In this little patch of lawn in cyberspace, certainly Asian-American comedy has popped up. Part of me feels icky even using that term – when the American prefix applies to the largest continent in the world, any sort of sweeping generalizations are useless. But sure enough, in February, I turn on Letterman to see Joe Wong race through a 21st century Yakov Smirnoff type of set (oh wait, Yakov lives?!). Then I see a tip from my man K about the virtues of Aziz Ansari, who indeed is quite amazing. And them last night, I had a chance to see in long form Russell Peters, who I had only REALLY known from a dazzling set he did on Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam a couple years back.
Of course, we all know the stereotype of the typical performance in Def Comedy Jam’s heyday:
Comic: “Yo, yo yo … you ever see when white ______? They so funny when they ______, all like this and crap. Now US, us mofos, we different. When we ________, we _______.”
String together 15 of those sorts of observations, sprinkle in some jokes about vaginas and presto! You got yourself a set. Fortunately from the evidence above, Peters offered a bit more, which takes us to Constitution Hall on Tuesday night for Peters’ concert:
- Constitution Hall itself is a peculiar venue. Historic of course, and a popular venue for many artists. At the same time, it’s capacity is good but it has the ambiance of a roller rink, or maybe a high school auditorium. In all, it’s a pretty darn weird vibe. When the time before the show started was spent watching a couple of pretty bad DJ’s spin for an hour – I was getting restless. The acoustics seemed rather poor. Not sure how I’d like a concert there.
- The opening comics were both ethnically sensitive sorts of acts. One is this 375 pound Greek comic who hustled through some tired stereotypes of growing up Greek with a polysyllabic last name. The other is an Indian-American lady who all in all I don’t remember.
- Peters’ set itself is not innovative. Given his world travels, his entire act is about how we are different – and in a sense how we share difference. While yes, there are the requisite vagina jokes (and indeed the act is fairly blue – and his views are, in Def Jam tradition, none too sophisticated) – the heart is the bemused take on people of the world. In particular, his characterization of partying after a concert in Beirut, Lebanon was striking – especially taking time catch the language differences and specific accent differences of specific countries, such as how Spanish is used in Latin America vs the Continent.
- Ultimately, of course, the judge is laughter – and I decidedly did laugh a lot. The crowd had good energy and Peters’ own repartee with the front row was always engaging. It is not quite “post-racial” but the show is more ethnically sensitive than any I can remember – and the diversity of the crowd in all ways (age, ethnicity) seemed to reflect on his metier.