Russell Peters at the O2

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

The best way to enjoy stand-up is always with a sound system that reverberates so perfectly out of sync so that after each sentence ends in one ear, you get a clear echo of the final word in the other, as if you’re sitting next to an obsessively irritating man.

But when you are the self-proclaimed biggest comedian in the world, you play the O2. Simple as. A Russell Peters gig is an event, and it needs a sense of scale – not to mention enough seats to accommodate his army of fans. He doesn’t have the media profile, certainly in the UK, of most arena-fillers, but he can certainly do the business, selling out two nights here.

Despite the size of the room, the affable Canadian plays it like an intimate club, chatting easily with the punters. Never has the ‘where are you from?’ banter been played out on such a global scale. He knows something about every nationality, raising stereotypes you never knew existed. What it is with the Ecuadorians and their massive heads? Think I’m joking? That, according to Peters, is a genuine national trait.

He’s a one-man Mind Your Language, for anyone old enough to remember the unenlightened Seventies race-based sitcom. But he doesn’t aim to be racist, but affectionately mocking, in much the way an English comic might mock thieving Scousers or Norfolk bumpkins. He’s well enough travelled to know what buttons to press and the targets of each good-natured jibe lap it up – perhaps just happy to hear jokes about their native Hungary, Phillipines or Trinidad in the same way some punters always cheer when their home town is mentioned.

But the broader the stereotypes, the lazier it gets; and Peters feels hackneyed when he’s on nationalities others cover. Nigerians are email spammers with inherently hilarious speech patterns, for instance. And whenever he mentions black men, it’s inevitably followed with a gag about the size of their dicks.

Rather too many of his jokes come from comedy misunderstandings of those crazy foreign accents, too, of Arabs who can’t say their Ps or the woman who pronounces ‘god’ as ‘gut’. You have to assume he’s particularly bad at communicating for him to be unable to decipher such trivial errors.

The lengthy – near two-hour – show isn’t all based on geographical differences, though that theme is never far away. He’s got a highly entertaining anecdote about going clubbing in Beirut, some rather ordinary material about rows within relationships, and relishes dropping the c-bomb with impunity, free from the North American aversion to the word. The strongest section is probably the one on Indians’ propensity to make up words based solely on onomatopoeia.

You don’t get to be ‘the world’s biggest comedian’ by being challenging – rude words aside – and the appeal of Peters is his easy geniality and his exaggeratedly comic facial expressions, projected on to the obligatory giant screens. Most of the material saunters along jovially, without making much of a lasting impact, though he displays a devastatingly quick wit with some of the banter, such as discovering a chap named Vi or the English couple planning a ‘fairly big’ wedding with 150 guests. ‘150?’ Peters shoots back. ‘In India, that’s a minibus full.’

There’s not much of substance to hold the interest for the full duration, but Peters is clearly filling an otherwise unmet need. As a comedian for a multicultural world, he serves an audience overlooked by many stand-ups, certainly white ones, who might fear accusations of racism. But being the butt of a joke is a sign of acceptance – we all take the piss out of our friends – and clearly Peters’ targets are gagging for it. You can’t argue with the box office.

Review date: 24 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: O2 Arena

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