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Interview with Canadian Comic Russell Peters

Aired May 17, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET



MONITA RAJPAL, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): He's among the most successful and lucrative comedians in the U.S.


RAJPAL (voiceover): But his popularity extends far beyond the country's shores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hong Kong, give it up for Russell Peters.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Meet Russell Peters, an Indian, by descent, who mocks his culture's idiosyncrasies.

PETERS: "Come on sir. Come, I make you suit. We get suit made right now. 20 minutes, you ready. You want suit, shirt, tie, pants, everything".

RAJPAL (voiceover): A Canadian national who makes cracks at his countrymen.

PETERS: That's the only time you'll meet proud Canadians - is the minute you take us out of Canada, we're like, "CANADA". You put them on a plane back to Canada, and they're like, "Canada".

RAJPAL (voiceover): In fact, Russell Peters is quite happy to poke fun at anyone who crosses his path. Yet, his brand of racial humor and his views on cultural stereotypes continues to draw in an entertain thousands of fans at a time. After more than a decade in the game, it was his appearance on the Canadian show, "Comedy Now", that saw Peters take his first steps to fame, after it went viral online.

PETERS: Look at this audience, man. This is like a Benetton add. This is good.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Now with more than 60 million hits on an array of YouTube clips, 300,000 copies of his DVDs sold, and packed-out performances around the globe, the multi-millionaire is back on the road again, with his latest world tour.

PETERS: Rajpal.

RAJPAL: Peters.

RAJPAL (voiceover): This week, on "Talk Asia", we're backstage in Hong Kong to get the comedy treatment, local theater style.


RAJPAL: Russell Peters, welcome to "Talk Asia".

PETERS: Well hello, Monita Rajpal.

RAJPAL: Hello. It's lovely to meet you again after - I don't know - how many years?

PETERS: I've known you for a long time.


PETERS: People don't realize that you've been in the business for a while. You're not some new Jack in this game. I can't pull the wool over your eyes.

RAJPAL: Full disclosure, we met about 15 years ago.

PETERS: More than that. It's got to be more than that.

RAJPAL: In Toronto.

PETERS: Because we worked at the same station.

RAJPAL: I know.

PETERS: At the same time.

RAJPAL: Meanwhile, you're on this "Notorious World Tour".


RAJPAL: Tell me about it.

PETERS: It started in March of 20 - what are we in, 13? 2012, it started. In Oman, Muscat. And it's brought us around the world and we've even got some return engagements on this leg. So, the thing is, the fans seem to think that it's going to be a different tour. And I'm like, "No, it's still the "Notorious" tour". Then they come and they're like, "It was the same jokes". And I'm like, "Yes, it's the same tour".

RAJPAL: Why did you call it "Notorious"?

PETERS: Because we started it in March of 2012 and that was the 15- year death anniversary of Notorious B.I.G., who was my favorite rapper, so.

RAJPAL: Yes. Can you rap for us?

PETERS: I can't rap worth a damn.


PETERS: No. I'm horrible. I know my limits.

RAJPAL: Do you ever feel the pressure of constantly having to deliver when you're on these tours, constantly? Night after night.

PETERS: Well, no. That's your job. You know? I mean, if you feel pressure from having to do your job, maybe you shouldn't be able to do your job. I mean, it's actually - I love doing it. You know what I mean?

RAJPAL: How do you feel when you actually walk out and you see all these people that are here to see you? Not to see a band, not to see, you know, a collection of people, but just you.

PETERS: It's pretty wild. Like, it still doesn't really sink in to me. It's not like a - and the funny thing is, you know, I've been doing this 24 years, now. And I still don't - I don't take it for granted. I don't walk out and go, "Of course they're here". That doesn't even - I mean, to me - I mean, we came from the same place. And, you know, to succeed beyond that place is already a big deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, ladies and gentlemen -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome the biggest stand-up comedian in the world and the pride of Brampton, Ontario -

PETERS: Also, here, I don't know which way I have to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hong Kong, give it up for Russell Peters.




RAJPAL: How do you decide what you're going to put - what kind of material you're going to put in your shows?

PETERS: Well, I just write. And then, if I think it's funny, it stays.

RAJPAL: That simple?

PETERS: It's as simple as that. And I don't - I don't physically write down anything. I'm not that studious. I'm not that invested in being - I'm too lazy to do that.


PETERS: Hey, white guy. How are you? You are white, right?


PETERS: Where are you from, white guy? "San Francisco". You didn't have to gay it up for me. I know -



RAJPAL: I notice that you like to pick out people in the audience as well.


RAJPAL: Do you get a - do you often feed off of people's energy as well?

PETERS: Absolutely. That's what comics do. I mean, the more alive the audience is, the more alive they make us feel.


PETERS: And if they're dead, we kind of - you know, it's kind of like, "Ugh". It's you just going through the motions at that point.

RAJPAL: Well, you see, this is a thing. There was a time - perhaps you weren't filling out arenas.

PETERS: No, there was definitely -

RAJPAL: And stadiums.

PETERS: -- a time.

RAJPAL: So what was that like for you? When you would walk in, you'd see maybe a couple of people.

PETERS: You know what? You expect that, at that time, though. I mean, just being a road comic, you show up at gigs and they don't care that it's you. They don't care who is there. It's comedy night. Your name's not even on the wall. You know what I mean? It's like, "This Saturday, comedy".

And then you show up and you literally have to be like, "Is the manager around?" "Yes, who are you?" "I'm the comic". "OK, one sec. Hey Jim, a comic's here". "What's his name?" "Russell Peters". "All right, well, tell him we're going to start the show late, because there's a hockey game on".

And you'd just stand around. And you'd be treated like garbage. You know, you were as good as a pesticide guy showing up to spray the restaurant.

RAJPAL: What did you learn from that experience?

PETERS: I mean, you just do. You just learn. I mean, you don't learn when you - you don't necessarily learn when everything's going right. You learn when things are going wrong.

RAJPAL: Have they -

PETERS: That's when you go into survival mode, you know?

RAJPAL: And what is "survival mode" for you, when you're up there?

PETERS: Things aren't working and you have to dig a little deeper. It's like boxing. Everything is - everything is boxing to me. So, you know, when you're in the ring and the guy - you hit a guy with your best shot. And his knees don't buckle and he doesn't flinch. And you think in your head, "Uh-oh, this is going to be a long night. And he can take my best punch". So you just kind of have to dance and dazzle. And bop, bop, bop, bop, and keep moving, you know? But you still got to win.


PETERS: I'm glad you guys are here, otherwise this place would be empty.


PETERS: More Chinese people tonight. That's better. It is better, let me tell you why. Because we're in Hong Kong. And it would be disturbing if you weren't here.




RAJPAL: I mean, you talk about some really - you know -

PETERS: Raunchy stuff?


PETERS: Yes, I agree. It does freak me out when I say it.




PETERS: There's a big difference between race and culture. Because racially, I'm an Indian man. Culturally, not at all. Many of you may think you're Indian, or, you know, some people think they're Italian. But then, they've never been to Italy in their lives, they don't speak Italian. It always bugs me out when they call Black People in America "African- Americans". You're not African. You're "Black".

If a black guy showed up in Africa tomorrow, "What's happening?" They'd be like, "[INDECIPHERABLE]. That [EXPLETIVE DELETED] crazy. Get him away from me". They'd be looking for a white guy. "Oh my God, thank God you're here".


RAJPAL: You do have quite a few interesting issues in your routines. You talk about immigration.


RAJPAL: You talk about sex.


RAJPAL: I mean, was it in your "Red, White, and Brown" show - your mom was in the audience?

PETERS: My mom's been in the audience for a few of them, now.

RAJPAL: I mean, you talk about some really - you know -

PETERS: Raunchy stuff?


PETERS: Yes, I agree. It always does freak me out when I say it and I know my mom's in the audience.


PETERS: But my mom's really cool. She'll be like, "Eh, whatever". My mom's not a prude at all.

RAJPAL: So you never blush?

PETERS: No, in my head I do, but not outwardly.

RAJPAL: There is this one routine that I still laugh, in my head now, when I'm thinking about it. It's the Louis Vuitton one.

PETERS: Ah, Louis Vuitton.


PETERS: Louis Vuitton.


PETERS: That's a sale you never want to see happening. A Chinese guy trying to sell an Indian guy a Louis Vuitton bag? Neither one of them can say "Louis Vuitton" properly. "Hey, Mr. Indian Guy, you want a designer bag?" "Who is this? Who is he? Who is this Elouie (ph)"? "It's a designer initial. Then it has a name underneath". "Louis Vuitton".


RAJPAL: It's the impressions. The impression that you have - that you're so good at doing the Indian accent. And then the Cantonese man accent.


RAJPAL: Where did that come from?

PETERS: That came from, actually, when I would travel out here to Hong Kong. I think, you know, the last time I was here was possibly about 12 years ago. And I would just - you know, when you're bargaining, they get a little excited and - Hong Kong's changed so much since - in that past 12 years since I've been here. Like, it doesn't even feel like the same place anymore.


PETERS: There used to be camera shops everywhere.


PETERS: Now, it's just tailors everywhere. And I - you'll see tonight, actually. I open my show with, "I never thought I could dislike Indian People until I came to Hong Kong".


PETERS: I love coming to Hong Kong. And I never thought it would be possible to hate Indian People. But when you walk through Kowloon -


PETERS: No, I don't want a suit. I don't want a fake watch. "Come on sir, come, I make you suit. We get suit made right now. You want it - 20 minutes, we ready. You want suit, shirt, tie, pants - everything.



RAJPAL: And that's what you get from an Indian?

PETERS: Out here.

RAJPAL: Really?

PETERS: Everywhere you go - you walk around Kowloon and everybody's like, "Sir, sir, come in. Let me - you want suit? Let me get jacket, shirt, pants". And then you could understand why the Chinese people look at us and go -


RAJPAL: Do you ever feel that you're walking a fine line of -

PETERS: You have to walk a fine line. I don't want to be the safe guy. I think, if you live your life too safe - I would rather live a life of "Oh wells", rather than a life of "What ifs".

RAJPAL: When you think back to those days when you started out and when you think back to where you are right now - being listed as - you know, on Forbes Magazine as one of the top 10 comics, in terms of earnings.

PETERS: Not too shabby, huh?

RAJPAL: Not too bad.

PETERS: That's not too bad.

RAJPAL: What do you think of that journey that you've had so far? It's a journey where you've seen and you've met so many interesting people, whether it's royalty in the hip-hop world or royalty in the real sense.

PETERS: I still get geeked by everything, you know?


PETERS: It's kind of a - I'm grateful that I came from "nothing". I didn't really come from nothing. But I had a very good family, and they were hard working people. So they made me understand the value of things.


PETERS: So I don't take anything for granted. And when I meet, like, you know, rappers that I grew up listening to or even my two DJs - you know, when they're on stage with me - "Spinbad" and "Starting from Scratch" - I mean, those are two of my best friends, but they're also two of my favorite DJs.

RAJPAL: So you get to meet such interesting people. Including, say King Abdullah?

PETERS: King Abdullah.

RAJPAL: Of Jordan?

PETERS: Great guy. You know, he's just a - first he - I don't know how to start, with the King of Jordan. But he's such a cool guy. You know what I mean? He was just so normal and down to earth and - I mean, you know, when I was hanging out with him, you forget he's a king.

RAJPAL: And didn't you get punked by him?

PETERS: I sure did get punked by the king of Jordan.

RAJPAL: Tell us about that.

PETERS: So, we're having dinner with the king and the queen. And my brother's there and my sister-in-law is there. And Gabriel Iglesias, this other comic. And, you know, it's getting later. And the queen says she's going to bed. So my brother and my sister-in-law and I look at each other. And we probably go, "That's probably our queue to go". So we're like, "We should probably go, then".

And he goes, "You sure?" And, "Hang out". And I'm like, "Oh, you know, we don't want to overstay our welcome". So, anyway, we leave the party that night. And go back and the car picks us up at nine or nine- thirty in the morning. Gets us to the airport. As we pull up to the airport, there's people there to meet us. They take our passports, they take our luggage, they lead us up to the VIP room. And we're all like, "This is so cool".

And then, some Arab guy walks in, holding a passport with a mean look on his face. And he goes, "Russell Peters?" I'm like, "That's me". I'm all cocky right now, you know? And he's like, "Russell Peters?" And I'm like, "That's me". And he goes, "Come with me". And I go, "No". He goes, "What?" I go, "OK, I'm coming".

So we go walking down the stairs and we get to the bottom of the stairs and these three guards standing there with guns pointed at us. At me, rather. So he leads me into this room. And we sit down, and the guy leans back, lights up a cigarette. "Where were you last night?" And I'm like, "I was out". Because these guys are standing at the door with the guns still pointed at me.

RAJPAL: Right.

PETERS: And I'm like, "Something funky is going on in here".


PETERS: So I'm like, "I went out. I went to go see some friends". "Which friends?" "I was with the king". "Which king?" "What you do mean, "Which king"? Don King. What do you mean, "Which king"?" I go, "That king. That guy, right there". "My king?" I go, "Yes, your king". And he goes, "I don't believe you". I go, "What do you mean, you don't believe me? I have pictures". "Where?" I go, "On my phone. Give me my phone".

So I snatch my phone back and I show him a picture of the king and I. Hey, "The King and I".


PETERS: And he's just blowing his smoke in my face and he's just giving me a really hard time. And then I hear from the hallway, "Hey, don't point that gun at me, fool". And it's Gabriel. And he's on the phone. And he walks in and the guards have got the gun on him, now, following him into the room.

He's like, "Uh-huh, uh-huh". And I go, "Gabe, what the hell's going on?" And he goes, "One sec". And he gives me the phone. And all I hear is, "Never be the first to leave one of my parties again. You just got punked, biotch".



RAJPAL: He did not say that.

PETERS: He said, "You got punked, biotch".

RAJPAL: The King of Jordan just said that.



RAJPAL: Did I read that, is it in Dubai that you sold - one ticket is sold every two seconds?

PETERS: Yes, we sold out faster than Madonna in Dubai.




PETERS: I was about to get my next beating. I stop my dad. I go, "Don't do it. I'll phone child services". You ever had your parents call your bluff? "You will what?" "I'll phone child services". "Is that right? Ooh, well, let me get you the phone, tough guy". "What are you doing? If I phone child services, you'll get in trouble. "I might get into a little bit of trouble. But I know it's going to take them 22 minutes to get here. In that time, somebody going to get hurt real bad".


RAJPAL: What it like, growing up in Brampton, Ontario?

PETERS: Growing up was - I was a happy kid despite what would happen to me when I would leave the house.

RAJPAL: What would happen?

PETERS: I would get bullied a lot. You know, it was the 70s and 80s, so it was a lot of racism back then towards Indian People. And it wasn't actual hatred, it was just that blind, "Let's pick on that guy". You know, and you've got to figure that I was a very small kid. And I had a big mouth, so I'm sure that didn't help.

RAJPAL: Did you ever feel like you just wanted to fit in -

PETERS: Yes, I always felt like - I always felt like I wanted to fit in. And I think that was what made me do comedy. Because I was like, look, you're misunderstanding the whole thing here.

RAJPAL: Let me explain.

PETERS: Let me show you where we can meet. And that's why I did it. And the good thing for me is, I never harbored any resentment towards that.

RAJPAL: Really?

PETERS: I mean, I can remember everybody who picked on me. And if I see them now, I'm sure I would not be very nice to them. But I won't be too snarky. I'm sure I will have a little bit of - you know, that success is so sweet.


PETERS: So when you see the people that maybe kicked you in the stomach or punched you in the face or spit on you or whatever the deal was back then -

RAJPAL: Did that stuff happen?

PETERS: Oh yes. All the time. All the time. And that's why I started boxing when I was 15, because, I was like, "You know what? I don't like this". And my dad was like, "You need to learn how to fight". My dad was not the guy to be like, "No, explain to them". My dad was like, "No, you need to fight back".

RAJPAL: What was he like, your dad?

PETERS: My dad was very - my dad was a little guy, but he was very feisty. He was not one - he was not a guy to back down from an argument or a fight. I don't like arguing. I'll go to fighting. I won't go to arguing. I'm not good - I get frustrated in arguments, because all I think in my head is, "Why don't I just punch you in the face and we call this an afternoon?"

RAJPAL: What kind of an impression or impact would that have on you, growing up? And then that kind of experience that you've acquired today?

PETERS: You know, any time people told me I couldn't do things, I would always work extra hard to be able to do them, just to prove them wrong. Because I didn't want to just be able to do it, and prove you wrong. I wanted to do it beyond what you thought I could do. Beyond what you thought anybody could do. So when I started doing standup, I remember a guy saying, "Yes". I said, "I'm going to do standup comedy". This guy was like, "Yes, you and a million others". Then, in my head, I'm like, "All right, jackass. You'll see".

RAJPAL: How important is it, for you, as a comic - as a comedian - to feel this sense of, I guess, love and acceptance from your audience?

PETERS: I mean, that's why we do it. Comedians are - at the end of the day, we're just a bunch of people that lack a little bit of - we're very insecure and we want to be loved and liked by everybody. And, you know, I could check my twitter and there could be 150 people that say wonderful things. There'll be one person who says something negative. And all we focus on is that negative.

RAJPAL: Do you still feel, though - I mean, with all the success that you've had and then continue to have - you still feel that need to be accepted?

PETERS: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, there's - you know, in the comedy community, I have a lot of friends. But, by the critics and the powers that be in the television and film world and what have you - they don't really care what I've got.

So that kind of - it kind of just makes me go, "I don't know what you're waiting for". I don't want to sound egotistical, but there's no other comic that can go to Hong Kong or go to Dubai or go to these countries that I'm going to and sell out these arenas. There's just no way they can do it, yet.

RAJPAL: And you sold out - let's look at some of the arenas that you've sold out, here. Madison Square Gardens, in New York. The Sydney Opera House. O2 Arena, in London. You're the first comedian to sell out the Air Canada Centre.


RAJPAL: Four times, I understand.


RAJPAL: The Apollo Theater. And you also became the first comic to perform at the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn.

PETERS: Yes, we've done some good things.


PETERS: And there's even more than that, but you know, we don't -

RAJPAL: And, did I read that -

PETERS: -- We don't have time, kids, for all that.

RAJPAL: -- that as a - in Dubai, that you sold out - one ticket was sold every two seconds?

PETERS: Yes, we sold out faster than Madonna in Dubai. That was pretty cool.

RAJPAL: And you still feel the need to be accepted?

PETERS: Yes, of course. Because, to me, it's kind of like, "All right, this is great. But why can't these people just go, wow?"

RAJPAL: Now that you're a dad?


RAJPAL: To a two-year-old?

PETERS: I like my kid. She's good.

RAJPAL: I'm glad to hear that you like your kid.

PETERS: I really like her. She's cool.

RAJPAL: What's that like? What was it like, being a dad? How has that changed you?

PETERS: Now, I actually care about somebody for real. You know? Like, you know, you hear about - when you don't have kids - you hear people say things like, "I would throw myself in front of a bus for my child". Until you have a child, you won't really understand that you would actually throw yourself in front of a bus for your child. Like, you don't really get it. Like, it's like, "Hell no". You know, "She's only two. I can make another one". You know? But, you know, you have a baby and then you actually care about this person. And it's really cool, because she's getting older, now, and she understands things.

So the other day, I said, "OK, baby, I got to go". And then, my ex- wife was like, "Say bye-bye to Da-da". And she's like, "No". Like, "You can't go". So, you know, that kind of sucks, but it's good to know that they understand, you know. And she's a daddy's girl, so that's great.

RAJPAL: How do you prepare for your show, night after night?

PETERS: You just do it.

RAJPAL: Is it true that you sometimes talk to your dad?

PETERS: I always talk to my dad.

RAJPAL: When your dad passed away -


RAJPAL: -- 2004.


RAJPAL: How difficult was it to balance that event in your life with your day job of having to make people laugh?

PETERS: I mean, I was with him, when he died. And he was sick for a little while. So we kind of expected it to happen. And, yes, as messed-up as it seems, there was a sort of sigh of relief that he wasn't in pain anymore. So, I think I was back to work a week later. I was still a little off, but, you know. And then, my whole career changed about a week later, too.

RAJPAL: Really? How?

PETERS: After my dad passed away, things just picked up right away. And that's why I was - that's why I always talk to him before the show, because I feel that's my guardian angel.

RAJPAL: What do you say to him?

PETERS: I'm just like, "All right, Pop, we got to go do this. Are you here? Good. What do you think about these people? Anything out there you see funny?" And then I'm like, "All right, see you". And then I touch the cross and I go on stage.

RAJPAL: All right. Russell Peters, good luck, tonight.

PETERS: Thanks, Monita.