Friday, September 16, 2011

"Call Me Russell" ~ the biography of comedian Russell Peters

I love a good Canadian success story...and I love to read inspiring biographies of those who started with a dream, and didn't quit until that dream was fulfilled. The biography of Canadian comedian Russell Peters, "Call Me Russell" (2010) fulfilled both of these interests, with an easy read and a familiar tale.

I miss having a good laugh, sometimes. And not the every day chuckle, giggle with friends, or sitcom humour. I miss like real hearty, eyes-watering, can't-breathe type of laughter. The type that only a true comedian can give you. Russell Peters is one of the few comedians who has been able to provide that type of laughter for me over recent years, and I'm proud that he is one of "our own."

Of course we have Trixx and Jay Martin, Jean Paul, and a few others in Toronto who are definitely consistently hilarious, and provide comforting familiarity as well. Then there are the American greats like Katt Williams and Kevin Hart, also kinda making their come-up as stand-up headliners lately.

One of the best parts about the story of a comedian, is watching it grow from brief performances on stage with a mic in hand, a few dollars compensations, and tiny localized audiences of supporters...and then seeing them explode into multi-millionnaires with international appeal and blockbuster marketability.

We saw it happen with all of our faves: Chris Rock, Martin, Dave Chappelle, and even Eddie Murphy who has just been annouced as the host of the upcoming Academy Awards program. We love to see them succeed, because we watch them develop, we watch them mature, and we owe a great deal of our laughter and entertainment to their creative minds.

I remember back in around 1998 or 19998, I was a student at the University of Windsor, and a "board member" of the ever-political and ever-dedicated Black Youth Taking Action group, founded on the campus by the then-infamous Brother Noel. As a student organization, we did our best to maintain a sense of culture, peer unity, and bring diverse events to our temporary home-away-from home, in an effort to keep the students entertained and socializing.

One of the best BYTA events we had was hosting the F.A.M.E. All-Star Comedy Tour. I can remember voicing the commercial down at CJAM 91.5fm (the campus radio station), and excitedly announcing appearances by Russell Peters, Ron Josol, Jean Paul, and Marc Trinidad. I had no idea who any of them were at the time.

We sold tickets, and we packed the campus Pub that evening. An event of that kind hadn't been around on campus yet, and comedians that so intimately knew our culture and our generation were such a rareity.

I laughed like I had never laughed before. The show was an absolute HIT. And I can remember thinking, this Russell Peters guy does the BEST Bajan accent I've ever heard...that accent is not an easy one to duplicate. I immediatley rated Russell for that. His Jamaican accent, Trini accent, and of course the beloved Indian accent were off the chain. He knew all of the cultures so intimately, and I was so impressed with his ability to recreate and retell stories of things that we were all so closely connected to. As Canadians (of all races) I was impressed with how fluidly he spoke of his cultural experiences.

Everyone LOVED him. And I think we maybe payed the collective group about $250 for what was one of the funniest nights I can ever remember.

Fast forward to 2011. I started and completed this book pretty quickly because I enjoyed reading about how Russell came from the guy we essentially "hired" back as a broke-pocketed student org, to the guy that is selling out Madison Square Garden, and impacting the comedy world on a level few will ever reach.

I don't have much to say about the book itself...it was a good read. I kind of expected some hilarity and punchlines, but it was really just a casual conversation between Russell and his fans, and easily could have been an afternoon conversation.

The book doesn't follow a set chronology, beginning to end, but it does break his life's experiences down into themes, sagas, individuals, and stages of his journey.

You get a good feel for the challenges he faced, both personally and professionally, as well as the sights he has now seen, and the hard work he put in to perfect his craft, develop his identity as a comedian, and sustain a remarkable career spanning around 20 years.

What touched me most with his story was Russell's sense of family. His love and respect for his late father, who passed away in 2004. The deep connection and awesome working relationship he has with his one sibling, his brother Clayton. The pride of his mother, the closeness of his extended family, and the fact that at this stage in his life, he is able to easily provide for all of them.

His parents, Anglo-Indians (which is a demographic I knew nothing about until reading this book), and their journey to Canada marked the beginning of this biography, which immediately made me think of essentially everyone I know...a first-generation Canadian, sons and daughters of immigrants.

The great thing about contemporary Canadian stories, is that we all on some level have the same story. The same ambitions. The same purpose. Our parents arrive in this foreign land, often with only a few dollars and maybe one or two good links that they can call...and they are determined to make a life for their family. To find opportunity, and to open doors and associations to them that they may or may not have had access to "back home."

And that's why I love a good Canadian success story, because we all carry the same emotional baggage...knowing that our parents made great efforts to move to Canada, and that we as their successors have an obligation to take their courage, and take their dreams, and to work hard to fulfil them. We have an obligation to continue the legacy now as "Canadians" for our children, and nieces, and nephews, and neighbours, and do so with a pride that would make our families, and our ancestors proud.

Sounds like a lot of weight to carry, but I do believe that this is the mission of the majority of "us"...to take what we can, our gifts, or talents, or even just our need to work hard and build...and create new legacies. Here.

So Russell's book was a nice tale. A nice story of a humble guy from Brampton giving his all to his craft, and seeing it through to monumental levels. It really just an honest look at his life (porn obsession and all), and a testament to what hard work, family love and support, and wise choices can do.

He's a self-made man, and his lessons in "Call Me Russell" can be implemented by any of us. Russell Peters has done his family, and his country, exceptionally proud.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson, author, and founder of Kya Publishing.

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