Fame hasn't changed Russell Peters's work ethic
The most recognizable name in comedy may seem cocky on-stage, but in real life he’s still an insecure artist who likes to do everyday guy things.
Russell Peters has every right to be pumped full of confidence: he continues to fill arenas all over the world with adoring fans and is one of the richest standup comedians working today. But the 23-year vet has been around long enough to know what a fickle mistress show biz can be.
“This is my third arena tour,” he says on the phone from Toronto, where he’s preparing for the Notorious World Tour that he’s bringing to Rogers Arena on Saturday (June 23). “People are lucky to get one arena tour ever in their life, so to be on the third one is pretty incredible for me.”
He’s not at the stage yet where he feels he can just trot out the same act year after year, so this one, he says, is 100 percent new. And it’s that commitment to the grunt work of writing that his followers appreciate. A fan base won’t grow if you keep offering it the same old same-old, year after year.
“I just think about coming up with the material,” he says. “I just want to make sure I’m able to do my job for as long as I can do it for. You’ve got to stay out there, stay working. There’s no time in the comedy game that you’re ever above anything, you know?”
He’s branching out, but Peters’s bread and butter is still race relations. The Indo-Canadian’s equal-opportunity observations tread the line between good and bad taste, but he always manages to keep everyone on his side with his superb craftsmanship. Still, a few sensitive souls are concerned about perpetuating stereotypes. But Peters can’t worry about potential racists enjoying his act for ulterior motives.
“Everybody’s laughing for a different reason,” he says. “Everyone is connecting with it on whatever level they’re connecting on it with. I can’t guarantee that you’re going to understand the joke for the same reason that the people are laughing beside you. Who knows?”
His work ethic is similar to one of America’s leading comics, Louis C.K., who famously creates a new hour of material every year, but don’t mention that to Peters. When the Straight asked the relatively new parent (his daughter is 18 months old) if his child is now fodder for the act, he quickly jokes, “No, I’m da fodder of her,” before admitting that he does talk about fatherhood now on-stage. But he doesn’t go the C.K. route of bashing his own offspring for comedic effect.
“I’m not shitting on her so much, but I’m more shitting on myself for not really knowing what I’m doing,” he said. “I went from my perspective. You don’t want to copy anyone else.”
And when asked about the so-called Louis C.K. model of DIY comedy specials, Peters bristles. You don’t get to be number one without a healthy competitive streak.
“Now, see, here’s the thing,” he says. “This is the only reason it bothers me that everybody is making a big deal out of this is that I have been spending my own money and producing my own specials since ’06. And I never made a big deal out of it. And all of a sudden Louis does it—and he’s a more marquee name as far as the mainstream goes—and people are like, ‘Oh, how fresh and groundbreaking!’ I’m like, ‘Uh, I’ve been doing this for years.’ ”
The difference, of course, is that Peters’s products have been available in DVD format while C.K.’s are online downloads. With a more international fan base, it would seem that Peters could go the same route, charging $5 per download and blowing C.K.’s record of making $1 million in 12 days out of the water. But Peters is proudly his own man.
“Because somebody else did something makes me not want to do it,” he says. “I need to be the guy who comes up with his own ideas.”
No doubt this attitude has helped keep him at the top of his profession. But despite his success, he says he’s still the same old Russell.
“ ‘Russell Peters’ has changed,” he says of the stage persona, “but Russell the guy is exactly the same. All my friends are exactly the same and the things I do are exactly the same. Sure, some of the things may be better than what I used to be able to do, but as far as I go, I manage to stay the same. I’m still the same goofball who’ll want to go to the mall and just hang out.”
He says he simply dons a hat as a disguise and fits in just fine. While some of his pals express concern that he’ll be mobbed, Peters has a remarkably refreshing attitude.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” he says. “Somebody wants a picture or an autograph? The downside of that is nobody wants your picture or autograph. And that sucks worse.”
Russell Peters brings his Notorious World Tour to Rogers Arena on Saturday (June 23).