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Standup Russell Peters on immigration, having a bad sense of humor offstage

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Many major standup comedians sell out arenas, but Canadian Russell Peters does it repeatedly, tour after tour. This week, comedy fans will get a chance to see Peters in the more intimate confines of Rick Bronson's House of Comedy, where he’ll do two shows each on Tuesday and Wednesday.

City Pages rang up him to discuss comedy, hip-hop, boxing, and life in North America.

This tour was supposed to be winding down about this time wasn’t it?

Yeah, we thought it was going to end in November, but now it’s going possibly until March of next year. They just keep adding dates on, which is not a big problem. It’s a good problem to have.

When you first started on the comedy scene, you were also very into music. Was there ever a conflict over which one you’d choose?

Nah, I love hip-hop and I love DJing, but I was never going to be in that industry ever. I did DJ for a rapper or two when they were performing at concerts, but it was never going to be my thing. It wasn’t what I liked doing.

Your parents came from India. Was humor a way to deal with other kids in school?

Growing up in the '70s and '80s in Canada was a different time. We were the new immigrants then, and there was a little hesitation about us. Now it’s very different there.

In America we’re a melting pot, but in Canada they’ve always favored what they call the 'mosaic' concept, haven’t they? [Editor's note: For those unfamiliar, the 'melting pot' approach encourages immigrants to take on the traditions and 'way of life' of their new country, while while the 'mosaic approach' encourages immigrants to keep their traditions and share them with the general population.]

That’s definitely what it is, but having lived in the United States for 10 years now I kind of see how a melting pot works a little bit better.

How so?

The problem is people stay separated when it’s a mosaic, and when it’s a melting pot everyone gets to experience everyone else’s culture to a certain degree. It’s a hybrid of it. There’s good to both sides of that, but I kind of like the melting pot aspect.

Did the mosaic concept frame your comedy?

I think that it definitely framed it, and helped me deal with racism at a young age. When you’re a kid, you don’t know you’re a different color than other people unless someone points it out or drives it into your head every day.

You had other ways to deal with those issues too didn’t you?

Yes, boxing really helped.

But that came after trying to use humor?

Yes. When I used to get beat up, before I started boxing, the humor was my way of getting beaten up less. And then, when I learned how to fight, I used my humor to incite it a little more, and then I would beat them up. So it was more fun for me then. Payback’s a bitch.

Did you focus on race early on in your standup or did that develop later?

When I started, I had just turned 19. Doing comedy at 19 is considered very, very young. I had no life experience. I had never been around anybody in the entertainment business ever on any level — even on the amateur level. I had no experience in that world, I just came in very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited about the whole thing. You learn along the way and how to play the game.

Last year you were judging mostly young comics on Last Comic Standing, but you weren’t on this year’s edition. Was your schedule just too full?

It’s funny, I really wanted to do it, but I never got asked back. The last I had heard was they weren’t going to do another season, and then I heard they were doing it and that Norm [Macdonald] was doing it and I was like, ‘Well, if I’m going to be replaced by anybody, another Canadian who is really funny is fine by me.’ I’m a fan of Norm anyway, it’s not like they were replacing me with someone shitty.

How do you feel about comedy competitions like that?

Personally, I hate comedy competitions. They’re so subjective. It depends on who the person is judging you. I remember being in one in 1993 in Toronto, and I lost. I can remember everyone who came in first, second, and third, and how good they were. But I had a great set that night, and I lost, and I was so pissed. I guess in the long run it didn’t matter, did it?

What’s funny to you off stage that might surprise people?

I love making horrible puns all day. I tell the worst jokes you’ve ever heard off stage. People look at me all the time and go, 'I don’t know how you make a career when this is what you think is funny.' Hey, I don’t do that stuff onstage, just off stage.

IF YOU GO:

Russell Peters

Rick Bronson's House of Comedy

408 East Broadway, Bloomington, Level 4 in the Mall of America

7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, October 6, and Wednesday, October 7

Tickets are $45

For more info, call 952-858-8558 or visit houseofcomedy.net