The Canadian comic Russell Peters is in the capital for two sold-out shows at Yas Island’s Flash Forum tomorrow and on Friday. Here we take a look at his background and his rise from doing turns at a seafood restaurant to playing arenas worldwide.
Who is he?
Peters is one of the few superstar comedians selling out arenas in Europe, America and the Middle East. Where once cultural comedy verged on being xenophobic or at best accommodating to a niche crowd, Peters makes it accessible to audiences spanning different cultures. He uses observational comedy to poke fun of racial, class and cultural stereotypes. While his shows pack plenty of colourful language, his evergreen demeanour on stage saves his punchlines from being all-out offensive. This is largely responsible for the millions he rakes in each year as a result of touring and DVD sales. According to Forbes magazine’s list of the top-earning comedians of 2010, Peters ranks seventh with an estimated US$15 million (Dh55m) in earnings.
Peters was born in 1970 in the Canadian city of Brampton. His parents are of Anglo-Indian ancestry – his father was born in Mumbai and his mother and older brother in Calcutta. Peters’s father worked as a meat inspector, a subject Peters frequently explores in his comedy, together with poking fun at his Indian origins and his propensity to have a dig at Indian culture. Growing up with a keen love of hip-hop culture, including rapping and DJing, Peters only took up standup comedy in the late 1980s at a friend’s suggestion.
While he was not an instant hit, his immediate love of the medium gave him the enthusiasm to slog it out for more than a decade as he played in all sorts of venues, from dive bars to a Canadian seafood restaurant. It was a 2005 YouTube clip compiling jokes from his Canadian television appearance in Comedy Now! that launched him on the road to stardom.
One of the clips, titled Beating Your Kids, in which Peters discusses multicultural approaches to parenthood, has already clocked up more than 15 million views.
With his clips a viral sensation, Peters spent more time on the road, selling out festival appearances and breaking audience records. His 2010 show in Sydney, where he sold more than 13,000 tickets, was declared the biggest stand-up performance in Australian history. He also broke UK records by selling more than 16,000 tickets for his 2009 show. Peters’s live DVDs also became hot property, with Russell Peters: Outsourced selling more than 100,000 copies in Canada alone. He released further titles of his massive performances in New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s O2 Arena. Peters has also released a bestselling memoir, Call Me Russell, co-written with his brother Clayton Peters and the screenwriter Dannis Koromilas.
While Peters’s most enthusiastic fans come from the Indian subcontinent, he tested their devotion last year after unwisely taking a potshot at the popular Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s acting abilities. Promoting his acting debut, the Canadian comedy Speedy Sings, Peters joked that “Aishwarya is the biggest example of bad acting. She has proved it time and time again that in Bollywood, people can become superstars just by having a pretty face”. Speedy Sing’s producer, Ajay Virmani, promptly issued an apology on his behalf.
Peters married Monica Diaz Garcia last year after proposing to her at the Los Angeles Airport. They have a one-year-old daughter. Peters funds a student scholarship at his former high school in Ontario, the North Peel Secondary School. He is managed by his elder brother Clayton.