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Won't let my live shows be censored, says funnyman Russell Peters

Ahead of India tour, the Canadian funnyman Russell Peters discusses his risqué material, acting in films, and the role social media plays in stand-up comedy.

art and culture Updated: Jan 29, 2015 10:08 IST
Arundhati Chatterjee
Arundhati Chatterjee
Hindustan Times

Before the stand-up comedy scene became big in India, our first brush with it was Canadian comic Russell Peter's risqué humour. After kick-starting his ongoing world tour--Almost Famous--in September 2014 from Canada, Peters is excited to return to India with an all new improv set. During one of his earlier visits, his statements, 'Aishwarya Rai; she's beautiful, but a terrible actress' and 'I hate Bollywood. The movies are all garbage', didn't go down too well with several industry insiders. However, the 45-year-old funnyman remains unnerved - he doesn't mince his words, and neither does he like anybody censoring his shows.

At a time when the Indian comedy scene is flourishing, and even Bollywood is supporting it - the video of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor mouthing expletives at their roast, All India Back**d Knockout, went online yesterday (January 28) - Russell speaks to us about censorship, among other things, over an email interaction. "Some people might not like the material, but that's about it; comedy is subjective. I have never got into any trouble. However, I don't censor myself, and won't let my live shows be censored," he says, adding, "I've turned down certain countries because they want me to censor my act. Comedians are 'truth-sayers', and you can't silence the truth."

Last year, you were seen in films like Chef and Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever. Are there more Hollywood projects in the pipeline?
I like doing movies, and I'd like to do more, but being in films is something that's completely out of my control. I've got a few projects that I'm developing, but it takes forever to develop a movie, and I don't think I have the patience for it.

Since you are touring the world with your latest show, does your set change with every place?
I do make minor adjustments to my set for my shows globally, but not too many changes. I know when a reference is too local to the US or Canada, and where some people might not get it. But we live in a world where people know a lot more than we give them credit for, especially my fans.

Today, YouTube channels and podcasts are gaining momentum as mediums. To what extent do you think social media helps comedians?
Having a great seven minutes on YouTube doesn't make you a great stand-up. You need to put the time in. They do give comedians a chance to put their material out there and have it seen, but some guys think it's a shortcut to becoming famous or getting a TV or movie deal. I've been doing stand-up for 26 years. I got into it with the hope of becoming famous, but I never expected it. You have to bomb in front of an audience and perform at smaller gigs before you can really start to find your voice.

You are majorly known for your improv acts. How do you approach each show? Do you have a basic outline?
I have a set and I use the audience to take me from bit to bit within that set. There's definitely a method to what I do. Some guys go up and just do their material without any audience interaction. Personally, I find that boring, as I think for my fans as well. Every comic has a unique approach and mine involves the audience.

You are performing in India as part of the Stage 42 festival. You have performed here earlier as well. What do you think of the audience?
The fans in India are great. They get all my references. I think they're really sharp.

Will we see you collaborating with other artistes for your upcoming shows?
I've been thinking about doing a musical-comedy collaboration. I always travel with my own DJ, DJ Spinbad, from New York City (USA) when I'm on tour.

First Published: Jan 29, 2015 10:08 IST