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Comedian Russell Peters Capitalizes On Indian Roots

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Comedian Russell Peters Capitalizes On Indian Roots

Arts & Life

Comedian Russell Peters Capitalizes On Indian Roots

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Tonight, Russell Peters takes his bold brand of cultural comedy to Radio City Music Hall.

(Soundbite of comedy show)

Mr. RUSSELL PETERS (Comedian): That's who can't do business together. Chinese people and Indian people can not give do business together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: 'Cause Indians cannot live without a bargain and Chinese people cannot give you a bargain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: Their objective is to get every penny from you and ours is to keep every penny.

CORNISH: Peters was born in Canada to South Asian parents. After more than 20 years in the comedy business, Forbes magazine last year named him one of the 10 top-earning comedians in the U.S.

He is currently on the road with his Green Card Tour. He joins us now from New York City.

Russell Peters, welcome.

Mr. PETERS: Thank you host, Audie Cornish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: What kind of name is that anyway? Tell me about that?

CORNISH: Oh. Well, I know I'm going to open the door for some jokes here. But my parents are Jamaican. And...

Mr. PETERS: Aw, shoot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: ...my dad insists that he got the name from...

Mr. PETERS: A car?

CORNISH: ...a beauty queen.

Mr. PETERS: Now, he was like darling, this is my favorite car: Two cars in one, a Cornish and a Audi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: What is your favorite accent to do?

Mr. PETERS: It depends. I get into moods. Sometimes I'll just speak like a Jamaican all day. I'll just get on the phone with my best friend Marlon and I'll - he's Jamaican, so I'll just speak to him Jamaican the whole conversation. And even he'll just answer me in normal English. And I'm sure he's sitting going, why is he doing this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: I just get stuck in it. And sometimes I get stuck in a Chinese accent and just want to talk to everybody like a Chinese person there. Trinidadians are always fun because its so, you know, relaxed and I'll just end up talking to people, Hey boy, I just, yeah, I'm just catching the lamb on the beach or something. You know, whatever it is, I just I get stuck in these zones. And then sometimes I might even just talk like myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: But that's on a crazy day.

CORNISH: Just for fun.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of comedy show)

Mr. PETERS: So just so you guys know, Indian people are fully aware of what their accent sounds like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: We dont actually need you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: We know exactly what it sounds like. We know it's not the coolest accent in the world, you know? Youre never going to see two Indian guys in a club standing there and going, hey man, aren't we cool?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Now, where do you come up with these kinds of skits?

Mr. PETERS: Generally, my stuff comes from real life. In my current act, Im talking about how in December of 2009, I was performing in Jordan and the King of Jordan, King Abdullah called and invited me over to the palace, and he cooked dinner for me.

(Soundbite of comedy show)

Mr. PETERS: And he got me drunk, and then he made us go fire guns in his private range. And the king is like, hes like a normal dude. Hes not like how you think a king is going to be, you know. How they make it in movies and how they make them all so stuffy and uptight and boring. He was a really cool, interesting guy who does not have an Arab accent at all. He went to school in Boston.

CORNISH: This makes me think of a very funny bit from your show where you talk about the depiction of Muslim or Arab people in the news as like always yelling.

(Soundbite of comedy show)

Mr. PETERS: And whenever they show you like Arabic being spoken on TV it sounds like these crazy people and these protests in the Arab world and all speaking this really harsh Arabic. And sounds like (unintelligible) (Beep) America.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: Because thats what they think is going on over there.

Yeah, they just keep showing you the same - the same three lunatics, but because we can't tell the difference, every one thinks everyone looks like that.

CORNISH: So much of your comedy, though, does sort of take race and culture and class and sort of puts it through a fun-house mirror. And Im wondering how you developed that style. What drew you to that area of life?

Mr. PETERS: Well, I think thats something that came to me as a child, because I was a very small kid and granted I probably had a big mouth on me. I was a victim of a lot of racial bullying. Because I was so small and didnt know how to fight or couldnt fight back, I would try to flip the situation, so that the bully would end up laughing, and theyre thinking that Im making fun of myself. But really at the end of the day I was getting myself out of an ass whooping.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: And its interesting, because often in a lot of comedy acts, Ive at times felt as though people of color are the butt of the joke in this very - in this age of being un-PC. You know, its sort of cool, and Im wondering how you walk that line, how what youre doing is different.

Mr. PETERS: I dont look at it as PC. I think its all about motive. Whats your motivation when you say these things, you know. Its - its almost like talking to an old person or a kid those are the two most honest people you'll meet. They'll tell you exactly what they think and exactly what they see, and they're not saying it to hurt your feelings, and they're not saying it to get a rise out of you, they're just saying what they see. When I go to do my act, I go with the same sort of earnest honesty. And people can see that. And people generally see through BS, you know.

CORNISH: But it sounds like you really found an audience, I mean, not just a general audience, but an audience of people who felt as, though, you were really describing their experience.

Mr. PETERS: You know, growing up my whole life I almost felt I was the only one like this and then, you know, throughout the years of doing comedy and people connecting with it that way, you realize this is a lot of peoples experiences.

CORNISH: Well, comedian Russell Peters joining us from New York City. Russell, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PETERS: Well, big up yourself, Audie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Thank you, thank you for joining us.

Mr. PETERS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of comedy show)

Mr. PETERS: Arrangement is a big problem in my community man. I mean, not so much of a problem. Its a problem if you want it to be a problem. I mean, its a problem for me, you know what I mean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: My parents tried that on me last year. They came up to me like. My mom goes, Russell, youre getting older now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: And youre not married.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: What if I bring some nice girls home for you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: I go mom, I bring nice girls home all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: They just leave in the morning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: Thats a nice girl, right there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: Said no, no, I will pick some girls and you can choose the one you like. Okay are you out of your mind? My mom wants to pick my wife. I wouldnt let my mom pick my clothes.

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