Russell Peters, 02 Arena, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With not much sex, religion or politics in his routines, tonight you wonder what taboos Canadian-Asian comic Russell Peters might bring to the proverbial dinner party. The answer is race.

An evening with Peters, the world-record holder for the highest attendance at a one-off comedy gig, is like having an alternative, un-PC, UN in session (the UNPC perhaps?) In Peters' chamber, delegates are known as "brown guy" or "black guy" and are asked direct questions. He probes the Saudi contingent in his audience by asking: "How many Filipinos did you have working for you?" To a man who says he is South African, Peters ripostes: "You're not Indian? Have you looked in the mirror?"

Only a few weeks ago, the ambitious Congolese comedian Eddie Kadi played the 02 (the relative unknown managing to get it half full) and much the same dynamic was in play. Both comics touched base with various nationalities and both duly raised the question as to who can say what to whom. Presumably, it is no less ethically-challenged for Peters to joke about brusque service from Polish waiting staff ("here's menu") than for a white comedian to do so? In this case, Peters uses the premise of new-generation racism, finding a new level by deflecting the routine back on his Indian audience: "So I bet you get pissed off when you see Polish people?" he asks them.

With a facial dexterity to match his globe-trotting shtick, Peters is, in this way, reminiscent of Rowan Atkinson and is, as his introductory video hints, a decent mimic. Imitation is, of course, essential if you are to remark one minute on how Cantonese makes you think that someone is messing with a real-life volume-control button and the next assert that the Mexicans deliberately took the campness out of Spanish.

The penalty of having only a few sustained routines is that when Peters' longest anecdote, about clubbing in a bomb shelter in Lebanon, is over, he starts again, reprising the "who's in the house?" riff. To be fair, this is something he does very well. "Anyone been to Bombay?" he asks, to much cheering. In this particular case, Peters digs a little deeper into his experience, mentioning the 2008 terror attacks and the stereotypical connotations of them being carried out on 7/11.

On matters of security, Peters' gig is policed as if he himself were in danger. Officious stewards stride up and down checking that people aren't filming the gig, which is being officially recorded for a DVD. Even the comic remarks, "there's efficient and there's... " He stops as short as I do of criticising them completely; they were asked to do a job after all.

It's true that some of Peters' observations are base-line and I hear one wit in the crowd sarcastically exclaim "really?" during a pause that comes after a joke beginning "red [traffic] lights mean exactly the same thing wherever you go."

It may be a back-handed compliment for his efforts, both fresh and hackneyed, but not many comics could make a "how-do-you-do" last a whole show. Perhaps that's another record he could add to his CV?

Comments