Stand up and deliver
Comedian Russell Peters on cultural stereotypes, Hollywood cliques and Whataburger
If you are not familiar with Canadian comedian Russell Peters, you should be: He’s likely telling jokes about you. Well, maybe not you specifically, but he’s probably mercilessly poking fun at your race, nationality, class or culture.
Peters says he may even make some observations about Texans when he stops in Dallas this weekend during his Notorious World Tour. “I’m a big fan of Texans,” Peters tells me. “You know what they really love is Whataburger. They can’t get enough Whataburger. Whataburger is the shit!”
Peters prefers to think of his comedy as a celebration of different cultures, a celebration that yields laughter.
By monetary measures (he’s been named to the Forbes list of top-earning comedians) and his ability to sell out arenas, Peters is one of the most successful standup comedians of his generation. He’s so beloved in his native Canada that he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2011. But after more than two decades doing standup, he still has a lot he’d like to accomplish, including becoming accepted in Hollywood (and figuring out Texans’ obsession with Whataburger).
He grew up in the suburbs of Toronto with traditional Indian parents, and he has made a living by observing human behavior and pointing out the nuances that make each culture unique — and laughable. He says no culture, including his own, is off-limits, but he doesn’t touch religion. During some of the most memorable portions of his act, while re-creating moments from his childhood, he takes on the persona of his late father, using an exaggerated Indian accent.
Peters says besides drawing from personal experience, he gathers a lot of his material while traveling around the world. “When I go to places, I see things through my skewed vision. And because it’s already there and it already exists, I’m not fabricating it. I just bring it to light.”
That skewed vision grew out of always feeling like an outsider. “Being an Indian guy growing up in Canada made me feel like an outsider,” he says. “But then growing up in Canada you feel like an outsider again because you are just outside America. So I was double an outsider, which made me have a lot more perspective than some other people.”
Peters says he believes it’s a similar outsider’s perspective that has allowed so many Canadian comedians to enjoy success stateside. “I think Canadians have more perspective on what’s going on, and we also get the best of both worlds. We understand the British sensibilities, and we’re basically British people with almost American accents,” he jokes.
“Hollywood is like high school,” Peters says. “If you’re not in with the cool kids, you’re just gonna have to wait.”
Part of the beauty of Peters’ comedic style is that you can’t help but laugh even when he’s making fun of you; he’d say it’s because he speaks truths. He says he doesn’t make up the stereotypes he portrays; he simply relays them, sometimes with extreme exaggeration and clever impersonations. Peters prefers to think of his comedy as a celebration of different cultures, a celebration that yields laughter. He says his audiences generally know the boundaries he pushes and rarely get offended.
“If anyone is offended, it’s usually their own insecurities that are being brought to light at that point, because my intention is only to make them laugh. When people get upset or mad I get confused by it because I’m like, what are you getting mad at? You can tell that I’m obviously joking.”
Peters says he’s always up for a new challenge, and a fairly recent development keeping him on his toes these days is fatherhood.
“These kids man, you end up liking them a lot,” he says about his 2-year-old daughter. “It’s like yes, I have finally found somebody I would throw myself in front of a bus for.”
In addition to his daddy duties and this year’s tour, Peters is also trying to enhance his acting resume. He has several small film roles lined up in 2013 and says he’d like to become a “legitimate actor” with larger roles. But he recognizes that may take time.
“I’d like to be part of some big blockbuster film with a scene or two or even a nice juicy role, but that’s not up to me, that’s up to whoever makes those movies. Hollywood is like high school. If you’re not in with the cool kids, you’re just gonna have to wait.”
While you wait to see him on the big screen in his next role, you can catch Russell Peters at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie February 17.