During the Toronto International Film Fest, you interview a lot of people. You run from hotel to hotel, from one 15-minute chat with a director to another 15-minute interview with an actor while keeping their movies and bios organized in your head. And you can just see when the talent is suffering from burn-out. You’re his 12th interview of the day, his eyes are glazed over, his voice is monotone and he’s sighing while telling you that the film is about courage.
One of my favourite interviews was with comedian Russell Peters. He actually talks WITH you, as opposed to AT you. And he’s just so frank, it’s freaking refreshing. Here’s our interview which appeared in The Post:
Russell Peters’ head of security, Shake Saiphoo, is doubled over in laughter. Suddenly, he rocks back, his eyes squeezed shut, and unleashes a high-pitched cackle.
Across from him inside a Toronto hotel room, Peters is posing for a photographer, “planking” on an end table.
“The pointed toes, you’re killing me,” Saiphoo says with a sigh. “You know you’ve already made it Russ, you don’t have to do this anymore.”
It’s true. By any standards, the 41-year-old stand-up comedian has made good.
Forbes ranked him as one of the 10 top-earning comics in the United States in 2009 and 2010, with an estimated annual take of $15-million. He has sold out venues all over the world, including Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (four times), Madison Square Garden and Sydney Opera House. He broke a U.K. attendance record with 16,000 tickets sold for London’s O2 arena. And on Oct. 1, he will be inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
So no, he doesn’t have to lie face-down on a table wearing his suit and new shoes to promote his latest film, Breakaway, which is about an all-Sikh hockey team. (A lot of talent in town during the Toronto International Film Festival prefer to pose in their seat).
But Peters is a good sport and he enjoys amusing those around him — and, perhaps, mostly himself. Before our interview, he was skipping down the hallway, giggling theatrically at one of his own jokes. When his brother calls, his ring tone is a line from Will Ferrell’s Anchorman: “I’m very important, uh, I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”
Earlier that day at a press conference, while his Breakaway co-stars Rob Lowe and Vinay Virmani were talking, he kept looking around and chuckling to himself.
“Real situations make me laugh,” he says, “whether it’s somebody being too earnest, which always makes me laugh because I’m like, seriously dude, make it real for a moment. I think I grew up with too much hip hop because my whole thing is ‘keep it real,’ which in turn hinders me from doing things because I’m like, I can’t lie to people like that.”
Peters says he hasn’t done as much work as he could have because he refuses to appear on TV or film doing an Indian accent. “I don’t want to be a stereotype,” he says. Yet his jokes about racial stereotypes and his impeccable ear for accents are in part what have garnered him more than 60 million views on YouTube.
“Although my career is 20 years old, I feel like it’s six or seven years old because that’s when it really started to blow up,” he says.
He still remembers where he came from, though (“Brampton,” he corrected a reporter at the press conference when she said, “Toronto”), and despite having a lot (he collects cars like baseball cards), he still fears being without. “When I shot my Comedy Now special in 2003, I was as broke as a human being can be at that point,” he says. “When they paid me $7,500 for that, I literally got the cheque and had to give it away. And then I wasn’t as much in debt at that point.”
At that time, he was living with his brother in Woodbridge, Ont. Now he has homes in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The past year has been particularly busy. Two of his films were released: April’s Source Code and this weekend’s Breakaway, in which Peters plays a trouble-making family member. (“He’s a lovable d–khead. He’s like [reality TV star] Scott Disick but not as grating on your nerves. And without the good clothes.”)
Peters’ first child was also born in December. “My vagina still hurts,” he says, before leaning over and showing off a photo of nine-month-old Crystianna Marie. She’s staring back at the camera with huge green eyes while her hand is doing a finger gun. “That’s her going, ‘Good to see you.’ ”
But when Peters says the year has been “absolutely ridiculous,” he doesn’t mean the miracles of fatherhood, but rather the miracles of Hollywood. In March, after presenting at the NAACP Image Awards, he was scheduled to meet the King of Tonga for dinner. But his brother sent him a message on his BlackBerry: “Unfortunately the dinner is not happening with the King, however Prince would like you to come to his house for a private after-party.”
“I hit him back on BBM and said, ‘Yeah I guess.’ ”
His brother wrote back: “You guess?”
“Whatever, the prince, the king. He’s like, ‘Read the email again.’ The artist, Prince, would like you to come to his house for a private party and performance,” Peters recalls. “I go to Prince’s house in Bel Air. There’s 30 of us in his basement. It’s like me, Angela Bassett, Wayne Brady, and Prince performed for three and a half hours and not half-assed. He had his full band. Sheila E. was there.
“He did a 12- or 17-minute version of Controversy to the point where he went upstairs to change and came back. I got as drunk as a human being could get because I was having such a good time.”
Yes, it’s safe to say Peters has made it.
This article originally appeared in the National Post on Sept. 29 2011