Nov 5, 2013

Into the mind of a serial racist

From ‘interview girl’ who was offered free dinner (but declined) to ‘Roro’ by the end of the conversation, it was quite an interesting ten minutes with Russell Peters during his Notorious World Tour. Other than a peaceful side to the guy who’s made me laugh for years, there’s also the discovery that he’s terrified of bugs.

Russell Peters
What’s Russell Peters like when he’s not under the spotlight? Are you always trying to be funny?

I don’t think so. When I see something funny, I’m not going to not say something funny. On stage, it’s like an amplified version of yourself. So where I have to do for an hour and a half straight on stage, off-stage, I might do it every few mintues.

Can you imagine phasing out this profession?

No, I’ve been doing it for 24 years. I don’t think phasing it out is on the cards now.

Do you have a little black book where you jot down jokes as they come to you?

No, it’s all in my head. It’s all memory, observation and I like to talk to people in the audience because that’s how I find out things about people. Depending on who they are and how they react, it could go great or just be all right.

Do you think Indian comedians rely too much on stereotypes?

I don’t know about the other ones but I’m the first guy. Gotta figure I set the benchmark and the tone and the pace of it. So if anyone’s doing anything similar to mine or copying me, that’s not my problem. But if there was nobody else and it was only me, would you be able to say that? It’s my style of comedy – some guys do political comedy; some do whatever they know. I talk about what I know. What I talk about is culture and travelling around the world and stuff.

Have you ever/do you still have days when you imagine the audience in their underpants?

I’ve never done that in my life. I do it with chicks sometimes and picture them naked. But that’s only my own deviant mind doing that.

Then how do you deal with the pressure of entertaining a stadium with 3500 people?

Well, there are nights when I’m doing 18,000 people. There’s always pressure. But I’ve been doing it for 24 years. If you can’t deal with the pressure of your job, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

What are the best perks of this job?

Money, fame, chicks.

Wait, aren’t you married?

I’m divorced! But I have a daughter. *shows me the photograph on his phone*

And are you really that much of a pervert as you make yourself out to be on stage?

“It’s obviously not who I am off-stage. It’s like ‘I can’t say this in real life but I can say it right here’. I have my own degenerate behaviour but I’m not forward like that off-stage. I won’t walk up to a girl that I don’t know and start talking to her. I was never able to do that and I still can’t. If I sense that she may know who I am, then I’ll say something but it won’t be like a pick-up line. I’ll say something witty to see if she gets it. If she doesn’t get it, I’m like ‘ah, she’s an idiot. Never mind’.

What challenges do you face?

You gotta continue writing all the time. It’s a double-edged sword – it’s a challenge but it’s also what makes it exciting. If your job becomes not too much of a challenge to you, you should quit. In comedy, you’re never above anything. You can mess up on any night. You’ve never above it. It’s one of those things. It’s what makes it so daring actually. I can go up and I can stink it up. It still happens all the time. It doesn’t matter who you are but you always have the opportunity to fail.

Any Indian stand-ups that you know of?

I know Papa CJ, Tanmay Bhat.

Do you see yourself as better than them?

I don’t really look at it like that because we’re all doing the same job. I see them as all very new. There’s no above or below anybody in this game. You might be more successful than somebody else but it doesn’t mean you’re better than them. There are guys who are not successful who are way funnier than I’ll ever be. But for whatever reason, it didn’t click for them.

Do you look up routines?

No. You never look up others’ routines. The minute you start copying somebody else, you’re not being yourself anymore. You’ve lost your point of view then.

According to you, what’s the future of stand-up comedy?
It’s been there forever and it’s going to stay there forever. It’s not going anywhere – it’s social commentary. You watch the news – they aren’t telling you the truth. The bad stuff will always go away. It’s the same with music – we live in a time when music is shit. Whenever there’s a war going on, the music usually gets better because people are depressed. We’re in the middle of wars and depression and the music has somehow gotten worse. I don’t understand that. It used to be the complete opposite. But then again, it can’t stay terrible forever!

When you’re not doing stand-up, what do you do?

I DJ – I stay home and work my turntables. I play for myself.

Do you ever let the celebrity status get to you?

No, because I don’t really buy it. It’s nice. I like it. I always meet people. I don’t have a problem with it. Even if people ask on the streets if they can get a picture, I say ‘yeah, no problem’. You know what’s going to be annoying – when nobody wants my picture or autograph anymore. That’s going to be five times more annoying than anybody interrupting my dinner.

But that’s a legit fear at this point?

It’s always a legit fear. Nobody wants to not be on top anymore. It’s inevitable but it’s how you fall from grace.

Lastly, how do you keep innovating?

I don’t know. You just keep thinking.

How does your brain work?

I don’t know. If I knew, I would sell it as a blueprint! Or brown print.

The interview was published in Metrolife on November 5, 2013. Here is the link.

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