Comedy Preview: Russell Peters won’t a hurt you real bad

By Alan Cho

Among the promises to enlarge your penis and offers for limited edition Hungarian stamps sure to enlarge your penis, you may have heard, “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad.” Forwarded to you by a co-worker or sent in an IM littered with so many “LOLs” you become a suspected pedophile, this snippet of hilarity is actually pilfered from the works of Canadian standup Russell Peters. This Friday, he’s coming to Calgary to get his due.

Fueled by his internet infamy and the popularity of his Comedy Now! Special, Peters has played to packed houses all over the world, from Singapore to South Africa. To date, he is the only Canadian to ever headline and sell out a show at the Apollo, the mecca of North American comedy. His shocking insights into race relations go beyond how stupid white people are and, combined with his stories of growing up involving his South Asian parents–most notably his father–make for a potent curry of comedy even this racist metaphor can’t dilute. Taking a break from installing the winter tires on his car, Russell Peters chats with the Gauntlet about his future, his comedy and, yes, how somebody going to get a hurt real bad.

Gauntlet: How’s the “Somebody…” tour going?

Russell Peters: Going great man, better than expected.

G: Have you done your HBO comedy festival yet?

R: I did the HBO Las Vegas festival, doing the HBO Miami festival in January and then the Aspen comedy festival in March. I’m a festival freak.

G: You just inked a deal with Warner Bros for a sitcom, with Tom Werner [producer for the Cosby Show and That 70s show] producing. How’s that developing?

R: Fox ordered a pilot script, so basically Fox bought the sitcom.

G: So you’re doing it?

R: If they like the script, they’ll order the pilot episode. If they like the pilot episode, then they’ll order episodes.

G: Then you buy the new car.

R: Yeah, then I buy the new Porsche Cayenne.

G: American sitcoms aren’t really known for their diversity. There’s the infamous shit Margaret Cho had to deal with when trying to get All American Girl on to the air-

R: Are you Korean?

G: Yeah, I am Korean.

R: You know what gave it away?

G: The Margaret Cho fanaticism?

R: And the last name, you know.

G: Right… But with what happened to Margaret Cho do you have any worries about fitting into the evening plans of white middle-class America?

R: No, because her show was 10 years ago. Things have changed drastically since then.

G: How have things changed?

R: People are more aware. I think everybody learned from the mistake made on Margaret’s show. It wasn’t Margaret’s fault, but the execs’ fault for trying to make her into what she wasn’t. My producers are making sure my voice is heard, they’re keeping it true to me.

G: Are you worried, with the switch over to prime time, that the producers will dull the edge off your comedy?

R: No, it’s Fox. Who’s more edgy than Fox out there other than HBO? Fox has Family Guy and Arrested Development, you know what I mean? They’re the ones taking chances out there.

G: The audience for shows like Arrested Development and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm are declining. A recent article thinks these shows are too dense and high brow for mainstream audiences. Do you agree with that?

R: I wouldn’t completely agree with that but the masses aren’t as bright as the shows they’re watching. These shows are well written and very funny, but… sorry, I just passed a minivan that said “Newfie Baby in Car,” so that baby’s not very bright. Listen, my comedy’s not that high brow to begin with.

G: With that in mind, how does it feel to be the Rosa Parks of South Asian comedians?

R: Kind of good to not be at the back of the bus anymore. You know, I never really set out to do that. It kind of incidentally happened and I’m not mad at it.

G: Do you feel more pressure because of that? You have the support of the South Asian community, but do you worry about alienating some of your audience with your comedy?

R: Do you know who gets alienated now? The people I don’t talk about, funny enough. I wasn’t sure how people would react, but as it turns out, my Asian quota in the audience is huge now. When I look into the audience, I see just as many Asian faces as I see South Asian faces, white faces and black faces. It’s really crossed over, way bigger and better than I expected it to.

G: Do you think part of your growing appeal can be attributed to the internet?

R: I would, no question. The internet is the reason I’m as big as I am now.

G: With these people getting your routine in bits and pieces through e-mail forwards, are they still as receptive to your act?

R: I do a completely different set than what people see on the internet. I feel if you hear something a millions times do you really want to pay money to hear the guy say the same thing back to you? But audiences can be so fickle that it’s a double edge sword. You run into people wanting to hear the classic jokes, and if I do them, people say “Oh, he does the same jokes over and over.” It’s a catch 22, you know what I mean?

G: After you hit big, the whole “Did you kick my dog” thing and guys like MC Vikram pop up all over the internet. How do you feel about inspiring these people and opening the gate way for this brand of comedy?

R: I say, go ahead, get yours, do your thing. As long as they do themselves and don’t try to do me, we’re good.

G: Have other comedians tried to rip off your material?

R: Yeah, I’ve heard many comedians try and rip off my material. They’ve been dealt with. Some harshly, some spoken too.

G: George Carlin is a big influence for you. What about his comedy appeals to you so much?

R: Just his manipulation of the English language, how well he knows it and how well he breaks it down. See the way he breaks down English is the same way I like to break down races. Let them see everything. My other [influence] is Don Rickles. The way he approached thing, I like to hit them the same way. I just appreciate what they’ve done and, let’s be honest, without those guys there would be no one around today. [They] paved the way for everybody, no matter what colour you are.

G: You’ve actually spoken with Carlin and he passed along the advice of perform as often as possible.

R: He told me that 13 years ago.

G: You’ve taken that to heart, touring as often as you do. Having done comedy for 16 years, was there a point where you went “I’ve had a good run, but time to get out of this game?”

R: I’ve never felt like that, actually. The beautiful thing about my job is that I love it. I love being on stage, I love making people laugh and I love the immediate rush of having people appreciate you. That’s the beautiful thing about comedy, you can never take it for granted that you’re going to get on stage and kill. It’s not up to you sometime. You’ve got to be prepared for that.

G: Was there any particular gig that stands out, any major bombs?

R: I remember the very first time I got booed off stage, a horrible feeling. Retrospectively, without that booing I would never know how bad it feels. Knowing that, you try and avoid doing it as much as possible.

G: What do you respect in a comedian?

R: Honesty, the ability to take chances. When I watch some comics, I go “Oh my God, I’ll never do that.” Like Lisa Lampanelli is hilarious. She basically does what I do, but in the most politically incorrect fashion you can ever imagine. Did you ever see the Pamela Anderson roast? She was on it and she was hilarious. This white, middle-aged chick is saying, “Oh I love the black guys, I’ve had more black dick in me than the urinal at the Apollo.” She just nails people. I would never say the shit she says. As offensive as it may comes across, it’s funny ’cause you can sense she doesn’t mean it, she says it to be funny. One night at the Laugh Factory she said, “I don’t make fun of the Latinos, because boy oh boy, they’ll spread their legs and shoot babies at you.”

G: Wow.

R: That shit I would never say, but fuck, I wish I could.

G: That seems to be the general trend in comedy, the shock-

R: There’s shock, but then there’s shock and funny.

G: Are people taking the wrong things out of comedy, though? Not just your act, or Lampanelli’s act, but Sarah Silverman-

R: I love Sarah Silverman, too. That’s who else I was going to say. But like somebody else is going to try and do it, but maliciously? Yeah, I’m sure that’s going to happen. I might reinforce people in that way as well, “Oh well, maybe I can do the same thing and nobody will be offended.” But you can see it in a person’s eye, where the heart is.

G: You’re not bothered when white kids come up to you and go, “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad”?

R: That’s kind of flattering. At the same time, when they come up and try to speak to me in an Indian accent jokingly, I’m like “Shut the fuck up dude.” a) They’re doing it horribly and b) they’re not doing it for the right reasons.

G: Yeah, I can see how that can get ugly. As well, you grew up in the Canadian hip-hop community and DJ’ed since 1985. Ever have the urge to lay mad rhymes over sick beats?

R: Funny, DJ Serious asked me the same thing. He’s a producer out of Toronto, a Chinese kid. I don’t have that urge, I love hip-hop too much. To me it’s not a fad music, it’s real music. If I could do it effectively and respectfully I would, but I can’t, so I’m never going to touch it. I’m going to let the musicians be musicians and I’ll be the comedian.

G: What’s the difference between hanging out with the stand up community and your old hip-hop crew back in the day?

R: I don’t actually hang out with that many stand-up comedians. All my friends are the same friend I grew up with. Mastermind, I co-hosted a hip-hop show with him out of Toronto. And Mastermind was a phenomenal DJ, fucking ill on the turntable. He subsequently retired. I guess that’s what Calgary will do to you. Not a big hip-hop town, just people line dancing.

G: It’s changing…

R: Not enough, not enough. That’s the thing, it’s changing now but it’s not. To me, when I look at all the kids who are “hip-hop kids,” saying they love rap music and fucking shit. They’re fans of popular culture, but not hip-hop heads.

G: Let’s help the kids out, what are the five defining albums of a hip-hop head?

R: Long Live the Kane by Big Daddy Kane. The Low End Theory by Tribe [Called Quest]. Infamous by Mobb Deep. Ready to Die and Life after Death [Notorious B.I.G.], those would be together. Going through in my head, like what album I generally pick up and must play again. Run DMC’s first album and Raising Hell.

G: Nice, but no Public Enemy? Dead Prez?

R: I was contemplating Public Enemy in my head. Everybody says It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold us Back”, but I really like the first album, Public Enemy #1. It had “Public Enemy #1” on it, “Miuzi Weights a Ton,” “Sophisticated Bitch.”

G: Getting into the indie hip-hop tip as well? Lyrics Born? Little Brother?

R: I love Little Brother, they’re fucking dope. I never thought I’d like a group from North Carolina. They’re great, but you know a lot of Canadian cats really bring it. I mean, Kardinal is a friend of mine, but his new album is really hot. People are stepping up their game now, because of how shit music is. If you really love the music, you will step up your game. A lot of these people who don’t love hip-hop they’re just looking at it as a way to front.

G: Taking it back to your stand up, what are your feelings on the current stand up scene?

R: I really think there’s a lot of guys poised to be big fucking comedic stars. When I’m in LA, I see a lot of these guys. I use to hear stories before I moved out there, that the comedians over there were really lame. Naw man, a lot of guys are really bringing it. I watch them and do not want to go on stage after these guys.

G: Is there anybody you want to name check right now?

R: Dane Cook, I don’t ever want to follow. Jo Koy I don’t want to follow. He’s a Filipino guy. All these guys have such high energy. I don’t want to follow Lisa Lampanelli. Hell no, I don’t want to follow Lisa. Patton [Oswald] is hilarious. There are guys like Patton, who are so funny, but then there are the high energy guys. I don’t like following guys with high energy, ’cause I’m not high energy. And audience, sometimes, aren’t bright enough to understand. You’re standing there doing your thing, and they think you’re not funny because you don’t have the energy. I’m doing theatres now, so people are coming to specifically see me. When you’re in a comedy club, that’s where you find out if your jokes are really funny. If they weren’t there to see you and you can make them laugh, hey you’ve done your job properly. But if I go in front of my own audience, I have a certain amount of grace period.

G: We touched on the internet thing, but you do have a large “unofficial” presence on the internet. I looked online and found three or four different gigs you did, available for download-a gig you did in New York and the different comedy specials. Do you think that’ll bite you in the future?

R: I’ll tell you something about that thing in New York. That fucking asshole promoter illegally recorded me and then put it on his fucking website. We’re in the process of suing him right now. I didn’t mind my Comedy Now special getting out there, but this other shit is really pissing me off. I’m the kind of the guy who will not go and perform if people are going to fuck me over like that. I have enough money now where I don’t have to go on stage for fucking two years if I don’t want to. If people are going to try and fuck with me like that, I just won’t tour. That kind of shit really bothers me, because you know what? I’m trying to do something and now somebody’s trying to undermine it.

G: Do you think this is part of the celebrity of cult building around you?

R: Yeah, it is. I’m stuck in a real fucking weird place right now. I want to do the DVD, but I know as soon as it comes out it’ll get bootleged. As much as the fans want it and I want to give it to them, at the same time, they’re going to fuck me over.

G: Is this a problem specific to you? I mean, George Lopez bootlegs aren’t setting the black market on fire.

R: It’s about how readily available your stuff is. You can watch George Lopez every week, and he had stuff out well before he was famous. But I’m in the weird position where people just want, want, want. And what I’m trying to give them, they’re taking more than I’m ready to give.

G: Let’s take this opportunity to give the people a direct message from the mouth of Russell Peters.

R: Come watch the show and enjoy it. When my car comes up for sale, please buy it. Please do not bootleg this Indian man.

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