Recently, I went to see a friend’s stand-up show here in Los Angeles. He was pretty awesome. I have a review of that show coming up this week.
What stuck out in my mind, and the mind of the audience, was the really crappy material the host of the show laid out. She was trying to be funny about ethnicity. Instead, she came off mean, dumb and about as funny as a lynching. Some of her jokes were so playground bully, I felt like taking her to the bar and giving her a hug and then writing her some better jokes.
It got me to thinking about comedians who have tackled ethnicity in their act and knocked it out of the park. At the top of the list is Russell Peters. The native Canadian is of Anglo-Indian heritage and has made a life study of the different cultures of the world. His audiences are a sea of literally, red, white and brown people. He sells out shows across the world.
I saw Peters in 1998 at the same club where my friend just performed. He was just beginning to explore the way we perceive different ethnicities. He had this bit about why this one Middle Eastern guy was so mad and was yelling at the camera from behind a reporter on CNN. Turns out, it was because someone repeatedly parked in his spot in North Hollywood and he was still mad about when he went back to Iran.
Peters’ act has evolved with the times but he’s always been plugged into the interconnection between people despite our so-called differences. In Red, White and Brown (on Netflix streaming) he gets some mileage out of who’s the cheapest: the Indians, the Chinese or the Jews? The Chosen People aren’t going to like the answer.
Peters’ careful study has allowed him to rightly find the things that we can laugh about without sounding hateful or racist. In fact, the way he explores the different ways in which we live, is gut-busting hilarious. If you’ve lived a sheltered life or you haven’t traveled much, you come away a little less afraid of people. And those people feel a little more understood and connected.
If you want to see how a pro bases his entire career on ethnic differences and has a great time doing so, watch this stand-up performance.
Maybe the host at the Comedy Store should watch it too.