Russell Peters may be unique. I certainly can't think of another Asian- Canadian comedian. "When I come on stage, I'm not the kind of Canadian audiences expect," he laughs. His Asian background forms the spine of his routine. "It's guided my act," he avers. "It's been my safety net. If a section on ordinary, everyday things is not going well, I twist it into an Asian event. You can always rely on your heritage. I try not to bash - anyone can do that - but to show people that as much as I'm different, we all do the same things."
The only racism Peters has encountered is from his fellow comedians. "You hear them snickering when I walk in," he reveals. "They say to each other, `If he didn't do that racial stuff, he'd be nothing'. I just laugh."
The material about his background goes down particularly well with British audiences. "I do a lot of stuff about the British in India. When they left, the Indians said, `No, no, we're coming with you'. When I ask British audiences how many of them are unhappy about the number of immigrants, a few always put their hands up. I say to them, `You should be happy we're here. If we weren't, where would you eat after you got drunk?'"
Peters reckons there are so few Asian comedians because "We're not the most extrovert of people, and it's not something our parents would push us towards. My parents used to ask, `When are you going to get a proper job?' Had I been a failure, they'd have been going, `Told you so'."
According to Peters, some of the (still sadly few) Asians who have come through on the circuit are "too corny. They make their world too small and don't see things from everyone's perspective. They've got to try and universalise more."
As he embarks on a British tour, Peters's sole concern is the common language that divides people from either side of Atlantic. "After one gig in Britain, someone came up and said to me, `You're the bollocks, mate'. I said, `Are we going to have to step outside because of that, or is it a compliment?'"
EYE ON THE NEW
The best laughs this weekend are to be had across the water. Highlights of the increasingly popular Murphy's Cat Laughs Kilkenny Comedy Festival include Rory Bremner, Alan Davies, Jeremy Hardy, Bob Mills and Boothby Graffoe, as well as home-grown Irish talent in the shape of Ed Byrne, and brilliant comic songster Dermot Carmody. Booking: 00 353 56 63837, to 2 JunReuse content