Friday, October 3
Last Friday’s Russell Peters show was an uproar. I hadn’t heard of Russell Peters prior to the show, so as I made my way to the website five days after tickets went on sale, I was surprised to be greeted with the message ‘SOLD OUT’ in glaring red font. Many Bakerites were also unpleasantly surprised at how quickly the tickets sold out. During the course of the week leading up to the show, I think there was a frantic e-mail sent out every day about some poor soul willing to buy tickets for double the price.
The show began at 8:00, but a line started to form as early as 6:30. When I arrived at 7:15, there was no way to tell where the line began and where it ended. It’d snaked around half of Kresge and then looped backwards in the opposite direction. Even after entering the actual theater, there was a fear that someone would steal your seat (we were sitting four rows from the stage); bathroom trips were sacrificed. All for Russell Peters — for whom the audience would have to sit through the guest comedian, Michael Fabelin’s ten-minute show.
A native Bostonian, Fabelin was energetic and armed with a rambunctious foul mouth. A few of his less P.C. jokes were cute, but many of his vulgarities were so in-your-face (complete with bodily motions) that the atmosphere fell stale after the first three minutes.
I began to worry that perhaps there would be the awkward obligatory applause for Russell Peters too. I had only YouTubed the man’s past shows earlier that week and was floored by his breadth of content. This guy really did his research — he depicted the cultural stereotypes to a T, not so much the stereotypes produced by Americans, but ones steeped in the culture itself. These ranged from how Bombay’s distinctive scent often floored ex-pats to the angry Singaporean man behind him in the DDR line.
When Peters stepped on stage, one knew that this was a man who simply bathed in the showlight. He had a dynamic stage presence, aided by his shiny silver sneakers, and interacted comfortably with the audience. Despite his own claim to be ADD, Peters had an awfully good memory of certain characters in the audience — like the Northeastern student from “QATAR!-where-everyone-drinks-oil” to the freshman in the first row, decked out in a lemon-yellow sweater. One could tell that he drew inspiration from real life experiences.
What was lasting about Peters’ show was his emphasis on jokes that played with stereotypes, rather than being based in stereotypes. There’s a sharp difference between accepting and utilizing social stigmas to mock a particular culture, and mocking the stigmas themselves. While many of the stereotypes Peters put forth concerning Asian countries were surprisingly on the mark, they were so relished because one knew that Peters himself held little stock in them.
In his act, Peters brought up a surprisingly profound theme: “you are where you are raised” — an observation that transcends both race and culture. He repeatedly made the claim, you may have been born in Country X but if you didn’t grow up in Country X, you can’t say that you’re actually from Country X. What constitutes being from a particular place are the influences of the place’s culture. Peter’s brilliance as a comedian lays in his ability to express such a complex message through effortless humor.