Born in Toronto, based in Los An­ge­les, An­glo-in­dian Rus­sell Peters is now a com­edy su­per­star, pack­ing are­nas world­wide and open­ing a new Net­flix se­ries

India Today - - PROFILE - By Indira Kan­nan Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter@ Indi­rakan­nan140

There’s this An­glo-In­dian guy, go­ing on about In­di­ans try­ing to bar­gain with Chi­nese shop­keep­ers in Toronto, and de­fy­ing his fa­ther as a child on the ad­vice of a white friend—with dis­as­trous re­sults: “Some­body gonna get a-hurt real bad”. The guy’s on stage, in front of a sold-out crowd in New York, Lon­don, Syd­ney, take your pick. Here’s the funny thing: Him.

De­liv­er­ing the punch lines is that guy’s job, one he does so well that he’s among the world’s top ranked co­me­di­ans to­day. That’s Rus­sell Peters, 43, born in Toronto to An­glo-In­dian par­ents who moved to Canada from In­dia, and the first per­former of In­dian her­itage to make it big in the world of com­edy.

On Oc­to­ber 14, Net­flix, the DVD de­liv­ery and In­ter­net stream­ing com­pany based in Cal­i­for­nia, kicked off its new se­ries of orig­i­nal com­edy stand-up spe­cials with Peters’s “No­to­ri­ous” show. “He is pro­lific, fresh and a global force that will res­onate with our mem­bers around the world,” said Net­flix ex­ec­u­tive Lisa Nishimura about the co­me­dian who grew up in and near Toronto and now lives in Los An­ge­les.

In its an­nual list of the world’s high­est earn­ing co­me­di­ans, pub­lished in July, Forbes ranked Peters at No. 3, with earn­ings of $21 mil­lion in the pre­vi­ous 12 months. That was just two spots be­low the long reign­ing em­peror of com­edy, Jerry Se­in­feld. Still, the mag­a­zine added, “…Peters’ re­main­ing chal­lenge is con­quer­ing the Amer­i­can fan-scape”. In an in­ter­view, Peters said, “I may not be a house­hold name in the States, but I can only think of one or two other guys who play and sell out the are­nas and the­atres that I do.” Those in­clude world fa­mous venues such as Madi­son Square Gar­den and Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York, Lon­don’s O2 and the Syd­ney Opera House. In the O2 arena, his 2008 show broke an at­ten­dance record with over 16,000 fans. His YouTube videos have chalked up a stag­ger­ing 75 mil­lion views.

YouTube is the plat­form, which, by his own telling, launched him into the big league. While Peters was play­ing gigs since the early 1990s, one of his TV

acts wound up on YouTube in 2004 and went vi­ral, giv­ing him in­stant star­dom. “To put it in per­spec­tive, in 2003 and early 2004, I was flat broke,” he says.

To­day, Peters owns homes in Los An­ge­les, Las Ve­gas and Mis­sis­sauga, a Toronto sub­urb. He has six cars, in­clud­ing a Bent­ley Mul­sanne, a BMW M6 con­vert­ible, a Porsche Cayenne and a Mercedes SL 63 AMG con­vert­ible. Un­til he was 30, Peters lived in his par­ents’ home and his first car didn’t have a cas­sette deck or air con­di­tion­ing.

A lot of the comic’s ma­te­rial is in­spired by his fam­ily’s and im­mi­grants’ ex­pe­ri­ences in North Amer­ica, and he doesn’t flinch from touch­ing on racial or cul­tural stereo­types. “If you’re po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, chances are you’re not com­ing to one of my shows. I get to go on­stage and say things that every­body thinks all the time, but can’t say out loud,” says Peters.

He’s not jok­ing when he says he’s not afraid to be blunt. In his 2010 mem­oir Call Me

Rus­sell, which he coau­thored, Peters re­counted in­ter­view­ing ac­tor Aamir Khan in Lon­don for a show on BBC Two just af­ter

La­gaan was re­leased. “I had never watched a Bol­ly­wood movie, so I didn’t know who he was. The producers gave me the movie to watch, and I re­mem­ber fall­ing asleep be­fore the open­ing cred­its fin­ished,” he wrote, adding Khan “acted like a f****** pr***” dur­ing the in­ter­view.

But Peters con­fesses to hav­ing a soft spot for his par­ents’ na­tive coun­try. Grow­ing up in Canada, he de­scribed him­self as “In­dian”, and of­ten vis­ited his ex­tended fam­ily back in In­dia, in Kolkata and Burhan­pur in Mad­hya Pradesh. “I’m not just say­ing this, but I love ev­ery­thing about In­dia,” he says. Peters in fact headed back to In­dia as part of his “No­to­ri­ous” world tour, per­form­ing in Delhi, Mum­bai, Chen­nai and Ban­ga­lore from Oc­to­ber 25 to Novem­ber 1.

His ties to fam­ily are tight. “My dad was the fun­ni­est guy I ever knew,” Peters says of his fa­ther Eric, who of­ten faced racism and was forced to take up blue-col­lar jobs to sup­port his fam­ily. He died in 2004. Peters “loves In­dian food” and “mom’s cook­ing es­pe­cially”. Says his elder brother and man­ager Clay­ton, “He’s gen­er­ous to a fault with his friends and fam­ily. He bought our mom a condo in Ve­gas for her fre­quent trips there. He gave me a Porsche Boxster as an early 50th birth­day gift, and as a thank you for do­ing a good job.”

Peters is di­vorced and has a twoyear-old daugh­ter with his ex-wife in Los An­ge­les. “My daugh­ter al­ways makes me laugh,” he says. While Peters didn’t say if he was dat­ing any­one now, read­ers of his book will know there are seem­ingly few women he didn’t—to para­phrase for use in a fam­ily mag­a­zine—“date” ear­lier. For­mer girl­friends in­clude porn star-turned-ac­tor and fel­low Indo-Cana­dian Sunny Leone.

Peters, who has acted in sev­eral English movies in­clud­ing the Indo-Cana­dian pro­duc­tion Break­away, says he’d like to do more films. He re­cently an­nounced a part­ner­ship with Hol­ly­wood power cou­ple Will Smith and Jada Pin­kett Smith’s pro­duc­tion com­pany Over­brook to de­velop a sit­com. He’s also ex­cited about the Net­flix se­ries: “It val­i­dates what I’ve been do­ing all th­ese years.”

In­ter­est­ingly, the sec­ond per­former in Net­flix’s new se­ries is also a co­me­dian with In­dian roots—In­dian Amer­i­can Aziz An­sari. “It’s great that there are more and more of us break­ing through into main­stream com­edy. Fact is, when I was grow­ing up, you never saw us on TV in North Amer­ica,” says Peters. To­day, he is a com­edy su­per­star and can pick and choose his shows, but Peters still likes the gigs he started with. “I love do­ing stand-up. I love play­ing the clubs,” he says, and es­pe­cially when the au­di­ence is “com­pletely mixed—In­dian, Pak­istani, Arab, Filipino, Chi­nese, White, English”. Peters has been crack­ing ‘em up for nearly 25 years. And in that time, they’ve made him laugh too— all the way to the bank.


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