Dispatches from the Tribeca Film Festival: A look through the lens of films to see ourselves in the other, and the other in ourselves with Russell Peters.
Russell Peters generously breaks the ice by mimicking farting sounds as he settles into an armchair, simultaneously setting the joke bar within an easy reach for me. It’s a comfortable place to begin when interviewing one of the world’s top comics whose career spans decades. He also designed his wife’s engagement ring to feature four lobster claws–or so the internet tells me.
Svetlana Chirkova: What is the world of The Clapper, in your own words?
Russell Peters: The film is about a guy, Eddie Krumble, who moves to Los Angeles and makes his money as a professional audience member. All he’s trying to do is make a living, he’s not trying to become “Hollywood”, he’s not trying to become a celebrity, he just wants to live a very simple life, and do a very simple job, then along comes this late-night talk show host, Jayme Stillerman, played by myself…
SC: You look great in a pink suit, by the way.
RP: Thank you, it may have been my own suit, actually… Anyway, my character, while doing his monologue and trying to make people laugh, unwittingly exposes Eddie as he thinks it’ll be a really funny ‘bit’ to try to find him, which in turn destroys Eddie’s life. So it’s a situation where one guy is trying to do the right thing, and the other guy, while thinking he’s doing something funny, wrecks it all.
SC: So there’s real gap in perspectives between these two as to what’s of value in life?
RP: Yeah, Stillerman is a TV cornball host, it’s his whole existence, so he really just can’t imagine how TV exposure could be bad for anybody. Eddie, on the other hand, is just trying to make his $100 dollars and the fact that his job ends up on TV is irrelevant to him. So there’s a failure to understand a very blue collar business by someone coming from the shiny, “glitzy lights” business, thinking that exposure is only going to lead to bigger and better things.
SC: This lack of mutual understanding between the so called ‘blue collar’ and the ‘glitzy lights’ classes has become a much debated topic following the election and the events since.
RP: There is no finger pointing, we are all the problem. Ultimately we all have to take credit for the problem.
SC: The world has become such a different place compared to a year ago, when this film was being made. Does the story of these characters take on a different meaning against the current backdrop?
RP: Isn’t it weird that a year ago seems like a much different time? Even 10 months ago was. We had a different president, we had a different mood, and now here we are with all this uncertainty about the future. There are so many threatening things in the world now, so many different things coming at us we don’t know what to dodge. It’s such a bizarre time. So I guess the thing that this film can offer is a glimpse back to a time when things were simpler – you know, 10 months ago.
SC: Ha. So apart from this time capsule property, what else can film offer above other forms of story telling?
RP: Film takes you into that world of escapism that we all desperately need, especially in these times. I think fewer people are going to movies nowadays, because the thought process is ‘Well, I can rent it on iTunes’, or wait to get it on Netflix, or just get a bootleg somewhere. We are detaching ourselves from tangible things which is a very bizarre thing to me. Going to the movies gives you something: to sit in a seat, to hold a ticket, to eat your popcorn and have a soda, to look at the person beside you and cheer, to be in the room full of strangers. Now we curate everything from the TV shows we watch to the music we listen to, we create a tailor made bubble. It’s hard to get that collective feeling anymore, because when you do find yourself in a group of people they too have been curated and are all in fact the same person. We are homogenizing ourselves individually. But what we forget is, back in the day, when these bubbles didn’t exit; we all talked, we had common ground, we had common things to talk about. We all just co-existed quite well with each other.
To further demonstrate his fondness for embracing the necessary discomfort of the true collective experience, the farting sounds got an encore as Russell distributed his goodbye hugs on the way out.
Photography by Leslie Hassler