Comedian Russell Peters on performing in Dubai and a ban on mobile phones

Time Out Dubai catches up with the comic ahead of his Coca-Cola Arena show

Comedian Russell Peters on performing in Dubai and a ban on mobile phones

Love a laugh? It’s been a top few years for comedy in the UAE with huge acts such as Michael McIntyre, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Bridges and Trevor Noah taking to the stage in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

And now you can add one more superstar to that list, as back in the Dubai this week, to perform his latest show Deported, is Canadian comedian Russell Peters.

World-famous comedian Russell Peters takes to the stage tomorrow night (Thursday June 6) to launch Dubai’s brand-new Coca-Cola and we can’t wait to be in stitches.

He is no stranger to these shores having first performed in the UAE more than two decades ago and with 30 years in the business, he’s a big deal when it comes to stand-up comedy.

Over the past three decades the comic has performed to huge crowds at New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s O2 Arena and was the first comic to film a straight-to-Netflix comedy special.

We caught up with the charming comic to talk about a life in comedy, the UAE back in the day and why he doesn’t connect with social media.

Thirty years in comedy – who’d have thought?
When I started all those years ago I never thought I was still be here 30 years later. I was a 19-year-old kid who didn’t have much else going on in life and here we are. I kind of did it just to feel that I was doing something with my life. As much as I loved comedy, and still do, it wasn’t the most promising of careers. Now that I’m three decades in I can totally see myself 30 years down the road still doing the same thing.

How much has the comedy scene changed since you started in 1989?
It’s completely different. Back in the day, in order to make it in comedy you had to be on the road and learn that way of life if you weren’t from a big city like Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. You had to get out there and hustle on the road. Now there are so many shortcuts you can take, you can make a funny clip on YouTube or Instagram and all of a sudden people want to book you. You might only have five minutes of material, but they’re throwing money at you and you’re going to take it.

Is it easier for comedians now?
Absolutely. Comedy clubs and all the so-called new-found comedy fans are discovering that the “Oh, you were funny in that clip, but here we are I’ve paid $40 and this guy is terrible after five minutes”. I’m really lucky. I had no delusions of grandeur when I started in this business and I’m very fortunate to still have a very solid career.

You’re back in the UAE to perform but you’re no stranger to this country are you?
I’ve been coming to perform here for 21 years and that was long before I was a big deal. There used to be a gig inside the vault in one of the Hyatt hotels, there weren’t a huge number of venues like that open back then. Dubai was kind of desert with not much going on, here we are 21 years later and it’s one of the most sought-after places in the world. I remember when I came here at first, I also did a gig in Sharjah and you had to drive through desert. I performed in a basement. Now I’m performing on a large stage for Emiratis, Indians, Brits, Arabs, Australians and all the other expats. It’s completely changed.

What were those first shows like?
The pay was terrible but it was a free trip to Dubai. It was my first foray into the Middle East at that point, there was so much I didn’t know and I had only been doing comedy around nine years. I was still green and wet behind the ears. I was excited to be there,
I didn’t care how much they paid or even if they paid at all because I just wanted to be able to say that I’ve performed there. Now I’m looking back on it and I’m still excited because I performed here before anyone else even considered it.

Your tour sees you play a few dates in the region – is it a challenge to bring your material to this part of the world?
I’m always up for a challenge, I’m not in the region to upset people I just want to give the people some laughter and levity in their life. If I shake up the place it’s more incidental that intentional. I come at it with the same approach that I do it back home. Obviously you are mindful of your surroundings and you don’t want to be disrespectful of people’s culture and religion. You’ve got to keep yourself in check as far as that goes.

How we share humour has changed with smartphones – how do you feel about social media?
I’m probably the worst with social media. I’m always too busy living real life. To be honest, I do find it to be a huge pain. It seems so unnatural to me to want to take a picture or film something when you’re trying to watch something. I just want to be in the moment and catch everything and that’s how I live my life. It’s frustrating to see people going for their phones all the time. Just enjoy the moment, let’s not worry about getting the shot, this isn’t a movie this is real life.

You were one of the first comedians to ban phones at your shows is that right?
I’ve not allowed mobile phones at my shows for the past ten years. That’s why I have security guys with me They’re not there to keep me safe they’re there to make sure that no one is recording. That’s their sole job. It’s to make sure you stay in the moment, enjoy yourself and have the best time possible. I don’t want to know if people liked it after they got home I want to know that they enjoyed it while they were there.

So what can we expect from your latest show?
Every comic will say this, and I’ve probably said this in the past, but this act that I’m doing right now has been the best received act I’ve done on tour in the past 15 years. This is the one that people seem to have really enjoyed. It’s always difficult for me to say something nice about myself but I can honestly tell people that this is the one you want to see. If you liked me before you’ll love me now and if never liked me before you may have a chance to like me now.
From Dhs200. Thu Jun 6, 7pm. Coca-Cola Arena, City Walk, Al Safa Street, www.ticketmaster.ae.

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