Review: Russell Peters, O2 Arena, 2009

russell peters

The comedy circuit is full of popular Russells – Brand, Howard, Kane – but there is actually another Russell who in ticket-shifting stand-up terms is possibly bigger than all of them put together. Russell Peters was one of the first comedians to benefit from the all-pervading power of the internet. Bite-sized YouTube clips from his performances have helped to make him an arena-filling global superstar in areas where other comedians have barely scratched the surface. This review below, first printed in the Evening Standard, is of his sold-out show at the O2 Arena in 2009. He returns there this Tuesday before moving on to Manchester and Glasgow and if you are quick you might still be able to buy tickets here.

Yet not that many years before the O2 Arena Peters was in the UK playing a tiny venue at the Edinburgh Festival and not getting that much press attention. A comedy industry colleague told me that he did not enjoy the experience a lot, but coming back to the UK as a superstar should have given him a nice satisfying feeling. The Asian community in the UK absolutely loves him now. And he is certainly funny, it is just that he tends to play safe and rely on undemanding lowest common denominator comedy cliches. And while he keeps selling out arenas around the globe I doubt if he will change. Talking of cliches when I went to an Indian restaurant shortly before Peters' last London gig, I happened to tell the waiter what my job was and the first thing he said was "what do you think of Russell Peters?". I was much more polite than I am in this review because I was worried what special ingredient he might add to my biryani.

 

To see a true comedy internet phenomenon, Google Russell Peters. Despite minimal advance publicity his O2 show sold out in a blink thanks to a fanatical web following. His YouTube clips have had more hits than piano-playing kittens, ranting Christian Bale and Obama’s inauguration combined.

In the flesh it is hard to get truly excited about this Canada-born offspring of Indian parents. Peters is a very polished observational comedian who is hugely popular in the Anglo-Asian community but his predictable patter hardly justifies his star status. Although certainly not racist, Peters relies heavily on racial stereotyping. The Chinese are always driving hard bargains, Indians always want to save money, Sri Lankans apparently run all the gas stations. It is a relentless form of kneejerk gagsmithery, which, combined with a skilful selection of accents and bug-eyed expressions, goes down a storm but rarely takes any risks.

Occasionally there are moments with potential. An extended anecdote about being given a $20,000 gift by the King of Jordan only for Condoleezza Rice to receive a pricier bauble has some lovely self-mocking lines. Yet by the end of 90 minutes he was doing hackneyed riffs on the difference between men and women, a topic thoroughly flogged to death over the years. Peters is undeniably good but Arena good? Hardly.

 

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