about going on stage and excited because I’m happy with what I’m doing.
Does performing in such a big arena put pressure on you?
No, having a big arena that would be empty would put pressure on me. Having people there helps and makes it all worthwhile.
You are one of the few stand-up comedians that can sell out a big arena, but do you ever miss smaller venues?
No, because I still do them. I just did a club in Sacramento California two weeks ago. We did eight shows, and it was all sold out, but it’s a club with only 300 seats.
Tell us about Act Your Age?
The show is just me being a 51-year-old Indian guy, who is known for being immature, but having to realise now at this age, that I cannot still be the same immature guy I once was. I’m going to be 52 this year. So, I’m not saying I’m going to act 51, But I’m going to at least act 30 something.
Your comedy is always relatable. Do you think about that when creating a new show?
Well, I think when you are coming up with material it has to be relatable, otherwise, you are pontificating up there for no reason. You have to make it connect with people and do that by making it relatable. It’s based on my life, but it’s also based on the life of everybody of a certain age.
Do you know a joke will be funny beforehand, or do you not find out until you’re on stage?
After 33 years in the game, you start to figure out what’s going to work and not work. There are jokes you write and go ‘I don’t know’, but ones you’re confident are going to kill definitely do because you deliver it with a certain kind of energy and oomph.
You’ve always talked about your own life, but is there anything that is off limits on stage?
No, if you do that it becomes weird. I just got married a month and a half ago and am very happy about all that. I have earned two new step kids. So now, I’m a father of four. If you talked to me three years ago, I was a father of one.
Does your wife ever feel scared that you are going to embarrass her on stage with jokes?
No, she’s pretty cool about it all. She’s been around the business before and assisted a lot of big-time people in the industry. So, she’s been around the game a lot and one was a comedian, so knows how this world is.
I love that brilliant DJs open your shows with explosive sets. Will that happen again?
Yeah! DJ Spinbad passed away a year and a half ago, so he won’t be there. But Starting From Scratch will be there doing what he does best, you know, just rocking the crowd.
You have got a very close connection to London. How much does the UK mean to you?
A lot! Listen, the UK really legit made me the comic I am today. I first performed in London in 1990 and was terrible, let’s call it what it was, I was s**t. But I came back in 1995 and was much better. Then I started getting work in and out of the UK. Staying in London and then manoeuvring around the world. I went to all these places before they were places, like Dubai was basically one hotel in the middle of the desert. Hong Kong hadn’t been handed back to the Chinese yet when I went. So, I got to see a lot of the world before it changed. I went to South Africa in 2001 because of performing in England. All these places are because of my connection to England.
There are more south Asian stand-up comedians than ever now. Have you ever reflected on the fact that you are a trailblazer for an entire generation?
I never got into it with that thought, but I know a lot of them. But, England was ahead of its time too. Sure, I was the first stand-up because I started in the 1980s, but British Asians were making bigger and more impactful strides before me as far as acting and TV is concerned. Goodness Gracious Me is still such a brilliant and incredibly funny show. What In Living Colour was to me, when I was in my late teens, Goodness Gracious Me was that in my 20s and equally as funny.
What is the secret of being on stage and killing it in front of a great crowd?
Well for me, it’s about honesty. The more honest you are, the more aware you are. When you’re aware, the audience is aware that you’re aware. They know you’re not trying to bulls**t them. You’re basically a car salesman up there. When you’re trying to buy a car, you really want to buy it, but if the salesman is not saying the right things, you’re going to be like, I don’t want this car anymore. You have got to be kind of a slick talker up there and know who you are on stage.
One of the most memorable moments for me is when you attacked Bollywood. Have you finally watched a Bollywood film?
I have still never to this day watched a Bollywood film. It is funny to me because when I was getting asked all those questions about Bollywood, I was in my 30s and they kept asking me about that. I’m 51 now. When they asked me, I was getting irritated by it because I was like there’s so much f**king more to us than this. Now, as you get older you become more not open, but you appreciate different things differently.
You’ve had a remarkable journey, but do you have an unfulfilled ambition?
I don’t know. I used to think that there were things I still got to do, but I don’t have that anymore. I’m very content in my life and happy on-stage doing stand-up. There was a time where I was like ‘I want to be an actor’. Now, I’m like, ‘you know what, f**k acting’.
You are a great actor; why is that?
If I am offered an acting gig, I will give it a shot. But I get asked to audition all the time. I am like ‘no, thank you’, either you want me or don’t. I’m not here to jump through hoops. I’ve been in the game too f**king long now, so I’m not going to read. If you’re asking me, you had me in mind, so just give it to me. Unless you’re like, ‘hey we had this role we wrote for you and we’d like to hear it in your voice’, then I would do it. But when they are like would you like to audition, I am like ‘no’, because I make my money doing stand-up.
When you’re in the UK and not working what do you like to do?
Honestly, I can walk around London because I spent so much time there in the 1990s and early 2000s that everywhere is like a memory to me. I just like going to places I know. Like I will go to South Harrow and walk around because that’s where I used to stay.
What inspires you today?
I don’t actually know what inspires me, but I know my brain is working in a much better capacity. I found myself far more scatterbrained, but now, I don’t want to say laser focused, but there’s definitely a much better focus.
Why should we come to the show?
You should come because I can guarantee you that this is the best show that I’ve written in a long time.
You have set the bar really high because your other stand-up shows have been brilliant?
No, don’t worry, I’m very confident with this and sure you will f**king love it, Asjad. I’m sort of talking about the difference between our generation and the millennials, and gen Z, but I’m also coming at it from a different angle. I’m saying yes, we don’t like those generations and here’s the reasons why, but all of those reasons are our fault. So, everything we don’t like about the younger generations is our generation’s fault. I break it down as to how and why.
Finally, are you glad that I didn’t ask you about the Chris Rock and Will Smith slap incident?
It doesn’t bother me, Asjad. One of my comic friends had the funniest line about it. He said, ‘I’m doing a show tonight and I don’t want to take any chances, so before I begin does anybody here have alopecia’.
The Russell Peters Act Your Age World tour comes to Utilita Arena (Birmingham) May 17, The OVO Arena (Wembley) May 19 & O2 Apollo (Manchester) May 21 – www.russellpeters.com