Laughing never hurt as much as it did last Friday during Russell Peters’ comedy show in the Palestra. It certainly made up for the 20-minute delay at the beginning.
It’s easy to forget that Peters wasn’t the only act on Friday. He brought a fellow comedian from Toronto, opening act Kathleen McGee, who earned sparse laughs due largely to an unpolished delivery. There were a number of people silent during her routine, which could be explained away by her vulgar subject matter, but that’s the easy explanation.
As an opening act, she may have resorted to racy jokes as any easy way to earn exposure in a short time on stage, but regardless, her jokes sounded forced at times, and nervousness simmered beneath her nonchalant demeanor.
Although she may never find the fame Peters has, there was potential in her routine, and it would be interesting to see how she would fare with a bit more confidence while performing for her niche audience as opposed to one largely composed of parents and alumni.
Peters, on the other hand, left the audience in stiches. No one was immune to his fully automatic barrage of comedy. As an Indo-Canadian who grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood, Peters uses his background to make light of racial stereotypes. Though he did have a solid central comedy routine, Peters seemed to take more interest in interacting with his audience than many comedians that come to the University. At one point, he entirely forgot that he had been joking about his daughter because he interrupted himself to joke back and forth with different audience members for about 30 minutes. Of course, he then made a joke out of forgetting his original bit and seamlessly tied it back in.
A hyperbolic statistic that was thrown around a lot during Meliora Weekend was that the UR student body is made up of 50 percent international students. This was never more apparent than in Russell Peters’ comedy performance. Graced with the diverse student body, Peters was surprised to find the Chinese-Jamaican family of senior Adam Lee to joke with. Though he did use the diverse ethnicity of the audience as something to riff off of, he never made jokes in bad taste. Sensitive subjects such as terrorism and the animosity between Jews and Arabs were brief and seemed in such good nature that it didn’t blemish his routine.
His preferred audience participant was junior Sandeep “Sunny” Sandhu, an Indian pre-med student who, because of his bashfulness and his silly answers, seemed to take up most of Peters’ attention. Questioning Sunny’s sexual history was a highlight of the night. Lastly, Peters’ proficiency with a wide array of accents showed his dedication to the craft. Nothing would have been more disappointing that night than a poor Jamaican accent.
In addition to deliberately making fun of his audience members, though, Peters did what all good comedians do best: he picked on himself. Caricaturing the stereotypes of the Indian parent-child relationship, Peters made fun of his own upbringing, citing how Indian parents call over their children in a mall with a whistle, rather than calling out their name, or want to know what’s happening in the bathroom long after their children have past the age of potty training. There must have been some truth to these jokes as many of the Indian audience members roared with laughter in agreement.
Peters united people from different walks of life through his ethnic comedy. By using stereotypes and his own international experiences Peters poked fun at everyone in the audience and they found common ground in their laughter. His lack of mean spirit can be respected, and is why he’s so successful and so hilarious.
Vezinaw is a member of the class of 2014.