Interview: Russell Peters
Los Angeles, USA
I had the distinct pleasure to hang out with Russell Peters, a Canadian-born world-renowned stand-up comedian and actor, and chat about his journey to success and his life as a comedian.
WHAT LED YOU TO BECOME A COMEDIAN? HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR PASSION FOR STAND-UP COMEDY?
I think stand-up is one of those things where you don’t actually choose to become a comedian — it chooses you rather than you choose it. You are born with it. It should be an extension of who you are.
It’s kind of like a defense mechanism for me, which I turned into a skill, honed into a craft of some sort.
You always meet people and you think, “Wow, that guy would be amazing if he’d be a comedian,” but he just wants to work in an office. People have stage fright and they don’t enjoy it.
I just like making people laugh and see them smile. For me, that was always the reason why I did it.
STAND-UP COMEDY IS NOT QUITE A “TRADITIONAL PATH” TO TAKE, ACCORDING TO THE SOCIETY. WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH AND HOW DID YOU COPE WITH THE SOCIAL CONDITIONING ASPECT?
Well, stand-up comedy is more of an outlet for most comedians. It’s an extension of personality, and a lot of times we use it as our open therapy session, that’s why we talk so freely and so openly. We talk about things people don’t necessarily want to talk about.
And that’s why, especially now when I’m working on my new act, I get more introspective and start thinking back about things that have happened or why things have happened a certain way. You may question the way your parents did something when you were younger, and then you get older and you realize, “Oh, I get why they did it that way. It makes all the sense in the world.”
My parents didn’t have any objections to me becoming a comedian. It wasn’t like I was going to join the army or risk my life.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST LEAPS YOU’VE MADE IN YOUR LIFE?
I don’t know really what the biggest leaps would have been, but just overcoming my upbringing and how I was treated by other people as a kid. Just to mentally get over that and to become successful, to me those would be the leaps that I overcame. Those would be the bumps in life.
DO YOU STILL FACE FEAR AND SELF-DOUBT? HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THEM?
Always. You have to keep fear and self-doubt in your head at all times.
You have to confront it every time it shows up. By doing shows — when it’s my show and my audience — there is no fear or doubt involved in that for me. The fear and doubt come when I do the shows where it’s a bunch of other comics too who are much funnier than I am and work just as hard, if not harder than I work, and they are out there killing it and you have to go after them and that’s not your crowd. So you have to earn it every time. And I’m all about earning it — you have to earn things in life, otherwise, you don’t respect them.
“You have to earn things in life, otherwise, you don’t respect them.”
WHAT MAKES YOU STRONG TODAY? HOW DO YOU GET THROUGH ANY OBSTACLES THAT COME YOUR WAY?
Any time anybody says to me, “You can’t do that,” I always look at it as a challenge. I don’t look at it as, “Oh, they said I can’t do it, which means I probably can’t do it.” I look at it as, “Oh, really? You think I can’t do that? Watch. Not only am I going to do that, I’m going to do that better than somebody who’s supposed to be doing it.” And that’s how I always approached everything.
In 8th grade, my teacher told me I was going to be a janitor. And then when I started doing comedy people were saying, “Yeah, you and a million others are doing comedy.” To which my response was, “Alright, I can separate myself from a million others.” And then it just became little goal after little goal.
When I started comedy in 1989, I set a goal of 8 years. I said, “If I haven’t done anything in 8 years, I will quit.” And after 6 years I’ve done my first special. So I was like, “Alright, I’m good.” Because in the back of my head I knew I said it to myself. Probably never said it out loud but I know I said it to myself. And I just kept setting all these little goals, and I kept achieving them. Every time I would set a goal a little bit bigger and a little bit higher.
And you can’t ever look at the big goal from the beginning because that’s just too far away. It looks overwhelming and it’s unattainable, and you know you’ve got to go through the process whatever you are doing. You’ve got to have little things set on the way. You can keep your eyes on the prize, but you know it takes a series of dots to form a line.
It’s like you go to a carnival and you win those little prizes and then you want to trade it up, you’ve got to get two more of these little ones and then you can get the big one. Basically, that’s how I’ve always set goals in my head, same way.
“You can keep your eyes on the prize, but you know it takes a series of dots to form a line.”
WHAT MAKES YOUR LIFE FULFILLING? HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU “GOT IT RIGHT” FOR YOURSELF?
Everything I do now is based on my daughter’s future and security. And at the same time, I love what I’ve achieved in my career and I love the way it feels and I will do whatever it takes to maintain that feeling. By ‘whatever it takes’ I mean I will work as hard as I need to work to maintain my position. You’ve got to always remember there is always somebody behind you who wants what you have way more than you want it. And you got to keep yourself in the mentality of ‘it can leave you at any second.’
“You’ve got to always remember there is always somebody behind you who wants what you have way more than you want it.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS WHO DON’T FEEL HAPPY WHERE THEY ARE IN LIFE NOW AND WANT TO MAKE A CHANGE?
I always ask people, “If you can do anything in the world, what would it be?” And I don’t mean something like, “I’d be a billionaire and I’d live on an island.” No, that’s not it. You have to have a vehicle to get you there. So if you can do whatever you can with your life, what would it be? No matter how crazy your dream is. You want to be, let’s say, the best painter in the world, you have to do that, you have to start painting.
Working for yourself is always the best feeling in the world because there is nobody above you, there’s nobody telling you what to do. You are the one telling yourself what to do. You motivate yourself, you don’t get mad at yourself. If somebody was to tell me, “You need to do this in order to do that,” I’d be like, “Don’t tell me what to do.” I’m very rebellious in that regard and I think one of the traits of very successful people is that they are very rebellious and they generally don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
“One of the traits of very successful people is that they are very rebellious and they generally don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
- Fear and self-doubt are there to help you keep pushing forward. You’ve got to confront them in order to succeed.
- It’s all about earning it — you have to earn things in life, otherwise, you don’t respect them.
- Any time anybody tells you “You can’t do that,” take it as a challenge and not only do it but do it in the best possible way.
- It doesn’t matter if there are million people out there doing what you want to do. Differentiate yourself, stand out, succeed.
- Set small goals that are attainable and lead you to your big goal.
- There is always somebody behind you who wants what you have way more than you want it. And you got to keep yourself in the mentality of ‘it can leave you at any second.’
- Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Originally published at www.katyakhalimov.com.