The Russell Peters Conspiracy
Canada's top comic performs at Pechanga Casino August 13
Comedian Russell Peters has certainly come along since he began his career as a stand-up 22 years ago during the open mic night at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto. After years of “hell gigs” and endless touring, Peters has found himself at the top of his game, with Forbes listing him as one of the highest paid comedians in the past decade, ranking in $15 million between 2008-2010. The DVD sales of his comedy specials Red White and Brown and The Green Card Tour – Live from the O2 have gone through the roof, leaving Peters plenty of breathing room to spend with his family. Having taken most of 2011 off to focus of his personal life and tend to his newborn daughter, Peters will make a rare one night only appearance at Pechanga Casino this Saturday August 13, where he’ll be working on new material in preparation for his new special.
SanDiego.com had a chance to catch up with Peters from his home in Studio City, where we got a chance to talk about his early years as a comic in Toronto, and the possibility of an ongoing Hollywood conspiracy against him.
Why is your show at Pechanga the only scheduled performance you have listed on your tour itinerary?
Russell Peters: I’ve taken this season real slow. I had a baby eight months ago, so I’ve just been trying to enjoy my daughter, but I’ve been doing more films and stuff like that. So I haven’t been taking too many stand-up dates, and I’m also in the process of writing a new act. You’ve got to lay low until you got the act.
What can you tell me about the film Breakaway?
RP: Remember Bend it Like Beckham? It’s basically Bend it Like Beckham but hockey. I play the douchebag guy from New York who’s coming to Toronto to marry the lead guys’ cousin.
Was it difficult for you to assume a douchebag role?
RP: Let me tell you something, if there’s one type of bag that I know, it is a douche one. I played such an effective douchebag, you would have a hard time believing that I’m not a douchebag.
Can fans look forward to seeing you doing the late night rounds promoting the film?
RP: Probably not. I don’t really get a lot of love in that late night area, you know.
Why do you think that is?
RP: I don’t know, but I don’t really care. Like [George] Lopez gives me love, and that’s a homeboy, so I got a friend out there in that world and I’m happy.
Well you’re one of the top grossing comedians in the world, so you don’t really need late night television do you?
RP: I know, that’s why it’s actually more funny for me at that point, because I’m like, ‘Really?’ and then I see who they do put on and I’m like, ‘But who are they?’ or I’ll see a comic that’s on and I’m like, ‘Wait, so you wouldn’t put me on your show, but you got the guy who’s playing the Funnybone in Cleveland this weekend on?’ I don’t understand it.
What do you remember about the first time you did stand-up?
RP: The first time I’d ever been on stage in my entire life doing stand-up? I hate when I hear comics go, ‘Oh man, my first time they asked me to come back and they were like we want to book you!’ and I’m like, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ First of all, the business doesn’t work like that, nobody’s basing you off your one shitty set. My first time on stage was horrible. I think I must’ve done, on the high end, three minutes.
What club in Toronto was this?
RP: That was Yuk Yuk’s. They’ve been around forever, everybody started there, Jim Carrey, Harland Williams, Norm Macdonald; all the stand-up guys that came out of Canada started at Yuk Yuk’s.
You started in 1989, which was right at the tail end of the comedy boom.
RP: That was right as the boom had finished booming. And all I got to hear from everybody else was how I missed everything. Which was kind of like the best time to come into the game because there was no pressure, nobody was watching you, nobody cared about it anymore. You could go up make your mistakes and do what you got to do and nobody was paying attention.
Were your parents very strict and discouraging of you pursuing stand-up comedy?
RP: My parents are from India, so they had no point of reference for it at all. And there were no Indian people doing it ever, so it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, so and so did it.’ There was no point of reference for them so, it wasn’t a disappointment it wasn’t an excitement; you know kind of like if you kid says, ‘Daddy I want to be an astronaut’ and you say, ‘You go ahead buddy, you go be an astronaut.’ It was the same kind of reaction, I was like, ‘Dad I’m going to go be a comedian’ ‘That’s nice son, go ahead.’
What was the impetus for you doing stand-up? Did you watch a lot of HBO late night comedy growing up in the 80's?
RP: I used to watch a lot of comedy, but in Canada we never got HBO so I would have to go to the video store. We got Evening at The Improv and all that horse shit, and we’d get the odd thing here and there, but I would have to go to the video store and rent VHS tapes. Or back in my day I wouldn’t even have money to rent them so I would just go in the store and steal them or what have you. I had quite a collection, and one of the video stores had quite a depleted collection.
Were you in the drama club in high school?
RP: No. I mean, I was in drama class but the type of school I went to; I don’t know if you saw any of my specials, but in my Red, White and Brown special I talk about going to retard school. That wasn’t a joke - that was real. So drama class in our school wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be an actor!’ it was more like, ‘Hey can you stand-up? No. Ok, we’ll you’re going to be the guy in the wheelchair in this scene then.’
What made you want to do stand-up as a teenager in Toronto?
RP: One night we were out at a club, it was in the summertime of 1989, and we couldn’t get into the club because I was still 18 at the time. So we were just hanging out in the parking lot of this nightclub and I stood on my friend’s bumper and just started making fun of everybody. And then everyone was like, ‘You should be a comedian, you’d be funny. Look at what you did; you just entertained all of us.’ And my cousin Andrew was like, ‘You should go do it, you’d be good at it.’ Then my brother took me around to a bunch of open mics to watch them and get a feel for it. And then I said, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do it.’ So I went and tried my hand at it and I sucked, but I didn’t bomb horribly.
What was your second time performing like? What was the process for you developing those first few years as comic on Yuk Yuk’s open mic?
RP: Well the second time was much better than the first time. It was about just as long on stage, however I cam more prepared with some sort of assemblance of an act. Whatever an act would be for three minutes, I came prepared a little bit and then I just kept going more and more and getting more comfortable with it and getting better and better with it.