Exclusive interview: Russell Peters
It’s hard not to laugh when you’re interviewing comedians because there’s never a moment when they’re not trying to be funny (well, some of them).
Within seconds of connecting on a trans-Atlantic phone call to Los Angeles from our offices in Dubai, one the biggest comedians in the world is impersonating our accent and catching us completely off guard. Didn’t expect that.
You know what? Russell Peters is ripping our accent off rather well but it’s unlikely to become a regular part of his act, let’s face it.
We have front-row tickets to a private comedy show, for one night only, delivered directly to the ShortList phone.
We interrupt Peters’ impromptu set to begin the interview but part of us really wants to let him keep going, for no other reason than to see exactly how it will unfold.
Peters is charming, clever and still has the same laid-back approach to life he had as an unsure 19 year-old who, in his own words, tried comedy because he had nothing else going on in life.
The Emmy Award-winning comic has been in the business for 30 years. That’s a lot of jokes, a lot of laughs and, significantly, a lot of learning, too.
Stand-up comedy used to be entertainment reserved for basement bars, smoky half-filled comedy clubs and cringe-worthy open mic nights.
In the past three decades Peters has been there, done that and been heckled in the process. Nowadays, however, things have changed. Quite dramatically.
You don’t have to live out of a car, do three shows a night for no money and beg a promoter for five minutes at the end of an event when everyone has gone home.
Now, simply owning a smartphone can provide you with a route into comedy.
“The comedy scene is completely different. Back in the day, in order to make it in comedy you had to be on the road and learn that way of life if you weren’t from a big city like Los Angeles, New York or Chicago,” he says.
“You had to get out there and hustle on the road. Now there are so many shortcuts you can take, you can make a funny clip on YouTube or Instagram and all of a sudden people want to book you.
“You might only have five minutes of material, but they’re throwing money at you and you’re going to take it.
“This is what the comedy clubs and all the so-called newfound comedy fans are discovering. It’s like ‘oh, you were funny in that clip but here we are, I’ve paid 40 dollars and this guy sucks after five minutes’,” he adds.
“I’m really lucky. I had no delusions of grandeur when I started in this business and I’m very fortunate to still have a very solid career even to this day.”
Comedians rarely start out selling out arenas and filming comedy specials. Plus, those that do rarely enjoy the longevity of career that Peters has. And what a career it’s been. An exciting journey.
He was the first comedian to film a straight-to-Netflix comedy special, has sold out Madison Square Garden and was previously ranked as the third highest-earning comedian in the world by Forbes.
Not bad for a guy who had “nothing else going on” when he started out on his path.
When it comes down to it, Peters is just keen to have fun, enjoy life and tell a few jokes in the process, which is why he found himself performing in Dubai back in the late ‘90s, when our beloved city wasn’t the international destination it is now.
“I’ve been coming to Dubai for 21 years to perform and that was long before I was a big deal,” Peters explains.
“There used to be a gig inside the vault in the Hyatt hotel, there weren’t a huge number of venues like that open back then.
“Dubai was kind of desert with not much going on. Here we are 21 years later and it’s one of the most sought-after places in the world.
“Back then, the pay was terrible but it was a free trip to Dubai. It was my first foray into the Middle East at that point, there was so much I don’t know and I had only been doing comedy for around nine years.
“I was excited to be there, I didn’t care how much they paid or even if they paid at all because I just wanted to be able to say that I’ve performed there.
“Now I’m looking back on it and I’m still excited because I’ve performed here before anyone else even considered coming to Dubai.”
Peters, who is due to open the brand-new, 17,000 capacity Coca-Cola Arena when he performs at the City Walk venue on June 6, first gained widespread attention when a clip of his performance on a Canadian TV Show, Comedy Now! went viral on YouTube in the mid noughties.
So of course, having experienced the benefits of technology for sharing content you’d think he’s a big fan of social media right? Wrong.
“I’m probably the worst with social media. I’m always too busy living real life. To be honest, I do find it to be a huge pain,” he says.
“It seems so unnatural to me to want to take a picture or film something when you’re trying to watch something.
“I just want to be in the moment and catch everything and that’s how I live my life.
“It’s frustrating to see people going for their phones all the time. Just enjoy the moment, let’s not worry about getting the shot, this isn’t a movie this is real life.
“I’ve not allowed cellphones at my shows for the past ten years. That’s why I have security guys with me. They’re not there to keep me safe they’re there to make sure that no one is recording. That’s their sole job. It’s to make sure you stay in the moment, enjoy yourself and have the best time possible.
“I don’t want to know if people liked it after they got home, I want to know that they enjoyed it while they were there.”
So you might want to leave your phone at home or in the car when Peters takes to the stage in Dubai next month.
With his latest tour ‘Deported’ he promises fans won’t be disappointed and for those who are yet to fall in love with the likeable Canadian this could be the turning point.
“This act that I’m doing right now has been the best received show I’ve done on tour in the past 15 years,” he says.
“This is the one that people seem to have really enjoyed. It’s always difficult for me to say something nice about myself but I can honestly tell people that this is the one you want to see. If you liked me before, you’ll love me now. And if you didn’t like me before, you might have a chance to now.
When: Thursday June 6
Where: Coca-Cola Arena, City Walk
Price: From AED200 (ticketmaster.ae)