Russell Peters

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Before Russell Peters takes to the stage, he shows a big-screen video reminder of just how big a comedy superstar he is, with scenes of him performing all around the world.

It seems redundant, give that this Indian-Canadian stand-up is filling the largest multi-purpose concert hall in Canada, all 2,982 seats of it, not once, but twice. They must have come from all over Quebec to see him.

In fact, they come from a lot further afield than that. ‘Where are the Arabic people?’ he shouts. ‘Where are the Indians?’, ‘Where are the Italians?’

For every one he responds to the cheer with an easy gag based on the broadest, most tired of stereotypes. Chinese are the bad drivers who can’t open their eyes properly, black men are well hung, Arabs are terrorists.

The fact that he’s brown gives him licence to do this, apparently, because no culture comes in for more of a drubbing than his own. Never mind that he was born and raised entirely in Canada, popping and rolling his eyes and putting on the comedy Indian accent is the cornerstone of his act.

He plays the whacky ethnic card expertly, but it makes for a rather repetitive two hours. How much material can you get from people speaking English imperfectly as a second language? You’d be surprised. It’s like a feature-length episode of Mind Your Language, for anyone who remembers the multiethnic comedy from the less enlightened Seventies.

It may sound contradictory, but he actually generalises about very specific groups of people – not just huge ethnic swathes. He asks for cheers from Armenians, from Philippinos, from Guyanans, from ‘Persians’ – and gets one every time. Each nationality has their quirks and traits he simply has to point out, for them to feel included; part of the United Nations you can find in most major cities.

The crowd lap it up – and that doesn’t come as a huge surprise, given that Peters is such a highly skilled performer. The gestures, the energy, the pacing is all spot-on, and the timing impeccable. He talks to such a vast room with the easy confidence of someone holding court in bar, and proves a thoroughly engaging storyteller with his strung-out anecdote about his trip to play to the troops on an aircraft carrier.

It’s just that all this charm is applied to what is, in the main, repetitive, unexciting material. His little character portraits can be amusing – his implacable Iraqi nonchalant about the impending US invasion is a lovely routine – but the formula he so heavily exploits becomes too stifling, and too boring, over such a long show.

But then at least 2,981 other people would probably beg to differ.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
July 22, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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