Russell Peters’ success might just be a copyright attorney’s worst nightmare. Already an established standup comedian in his native Canada, his popularity exploded when an illegally shared copy of a show – riffing on Indian culture – was quickly passed from student to student through a network of file-sharing websites and programs, making him one of the Internet’s newest stars.
The increased exposure led to his first major headlining tour in the United States, which included a sold-out show at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York and now, tonight’s show at the Michigan Theater.
Peters explained that he didn’t expect this burgeoning Asian and Indian fanbase to appear so suddenly.
“I had been doing standup for 16 years, and for it to happen like that sort of freaked me out,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been doing the same shit for so long and all of a sudden, people know me.”
Raised in a working-class family in Toronto, Russell started his career without the expected stereotypical objections from his South Asian parents. “If I weren’t doing this, I’d probably be working in a warehouse,” he said. “There were no plans of going to college or anything. That was never in the cards.”
Instead, he’s out on the road with a repertoire of borderline offensive yet still hilarious material derived from his everyday experiences.
“If people get offended with some of the things I say, I get pissed off because I’m like ‘I didn’t create this,’ ” Peters said jokingly. “This is actually happening; you can’t get mad at me for telling you what the fuck is going on out there.”
A large part of his routine relies on his Indian background, and it’s this ethnic humor that has generally brought in Peters’s new audience. “In Canada, I already had a following, so people knew me and I was right across the border. It wasn’t like only Indians knew me. I was already mainstream before the Indians caught on,” Peters said.
Despite new audiences’ expectations of Indian jokes, Peters isn’t worried about becoming a niche comic and abandoning humor regarding other topics. “I don’t ever worry about that. I’ve been doing it for way too long to be worrying about that . At this stage in my career, I can get up and talk about whatever the fuck I want.”
Peters is branching out, however, and has a new show in development with Fox. Though no other characters have been cast, Peters will be the star. His additional role as the story editor places him in control of the standup-based sitcom. Slightly outside the mold of typical, “Everybody Loves Raymond”-type comedies, Peters explained that it shouldn’t be construed as an “Indian sitcom.”
Talking about this rare leading role for an Indian actor gets Peters a little upset. “Well, the funniest thing is ‘ER.’ It’s in fucking Chicago and there’s only one Indian doctor. Isn’t that crazy?” He saves his biggest criticism, though, for Kal Penn who, after playing a non-stereotypical Indian character in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” is returning to the role of Taj, the nerdy international student, in the sequel “Van Wilder 2.”
“If I did ‘Harold and Kumar,’ there’s no fucking way I would look at ‘Van Wilder 2’ . But he wants to buy a house and get a paycheck. I’m very harsh on that kind of stuff. I have a huge poster in my room framed of Malcolm X and it says ‘No compromise. No sellout.’ And I refuse, I refuse to not live by those words . I don’t want to be that guy to look back on my career and go, ‘I can’t believe I did that’ . I don’t want to feel like a whore at the end of the day.”
Friday at 7:30 p.m.
At the Michigan Theater