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How Russell Peters Got The Last Laugh

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If Forbes is to be believed, Russell Peters made $21 million doing stand-up comedy this year. That sum puts him ahead of acts arguably more familiar to American audiences such as Louis C.K., Kevin Hart and Daniel Tosh, yet the Canadian-born Peters still had found the lack of U.S. recognition a bit hard to swallow.

That could change with the release of Netflix's "Russell Peters: Notorious." Marking the streaming service's entrance into the world of original stand-up specials, "Notorious" is a look at Peters' life as a new father and husband while enjoying professional success as a touring comedian. He's also known for his gentle ribbing of his Indian family, as well as other ethnicities.

HuffPost Comedy met up with Peters in New York City earlier this month, and spoke to him about how boxing and DJing influenced his comedy, what drives his desire to reach big milestones in his career and whether his level of popularity in America still nags at him.

"Russell Peters: Notorious," as well as the docu-series "Russell Peters vs. the World" that chronicles his preparation for his special, is available on Netflix now.

HuffPost Comedy: Did you see Kanye West on "Jimmy Kimmel Live"?
Russell Peters: Kanye irritates me. He's arrogant. I've never really been a fan from the beginning. I hate when people pat themselves on the back, and he's not just patting himself on the back -- he's throwing himself a party. If you're a fan, you'd be like, "Yeah!" But it may work for your core audience, which is who you should appeal to anyway.

HPC: You think so? How do you do that?
RP: I'm aware of what they like. I'm aware critics may get bored of what I do, even though they don't get bored of other people who have their own niche.

HPC: Why do you think that is?
RP: I'm not a media darling. I'm forever the outsider, for whatever the reason is. "Well, he's not one of us." Fine. "Yeah, he's funny, but..." "Oh, he's Canadian." [laughs]

HPC: You say you're an outsider, but Forbes said you're the third highest grossing touring comedian.
RP: It's an ironic situation to be in.

HPC: Does it bother you?
RP: It used to, but I guess the numbers speak for themselves. Okay, I'm bothered, whoop-de-shit -- I'm going shopping. All that being said, people are coming around now. It was exactly the same way for me in Canada, when I was selling out the clubs. People knew who I was. And then when the U.S. took note, Canada was like, "Hey, Russell, remember us?" I was like, "I remember you -- you wouldn't talk to me before!" It's just a cycle for me. They ignore you, they ignore you, they always figure you're going to go away. And I'm the guy saying, no, you're going to talk to me.

HPC: It seems like unless your name is Jerry Seinfeld, if you reach a certain point in comedy and you're selling out stadiums, the tradeoff is critical respect. Why do you think that is?
RP: It depends on what the writer is looking for. They get too cool for school. I get it. I'm a hip-hop guy, and the first time I heard Eminem was in '96. He was on a record with Shabban Siddiq. I was like, "Who is this guy? He's dope!" First album came out: awesome. Second album came out: awesome. Third album, I was like, eh. He started to get really successful. He wasn't mine anymore. I didn't want to be like everyone else. I think that's how the writers are. They're like, everyone knows about him? Well, I guess I gotta know something new.

russell peters


HPC: I loved how in your Netflix special, you start off by complimenting the DJ for actually DJing instead of waving his arms in the air.
RP: I DJ, and I know the art behind it. The world we live in now, we've got all these DJs who literally press play. And some don't even press play. The sound guy across the room, he presses play. I played a show a couple months ago with a very "big" DJ, and I was DJing on that show. I was doing my thing — scratching and mixing. I see his setup, and I see 4 CD-Js. But none of them are plugged in.

HPC: Were they props?
RP: They weren't plugged into anything! I'm like, where are the inputs? I looked in the back of the mixer, and nothing was plugged into it. Cut to an hour or two later, everyone's screaming for him, and he walks in like he's a god and starts clapping. And I heard music playing! I'm standing right behind him. When you're DJing, there are things you have to do, like deal with your mixers, your faders. He was standing there dancing, fake twisting the knob. I was like, this is disgusting! It's like somebody coming up to Eric Clapton and saying, I play guitar, too. I play Guitar Hero.

HPC: Do you think you learned a lot about stage presence by DJing?
RP: No, I learned more about crowd pleasing. When you're DJing, there are songs I love to play, but I know people are going to walk off. It doesn't matter what I like. You have to be able to play the popular song and slip in one of yours, in such a way that they don't notice it. You've got them in such a roll that you get them back into what they think they like.

HPC: Plenty of comedians have talked about studying music to help their act.
RP: For me it's boxing. Stand-up and boxing are very similar. You're the only one out there, you're going into a fight, and you're going in with a game plan. "Here's what I think I'm gonna do." Round one, I'm going to jab, see what their timing is, let them throw some punches to counter. Same thing with comedy. I'm going to go onstage and see what they got, and see what I got. You go in with a game plan, but the audience might not have the same plan you think they're gonna have.

HPC: Did you start boxing before or after you started doing comedy?
RP: I started before. In '85. Eighty-five to '94. I did it for nine years.

HPC: Do you still box?
RP: Not as often as I'd like. When I get off tour in November, I'll train for a steady three months. I'll train like I have a fight coming up.

HPC: Did that inspire your docu-series?
RP: Before a big fight, they'll do this docu-series called "27/4." They'll document the boxer going to training camp. He'll start his training, week one, week two, week three, week four, and you'll go through training camp with the fighter. It's September to March. I don't know if it really captured what I was trying for it to capture, but there's some interesting footage in there. There's some big shows along the way. I did the Barclays Center…

HPC: Are you still the only comic to have played Barclays?
RP: So far. I was the first comic, and the third artist. Jay Z, Barbra Streisand and me.

HPC: How's that space?
RP: Any arena's the same. I just like hitting those milestones. The naysayers can't say, "So-and-so did that too." I pride myself on that.

HPC: What are some of those other milestones?
RP: First comic to sell out the O2 Arena. Did that five times. First comic to sell out Air Canada Centre. I did that five times. I set the records in Australia and England. Pretty much anywhere I go, I try to set records, and be the first to set records. Last time I was in Dubai, I outsold Madonna, ticket-to-ticket. These may not equal anything to anybody else, but they're my personal victories.

russell peters


HPC: When you started comedy, is this what you had in mind?
RP: I had no clue. I started in 1989. I started at a time where you did Carson or Leno, or Letterman, and then you went onto film and TV. You didn't have to have a following, you didn't have to be great, just good, and the goal was to maybe get on one of those shows and possibly get to headline more clubs. That's it, that was the end game. I had no problem with that. I would have been just as happy. But I guess there was another plan designed. And it worked out really well for me! [laughs]

HPC: Do you remember when that model changed?
RP: I only think that started to change about 10 years ago. That was also around the same time that comics got a lot of steam and doing bigger venues. Without them, I couldn't conceive the idea of doing arenas.

HPC: Were you just doing clubs before that?
RP: I was doing clubs in Canada. Touring South Africa. I always had an international following.

HPC: You've been doing international tours for a long time.
RP: Since '95. I first did England then. I was the first Canadian guy to go over there and start doing it. From there you would do Ireland, all over Europe. They had some gigs in Asia, like in Hong Kong, Singapore. First time I did Dubai was in the '90s. They were shit gigs. They were either for ex-pats, and you'd be playing in, like, an Irish pub in Dubai. I remember playing an Irish pub in the middle of Brussels. The weirdest places with the weirdest demographic of people.

HPC: How do you feel about going to Netflix? Your stand-up special is one of the first they've released.
RP: I think Netflix is going to impact everything, not just stand-up. When they put on "House of Cards," everybody dismissed it. That's the thing with the industry. They're so fucking dismissive of new things. And then once it becomes a hit, everyone's like, "Isn't that brilliant?" You didn't have the foresight to see that! That's why the industry bothers me so much. I know people are going to get on me when someone else co-signs me. Then you'll be like, isn't he great? No! I'm the exact same when you ignored me! Netflix, they did "House of Cards," they took a chance, and got nominated for an Emmy, and probably should have won. They did "Orange is the New Black," and they brought back "Arrested Development." When I signed the deal with them, a year and a half ago, that's when they told me they were doing "Arrested Development." Right away, I said, "I'm doing business with these guys. They had the wherewithal to bring that back, I'm in."

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