Russell Peters on exploring race and culture, self-censorship and working on The Indian Detective spinoff
Ahead of the India leg of his Deported World Tour, Russell Peters speaks about the topics he steers clear from, significance of music in his sets and his upcoming projects
For those who have followed stand-up comedy for a while now, the name Russell Peters rings an instant bell. The Canadian stand-up comedian, who started performing way back in 1989, was one of the first artistes of colour to have achieved international acclaim. With over 30 films and a score of television appearances (including the likes of BoJack Horseman) under his belt, Peters was also the first-ever comedian to get a Netflix special, titled Notorious.
Ahead of the India leg of his Deported World Tour to Supermoon, Firstpost caught up with the comedian to speak about ethnicity, the topics he steers clear from and the significance of music in his comedy sets.
From the time you started out to now, how has the world of comedy metamorphosed?
Well it’s no longer dominated by white guys. It’s obviously more diverse — not just racially, but gender-wise and culturally. It’s also global now. It’s more accepted as an art form unto itself in more and more countries, ironically not in my home country of Canada however.
What should we expect from your Deported set?
This is probably my most personal set to date. I’m more self-deprecating and it really reflects who I am and where I’m at right now. But don’t worry, it still has my usual silliness and improv with the audience.
You have dabbled in disco-jockeying, are a fan of hip-hop, and have produced the Canadian documentary Hip-Hop Evolution. What role does music play in your comedy sets?
Yes, I still DJ. Music is very important to me. It always has been. I have my own DJ on-tour, Starting From Scratch, who is amazing. I guess there’s some kind of parallel between my love of hip hop and me being a guy on-stage with a mic talking and telling jokes. They’re both spoken-word art forms, and I can’t rap, so this is as close as I get to it.
You were regularly bullied as a child because of your ethnicity, but your comedy style has ironically been criticised for furthering racial, class and cultural stereotypes. What is your take on such criticism?
I don’t know about criticism, but for me I’m exploring race and culture. I’m acknowledging and embracing our differences and ultimately finding our similarities. I’m dealing with something that affected me from a very early age - it’s my journey.
Lilly Singh became the first woman and woman of colour to headline a late-night show on a broadcast network. What do you think of the global future of artistes of colour?
I think that that’s great. It only makes sense that we should be more widely represented, especially in the States and Canada. It’s math really. How many of us are there again, 1.3 billion...?
What is your process of developing a comedy set?
I have a set that I follow. I will adjust certain parts of it depending on the audience, but for the most part, I don’t change my act for Detroit or Delhi.
Have you ever censored your act over the years to suit the temperament of the audience?
The only thing I don’t touch on is religion. People are prepared to die for their religion. Otherwise, I don’t believe in censorship and won’t censor myself. If I do, I’m not being true to being a comedian - which is a truth-teller.
What should we look forward to after Deported World Tour?
First off, I’m filming my new special in Mumbai on 2 and 3 June for Amazon. I’m also working on a spin-off of The Indian Detective, called The Indian Spy. We should start filming a year from now. I’ve also got a couple of other projects that I’m producing.
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