Comedian Russell Peters may have never been to Santa Barbara before — “I remember the soap opera” — but he’s starting his world tour here as part of the opening of LOLFest.
“An actual world tour!” he adds. “Not like when some comics say ‘world tour’ and they mean USA and Canada.” He means it. The Canadian-Indian standup started his career in Canada, found success in Britain and now performs in any country that shows interest. In 2010 his show in Australia attracted the largest-ever audience for a stand-up in that country. He’s set similar records in London, and has found himself playing sets in South Africa and Thailand and beyond. And his wanderlust has added to his routine, where he affectionately pokes fun at the culture and behavior of various nations.
“I just started talking about it,” Mr. Peters says. “It wasn’t a conscious decision, like, ‘Now, my comedy is going to be about this.’ It just organically happened, and that’s why it strikes a chord with people.” It’s become a badge of honor to get taken to task by Mr. Peters, and the comedian often works the crowd with lightning-fast wit. Nobody really gets offended because Mr. Peters’ impressions are good-natured and pretty spot-on.
Mr. Peters was born in Toronto, to Indian parents. His dad is from Calcutta and his mom is from Bombay.
“We’re Indian,” he says. “But our mentality is very British, you know, tea time every day at 4 o’clock. And everything was ‘bloody’ this and ‘bugger’ that. Growing up that was all I heard: ‘Look at these bloody swines!'” He also got a taste for both American and British comedy, living on a diet of Benny Hill, “On the Buses” and “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ’em.”
“Canadian humor is somewhere between American and British,” Mr. Peters says. “We get the subtleties like the British do, and we’re also outsiders in Canada, so we get to be cheeky with that.”
After a stint as a DJ, he tried stand-up. Those early gigs were terrible, he says. “My routine was hack-y and hokey and not very highbrow,” he says. “But I was 20.” He’s still amazed that Britain accepted him and gave him enough chances to really get better. “When I went back in 1995 I started getting spots all over the place because they had taken a fancy to me, like they say. And I kept going over and getting work. They were paying me more money than Canada was, that’s for sure.”
And from there Mr. Peters has kept building his reputation and his set (and not to mention his bank account — he’s currently in the top three of richest stand-ups.). Along the way, he’s played wherever port of call will take him.
“In England they would book you out from there. They’d say, ‘Hey do you wanna play Northern Ireland?’ And I’d think, ‘When am I ever going to go to Northern Ireland?’ It wasn’t on my list of things to do.
“They liked me in Belfast, I think because I wasn’t English.”
A YouTube video of his routine from 2004, where he went off on a tear about several different ethnic groups, got chopped up and parceled out by ethnicity, which attracted exactly the people he was lampooning. It was one of the turning points of his career.
He now spends time between his new house in Malibu and his house in Henderson, the suburb outside of Las Vegas. He jokes that he moved there for “tax reasons” but says he loves the vibe of the ‘burbs.
“Henderson reminds me of places I grew up,” he says. “I really do find it peaceful out there. Nobody there, nobody bothers you. I’ve been living there for seven years and I’ve never met my neighbors. I lived in Studio City for five years and never met any of my neighbors once. And I’ve been living in Malibu for two or three months now. But the second day I moved in here my neighbors came over with cookies.”
After Santa Barbara he will be off again on a world tour, taking in Asia, Africa, Europe and more.
“I think a lot of comics who could travel outside of America don’t because their ego dictates, ‘Oh I’m not gonna make enough money,’ ” he says as he packs up his car. “But if you’re gonna do everything in your career for money, then you’re gonna stall yourself unwittingly.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
Cost: $45 to $72
Information: lolcomedyfestival.com, 899-2222