Entertainment | Music

Russell Peters: Bring on the funny

That Russell Peters is in high demand is no joke — tickets to his shows in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week sold out in record time. ‘This show is my style of comedy, but it's all new,' says the Canadian stand-up comic

  • By Kelly Crane, Senior Reporter
  • Published: 00:05 March 19, 2012
  • Tabloid

Russell Peters and Sofía Vergara in New Year’s Eve.
  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • Russell Peters and Sofía Vergara in New Year’s Eve.

Airport proposal, Vegas wedding, Elvis impersonator, gorgeous wife-to-be, baby on the way: the 2010 wedding of comedian Russell Peters was a sure-fire conversation starter, so I jumped right in.

"I'm getting divorced," came the reply, before the line went dead. Gulp.

"I don't think it's a natural place for humans to be unless they truly think they can't live without each other," came the surprisingly upbeat follow-up.

The world-renowned Canadian comic married girlfriend Monica Garcia on August 20, 2010, having dropped on one knee at Los Angeles International Airport just one month before.

But while funnyman Peters clearly still takes his duties as a father to 13-month-old Crystianna Marie seriously, the collapse of his "500 bucks" nuptials is something he sees the funny side of.

"All the money I saved on the wedding I'm spending on the divorce," he said, before adding that things between him and his ex were extremely amicable. "It's not a war zone and it won't be, but I have to admit I feel invigorated. It [marriage] wasn't for me."

The wedding was attended by about 20 guests, including an Elvis impersonator, and when Peters announced the pregnancy on Twitter, he told The Canadian Press, "Did I get married because she was knocked up? I would say that expedited it".

So as the divorce papers are processed, Peters is all set for his new tour, which lucky for us, courtesy of Live Nation and Flash Entertainment, comes to Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week.

In an interview with tabloid! having just stepped off an LA stage, Peters gives us the low-down on his latest show.

Having dropped the bombshell about his short-lived marriage, the 41-year-old says his new material was written as a direct result of his experiences over the past few years.

Multi-cultural banter

"Why is it a bad thing?" he asks after I express sadness over his news. "That's what's been so invigorating," he laughs. "This new show is my style of comedy but it's all new. Obviously, it's along the themes of what I talk about. I have to stick to that because that keeps me being me."

Expect the usual Peters multi-cultural banter with "a bunch of other stuff" he says. "Like being a Dad. That has truly inspired me."

Divorced he may be, but a Dad he'll always be. "I'll probably be her Dad for a while," comes Peters' sarcasm.

"I love being a Dad and I'm a great dad," he adds with total confidence. Quickly, and as if the ex-wife was listening in, he threw in a line about the missus — "We are by no means enemies. It's not a war zone. It's pretty cool."

With a show inspired by this new chapter in his life, Peters announced dates around the world which include Dubai tonight and tomorrow and in the capital on Thursday and Friday.

The shows sold out in record time, making history for organisers Live Nation in Dubai and Flash Entertainment in Abu Dhabi. More than 6,000 tickets were snapped up for the first show at Dubai World Trade Centre in just 40 minutes.

"I'm never usually that excited to go anywhere to be honest, but I've been off the road for quite a while now and I'm pretty eager to bring my new show and share it with my fans in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beirut and everywhere else."

It's safe to say Peter's has cracked the globe — almost.

Peters' story began partly thanks to a "dud gig" — as he calls his first stand up night at a Canadian comedy club called Yuk Yuk — and partly thanks to YouTube's sudden popularity in 2004.

Born in Canada in 1970 to Indian parents, he began gigging in Toronto during his late teens. "I bombed on my first night," he has said. "But I was also hooked."

Notorious for jokes which systematically poke fun at racial stereotypes as well as his imitations of accents from Jamaican and Cantonese to Indian and Vietnamese, Peters focuses the majority of his material around his Indian upbringing and often parodies his parents and South Asian culture.

After a stint he filmed for Canadian TV series Comedy Now!, Peters went viral online and the offers started flooding in.

"His humour targets everyone including, and especially, his own heritage," said Tyler Mervyn, managing director at Live Nation Middle East, who booked Peters for the Dubai shows.

"It is not mean, or cutting, just factual and funny and really hits home with the multi-cultural make-up of this region. His comedy transcends cultural barriers, uniting his audience through laughter. His impersonations of different accents are so genuine and his interaction with the audience proves what a natural comedian he is as he comes up with amazing funny bits on the spot."

He became the first comedian to sell out Toronto's Air Canada Centre with a total of more than 60,000 tickets sold across six cities, almost 14,000 showed up to catch him in Sydney, Australia in 2010, making it the largest stand-up comedy show in Australian history and he broke a UK comedy sales record at London's O2 Arena when he sold more than 16,000 tickets for a show in 2009.

But there's one place wary of letting him in. The "school yard" as Peter's describes it: Hollywood.

"I don't need Hollywood," he said, starting to sound a tad defensive. "With or without them, I'll be fine. But I'll admit it would be nice to have them on board. But it's gonna be a while until they understand what I do. It's kinda like high school. There's the cool kids, the popular kids, and then there are kids who everyone likes, but the cool kids are so far up their own arses they can't see anything past themselves."

Having moved to LA — picking up two rather swanky pads along the way — Peters was quiet when we spoke to him, after a long night of comedy at a Hollywood festival.

On the bill with a host of other names, Peters "doesn't do nerves" any more, his biggest enemy now the battle against the bulge.

"I needed to get my fat a** back in shape so I started boxing again — that's not just for a comedian but for a human being. I lost weight and felt good. I'm kind of lucky that my status in the game is where I don't feel like someone else is gonna snatch it from me. I don't really get competitive. My stuff is so unique, which is what makes it easy to go on with other comics because I know our subject matter is so different."

A self-confessed Twitter addict, you'll be pleased to know he updates his own status. "I don't have a servant," he said. His profile describes him as "Joke Slinger, Music Enthusiast and DJ Nerd", all of which, it goes to claim, he was the first to do.

"I DJ and I'm a harsh critic of DJs," he said. He is. Minutes later, at the sheer mention of the name David Guetta, Peters launched into what I can only describe as a tirade against the Frenchman.

NB. The following is unedited, not for eyes of youngsters, people who are easily offended or fans of David Guetta: "He is not a DJ of any kind. He is the worst thing to ever happen to the word DJ. I hope his hands fall off. I can't stand that piece of s**t. He knows he's not a DJ — if he admitted that, I'd have no problem with him. At the Grammy nominations in November, I was sitting three seats away from him. I asked to be moved. I couldn't be and from then on all I kept thinking was I should just punch him in the face. He's such a retard."

And breathe...

"It's just, I'm from the school of DJing where you need to know how to mix, scratch and know how to use the machine. As soon as someone says CD to me, I stop listening. That's not a DJ."

Movie career

Rant over, this was the most animated Peters had been so far — if I'm going to be frank, so far it had been a little like pulling teeth. It was difficult to work out whether he was tired, bored or just not that funny in real life.

Deciding it was probably wrong to expect the comedian to be the funniest person in the room, Peters was quick to agree. "I don't really know what other people's expectations are of me, but if I'm having a day when I don't feel like being funny that's someone else's problem, not mine. You can always see through those people."

Feeling a little sheepish, I orchestrated a swift change of subject: "So, LA must be pretty convenient for your new-found career as an actor?"

Peters has appeared in a few films, most recently in the 2011 Canadian-Punjabi movie Speedy Singhs (released internationally as Breakaway), with actors Camilla Belle and Anupham Kher.

Other movies include Senior Skip Day, starring Larry Miller and Tara Reid, New Year's Eve and Duncan Jones' Source Code as Max, an amateur comedian with a bad attitude.

"I think for comedians, acting is their natural progression. It's all about progression. I've been a comic for 23 years and I've always wanted to get into acting but I'm not in charge of that world. My fan base is strong enough to know me a stand-up first, but when I start getting better, movies people will hopefully see me and support me in that too."

Diverting back to an earlier conversation about playground bullies, Peters makes a similar reference to the folk in the Hollywood movie business.

"We just have to remember there are more of us than there are of them."

Sold out!
Tickets for Peters' gigs tonight and tomorrow in Dubai and Thursday and Friday in Abu Dhabi sold out in record time. All tickets for the World Trade Centre gig tomorrow sold out in 50 minutes, making it the fastest-selling show ever in the UAE. When a second date, tonight's, was announced, the first 2,000 tickets went in just eight minutes, before the entire show sold out two hours later.

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