Russell Peters

It would be an understatement to say Canadian-born comedian Russell Peters lives a jam-packed life. Since becoming a hit in Canada and overseas, he’s breaking into the U.S. comedy scene with tour dates supporting his first DVD, “Outsourced,” which dropped in August.

Peters started developing his stand-up act of equal opportunity ribbing, using observations of his own Anglo-Indian heritage, about 17 years ago while growing up in Brampton, Ontario. As a fan of George Carlin, Steve Martin and Cheech & Chong, to name a few, he was encouraged by his cousin Andrew and other relatives to give stand-up a shot.

His first show at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto, at the tail end of the comedy boom, was memorable.

“It was the same club that Jim Carrey started in, also Norm MacDonald. It’s a Canadian institution, really. I was horrible and I’m not afraid to admit it,” Peters told Pollstar. “But I got a couple of chuckles and that really kept me going to want to do more.

“I came into the [comedy scene] in 1989 and I was a really young kid. So all the guys that were

quote, unquote

my contemporaries didn’t talk to me because they looked at me like I was a kid. I never got to see any big-money gigs so, to me, it was always the grind.”

After several years working amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s and other gigs, Peters began to wonder if he’d ever advance to the next level. Then a chance meeting changed his perspective.

“I bumped into George Carlin on the street in 1992. I was such a huge fan of his that I became a total geek when I met him. I was like ‘George!’ he said. “I walked him back to his hotel and he gave me advice on the way, telling me to just get on stage as much as possible.

“I took that advice and whenever I saw an opportunity, I’d get on stage. I’d go to karaoke bars and do my stand-up act. I’d pick out a song and I wouldn’t sing it, I’d just tell jokes.”

Peters doesn’t mince words about how difficult it was to break into Canada’s comedy scene.

“I was already not accepted by comics at the time. They looked at me like ‘This guy’s a one-trick pony, he’s a hack, he’s this, he’s that.’ They would all be rude to me and stuff,” he explained. “And funny enough, a lot of the same guys that were rude to me were rude to Norm MacDonald and Harland Williams and all the other guys who succeeded.”

Russell Peters

Although Peters was building a fan base and making a name for himself, he still wasn’t completely accepted in the industry. His stand-up pokes fun at many cultures

Vietnamese, Jamaican, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Africans, Mexican, American

along with his own, so industry reps he met weren’t sure about booking him.

“It’s fine when people say [the act] is politically incorrect. Actually, it’s very politically correct because you’re going with everybody,” he said, laughing. “If I don’t know about you, I’ll learn about you and make fun of you.”

Clayton Peters, his manager and older brother, had helped out with Russell’s career while working as an international contract manager in the oil and gas industry. The two agreed he should take over management about a year and a half ago.

“Russell and I, we’re very close as brothers go. I was intimately involved with all his day-to-day business. I was staying at work until 10 o’clock at night to work on logistics and scheduling and sort of getting my feet wet with a lot of the activity that was going on around him,” Clayton told Pollstar. “It’s been by no means an overnight success and he’s definitely paid his dues up here.

“There’s no disrespect intended in anything Russell does. Not only is it real, it’s honest. He won’t talk about a minority or cultural group without really understanding them or taking the time to learn about them. That’s what a lot of the fans respond to.”

Things turned around for Russell when he first toured England in 1995. He went on to host his own BBC talk show and some specials. He also worked on Canadian TV shows, which earned him four Gemini Award nominations, some films and a Comedy Central special in addition to touring.

Along the way, the Peters brothers began working with Nick Nuciforo at Creative Artists Agency and Paul Canterna of Seven Summits Management & Productions to handle the increasing offers from the U.S. and elsewhere.

As far as how the act goes over in different markets, Russell can adapt his quick wit on the spot, which came in handy during his two sold-out shows at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre in January, where “Outsourced” was filmed.

“The second show was a complete write-off. The audience was hammered out of their minds and heckling me,” he said, laughing. “But they were fans heckling me, so it wasn’t like ‘You suck!’ They were heckling me with ‘Do this joke!'”

The comic is currently on the road with shows in Singapore, the U.S., United Kingdom, and New Zealand through mid-December. Plans are also in the works to tour India, Malaysia, Canada and a possible club and college run in the States next year.