May 21, 2012

Comedian Russell Peters: the anti-Sacha Baron Cohen

Russell Peters is a highly successful Canadian-born comedian, now living in L.A. and Las Vegas, whose shtick is to ask immigrants in the audience where they are from and then make fun of their accents (video on Indian accents) and customs (video on why whites should beat their children so the white kids don't feel left out when talking to their nonwhite friends). He loves ethnic stereotypes and is clearly a student of them. Judging from the video I saw of his show in London, nonwhites turn out in huge numbers for him. (Forbes said he made $15 million in 2010, mostly from ticket sales.)

Peters begins the one special of his I've seen talking about how Indian he is, about how he's not white, about how brown he is, presumably to reassure the audience that what is to follow is okay to laugh at. Yet, he certainly doesn't sound Indian. (He sounds like, I dunno, Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield in Caddy Shack.) But he apparently hadn't been out in the L.A. sun much before the show I saw (in contrast to the video clips above where he is well-tanned). I was struck by how, when not tanned, he's not terribly Indian looking. He looks like he's from somewhere in between India and England. So, I guessed he must be a Parsi, the Persian ethnicity of Bombay.

But, on RussellPeters.com's FAQ:
Is Russell Peters your real name?  
Yes it is. My family and I are Anglo-Indian. Anglo-Indians are a community of Indians, from India who were mixed with the British when they occupied India. Both of my parents are Anglo-Indian and both of their parents were Anglo-Indians and so on. Anglo-Indians traditionally always married Anglo-Indians. 
Anglo-Indians are Christian (I'm Catholic, as is my mom and my brother, my dad was Anglican), which also goes back generations. The first language for Anglo-Indians is English and our communities could primarily be found in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. 
This is the question that I get asked the most often and I'm always amazed as to how many Indians, especially the younger ones, don't have a clue about our history. Go ahead and GOOGLE 'Anglo-Indian' and check yourself!

Good advice. The Wikipedia article on Anglo-Indians is pretty interesting:
The first use of the term [Anglo-Indian] was to describe all British people living in India [e.g., Kipling]. This is the definition contained in the Indian Constitution. However in popular usage the term changed to describe Anglo-Indians as people who were of mixed blood descending from the British on the male side and women from the Indian side.[14] People of mixed British and Indian descent were previously referred to as 'Eurasians' but are now more commonly referred to as 'Anglo-Indians'.[15] 
During the British East India Company's rule in India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was initially fairly common for British officers and soldiers to take local Indian wives and have Eurasian children, due to a lack of British women in India at the time.[16][17] By the mid-19th century, there were around 40,000 British soldiers, but less than 2,000 British officials present in India.[18] As British females began arriving in British India in large numbers around the early to mid-19th century, mostly as family members of British officers and soldiers, intermarriage became increasingly uncommon among the British in India and was later despised after the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857,[19] after which several anti-miscegenation laws were implemented.[20][21] As a result, Eurasians were neglected by both the British and Indian populations in India. 
Over generations, Anglo-Indians intermarried with other Anglo-Indians to form a community that developed a culture of its own. Anglo-Indian cuisine, dress, speech and religion all served to further segregate Anglo-Indians from the native population. They established a school system focused on the English language and culture and formed social clubs and associations to run functions like their regular dances on occasions like Christmas and Easter.[14] 
... A number of factors fostered a strong sense of community among Anglo-Indians. Their English language school system, their Anglo-centric culture, and their Christian beliefs in particular helped bind them together.[22] ... 
During the independence movement, many Anglo-Indians identified (or were assumed to identify) with British rule, and, therefore, incurred the distrust and hostility of Indian nationalists.[citation needed] Their position at independence was difficult. They felt a loyalty to a British "home" that most had never seen and where they would gain little social acceptance. (Bhowani Junction touches on the identity crisis faced by the Anglo-Indian community during the independence struggle.) They felt insecure in an India that put a premium on participation in the independence movement as a prerequisite for important government positions. 
Most Anglo-Indians left the country in 1947, hoping to make a new life in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations, such as Australia or Canada. The exodus continued through the 1950s and 1960s and by the late 1990s most had left with many of the remaining Anglo-Indians still aspiring to leave.[23] 
Like the Parsi community, the Anglo-Indians are essentially urban dwellers. Unlike the Parsis, the mass migrations saw more of the better educated and financially secure Anglo-Indians depart for other Commonwealth nations.

Peters caused a stir while visiting India by saying:
“I hate Bollywood. The films are all garbage, just terrible. It’s my opinion — obviously there are billions who love them. I have never seen a Bollywood film in my life. I have refused to do them earlier and will do so in future,” Peters claimed at a press conference. 
As per few media reports, Peters allegedly also cracked some jokes about Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan’s mediocre acting skills and even joked about her pregnancy. According to sources, he however retracted his statements on Bachchan later. Whatever the case be, Peters is nonchalant about the angst he seems to have evoked amongst Bollywood fans.

This was not popular with self-appointed offense-takers in India:
The political wings of India also condemned Russell’s alleged statements on Bachchan’s pregnancy. Shalini Thackeray, cine-worker’s union president of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) commented, “Bollywood is a vast industry, which churns out more films than anyone else in the world and Peters has no right to talk ugly or disgrace our industry or its actors. His comment on Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan is indeed in a bad taste, but I think his irrelevant comment should not deter or affect an actor of her calibre.” 
A leader from Shiv Sena, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Who is this Russell Peters and why should we entertain him? I think he should be banned in the country if he doesn’t respect our traditions and films.”

Peters was unimpressed:
Standing by his opinion, Peters tweeted, “There is no reason for me to like everything you like, my opinions are just that — my opinions. There are plenty of things I love that you won’t! The fact that my words have upset some of you so much only makes me victorious!”

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

I once watched one of his performances on Youtube, and what was weird was that every single joke in the 30-minute routine was about this or that ethnicity or race. He's all about ethnic jokes.

Maguro said...

Dude's a dead ringer for Derek Jeter.

as said...

Russell Peters looks and sounds like an average Indian-American to me. He doesn't look like a Parsi at all.

With Anglo-Indians, you have something of the one-drop rule. They usually look like regular Indians, but if they have even a small amount of English ancestry, that makes them "Anglo."

as said...

I hate Bollywood.

Good for him.

Anonymous said...

Inglos

Anonymous said...

Someone who knows India well fill me in on this: did south India seem to "Anglicize" more during the colonial era than in the rest of the country? From the Indians I've met, I kinda get that idea.

Anonymous said...

Good show about Alistair McGowan's Anglo-Indian roots. Normally, Who do you think you are is preachy and maudlin, the US version being worse than the UK version for this. But both are bad.

But this episode was funny, particularly because McGowan's family described themselves as "English in India." McGowan's conversation with his Uncle Rusty about the family was pretty funny, in an understated way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R85IkGW3y9c

Anonymous said...

Is this the guy who I saw talking about going to India to finally meet his people? He said he got off the plane and took a whiff and said these are not my people.


It seems like it might have been him.

Anonymous said...

Russell is big here in Canada. The routine about his friend Ryan and Western vs. immigrant disciplne is his most famous joke. I think he officially retired it. It begins at 3:38 in the clip you linked to.

"Somebody gonna get hurt real bad!"

Anonymous said...

His accents are good. He does funny Indian and Chinese accents.

Joe Six-Pack said...

What surprise me about India is the bureaucracy, how a country colonised by Britain ended being the most bureaucratic in the World?

Anonymous said...

@as, Indian caste society, in theory has the 1 drop rule, and any Anglo-Indian with 1 drop of blood outside caste, was out-casted, and ended up in Anglo-Indian society, not Indian society

Anglo-Indians vary a lot in skin tone and hair color, In my school we had a few, blond and blue-eyed Anglo-Indian English teachers. They vary in looks from full Indian to almost full white

They are in heavy demand in call-centers, as trainers of English speech, as their accent does not have Indian accent.


@Anon @ 4.26, South India and Bengal came under british rule by 1760, whereas Punjab only came under british rule in 1849

There were british military cantonments all over South India

Anonymous said...

I haven´t watched his videos, but I doubt he is funnier than Don Rickles. When I was reading your article on Sacha Cohen,and saw the "I never laugh at Jewish comedians" posts, I kept thinking about how funny and unapolegetically jewish Don Rickles is.

Of course Rickles comes from a generation that was greatful to be American, and you can tell that when he is interviewed.

slumber_j said...

Rickles' performance in Casino was a revelation to me.

Ismail Merchant said...

You're slipping, Saylor--where's the reference to me, venerable producer of countless, indistinguishable wet-hanky classics? That Ben Kingsley and Japanese novelist fellow got nuthin

Anonymous said...

He sure doesn't look "Anglo" to me.

Anonymous said...

Neither does he look like Freddy Mercury.

Drew said...

Its good to have comedians like this making light of political correctness, but we will know there has been real progress when a WASP man can do it without being burned at the stake...

Anonymous said...

Someone who knows India well fill me in on this: did south India seem to "Anglicize" more during the colonial era than in the rest of the country? From the Indians I've met, I kinda get that idea.

The British spent most of their efforts trying to Anglicize north-west India. That was the whitest region and the one closest to Christianity. It was south India, as you suspect, that took the bait instead.

Anonymous said...

"That was the whitest region and the one closest to Christianity."

The Christianity part thanks to Portuguese efforts.

Anonymous said...

"The Christianity part thanks to Portuguese efforts."
True but even prior to the Portuguese, Christianity was in Kerola.

Anonymous said...

I suppose someone will eventually get around to denouncing him for abusing his Anglo-Indian privilege. After all, ethnicity is no laughing matter. Or do the slit-eyed ideologues like to spare a few tokens to pretend that they are not humorless?

Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

If he was elected mayor of LA would he be considered an "Anglo" mayor?

Iberian said...

Anglo-Indians is not a rigorous identification; it includes the vast and much more ancient (from XVI century) Portuguese-Indian commmunity. They built the most european city of ├Źndia: Goa.
The label also includes the descendants of even more ancient communitys, like the Greeks and Armenians.

Anonymous said...

There's also the comedian Joe Wong:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gD0s7gfTotk

He's a FOB (fresh off the boat) and has a bad accent.

as said...

I wrote: With Anglo-Indians, you have something of the one-drop rule. They usually look like regular Indians, but if they have even a small amount of English ancestry, that makes them "Anglo."

I meant, they embrace their Anglo-Indian identity (i.e. people who look and sound like average Indians calling themselves "Anglo").

Anonymous said...

"That was the whitest region and the one closest to Christianity."

The Christianity part thanks to Portuguese efforts.

True but even prior to the Portuguese, Christianity was in Kerola.

Where Kerala and the Portuguese colonies in North-West India, now Pakistan?

Anonymous said...

I think anti-SBC is a good way to categorize him. A lot of his jokes are self deprecating about his own family and his people (Indians). He's equal opportunity when it comes to others. And his jokes aren't mean spirited, like SBC's.

SBC by the way can't take a joke at all when it's directed against him. There's some videos on Youtube of people pranking him, and he looks fuming mad in them.

Anonymous said...

My goodness, have you just now discovered the joy of youtubing Russell Peters, Steve? You are in for a lot of delight, this guy is utterly hilarious.

The Anglo-Indians in the US, like the Jains and Brahmins, are light-skinned and wicked smart.

Anonymous said...

Freddie Mercury was a Parsi by the way.

Anonymous said...

Some famous anglo-indians:

Sebastian Coe, champion athlete

Engelbert Humperdinck, singer

Diana Hayden, Miss World

Boris Karloff, Actor

Ben Kingsley, Actor

Merle Oberon, Actress

Cliff Richard, Singer

Pete Best, musician Beatles

Vivien Leigh, Actress

Julie Christie, Actress

Reita Faria, Miss World

Lara Dutta, Miss Universe

Anonymous Rice Alum #4 said...

True but even prior to the Portuguese, Christianity was in Kerola.

Where Kerala and the Portuguese colonies in North-West India, now Pakistan?


Kerala is the southwestern part of the southern tip of India. It's the most Christian (~20%) state in India. There's an Orthodox community that claims St. Thomas brought Christianity to the region a few decades after the Crucifixion--to be diplomatic, I have my doubts about that. There's a Catholic community that dates back to the Portuguese. And believe it or not, they actually permit their children to intermarry!

Anonymous said...

The Anglo-Indians in the US, like the Jains and Brahmins, are light-skinned and wicked smart.

Typical indian BS.

Cramden said...

This guy is white! Case closed.

As per the Sailer definition in effect on this website: there is no such category as West Asian or Middle Eastern--therefore these people default to white.

Iranians? White. Iraqis? White.

Very FedGov of you, Steve.

Anonymous said...

What surprise me about India is the bureaucracy, how a country colonised by Britain ended being the most bureaucratic in the World


I'm pretty sure that Britain is the most bureaucratic country in the world. Americans have some odd misconceptions of what Blighty is like.

Anonymous said...

The british comedian Danny Bhoy who is half indian and half scottish cracks me up:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jepZVctaVmo&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uOEMJSPE0I

Penna Success said...

I saw his performance on Youtube recently, he seemed happy to make fun on races and ethnicity of ppl and get away with it... I must appreciate d tolerance and intellect of audience...

as said...

I've never heard of Anglo-Indians in India being smart.

---

There's a Catholic community that dates back to the Portuguese. And believe it or not, they actually permit their children to intermarry!

Kerala Christian communities have caste-ism.

Non-castism among Indians means: men of uglier groups marrying women of better looking groups.

It's a lot like non-racism.

Anonymous said...

Popular British singers of the 1960s Cliff Richard and Englebert Humperdinck are Anglo-Indians.

Anonymous said...

Anglo-Indians used to run the railways and the police in colonial India, the British used them as an intermediate caste, not quite Indian, but not quite British either.

DavidB said...

I'm not sure that Julie Christie is Anglo-Indian in the mixed-race sense. She was born in India to a mother from England and a father who managed a tea plantation - not, at that time (1940s), a likely occupation for Anglo-Indians. (Nor is it likely that an English woman would have married a known Anglo-Indian.) She does however have a half-sister with an Indian mother: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-513285/The-secret-Indian-sister-haunts-actress-Julie-Christie.html

Barry Wood said...

Freddy Mercury was Anglo-Indian, out of Zanzibar, via London.

Anonymous said...

Russel Peters is very popular among young, educated Indians who work in the outsourcing sector, so regardless of what Indian pc-defenders may say, he definitely has mojo in India.

Iberian said...

Freddy Mercury was not Anglo-Indian, except by nationality/papers.He don´t have a drop of european blood (Portuguese or British); etnically he was Parsi, a group that escape from Persia 1000 years ago, due to Arab invasion. Racially, he was Caucasian (if you don´t like to apply White to Iranians...). Anniway,the Indians, Malayans, Shuailis, Ethiopians, etc... use the same words to describe the Portuguese, English,Dutch,Turkish,Persians,Afghans, etc... "Ferengy" (Franks) or "Rumi" (Romans);or like the Chinese say "the big noses"...

dearieme said...

"The British spent most of their efforts trying to Anglicize north-west India": in what sense?

Anyway, if you want Anglo-Indians what about our three Prime Ministers?

(Lord Liverpool, the Earl of Chatham, and Pitt the Younger)

David said...

How Scots-Irish is Bollywood?

Anonymous said...

"or like the Chinese say "the big noses"... "

round eyes!

"Russel Peters is very popular among young, educated Indians who work in the outsourcing sector,"

yes, a friend was a big fan of him. He also recounted how he used an insinuation of racism to get out of a trick situation with cops in London.

"so regardless of what Indian pc-defenders may say"

huh?
Indian pc-defenders would not defend indian things.

Anonymous said...

Son of Flashman, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Let's not give this guy to much credit until he starts making fun of Jews. Indians are easy targets.

Anonymous said...

Particularly notable Parsis in other areas of achievement include rock star Freddie Mercury,

Simon in London said...

Peters seems pretty funny, going by his youtube clips. A lot funnier than Sasha Baron Cohen.

Perspective said...

I thought he was quite funny when he was just becoming popular, but I think his ethnic based jokes have worn out their 'funniness' to those of us that have heard them before.

The city he was born in, (Brampton, Ontario)probably has one of the highest concentrations of South Asians (mostly Sikhs and some Hindus) than just about any where else in North America. When Peters was born there in 1970, Brampton was probably still over 90 percent white.

Ravi said...

South India and Eastern India( the Bengal area) are more anglicised than North India. The best written account of the British impact on India is Nirad Chauduri's The Autobiography of an unknown Indian. VS Naipaul said of the book "No better account of the penetration of the Indian mind by the West—and by extension, of the penetration of one culture by another—will be or now can be written."

jeppo said...

The city he was born in, (Brampton, Ontario)probably has one of the highest concentrations of South Asians (mostly Sikhs and some Hindus) than just about any where else in North America. When Peters was born there in 1970, Brampton was probably still over 90 percent white.

That's why it's locally known as Bramladesh. It's not a small town either, but a large city of more than 400,000 people. You're right about the percentages: 90% of the first 200,000 folks who settled in this suburb of Toronto, which was virtually all farm fields 50 years ago, were white. 98% of the next 200,000 were Indian. Diversity!

Canadian Observer said...

I met him at a local Yuk Yuk's club around 15 years ago when he was a young comedian doing the low-end GTA comedy club scene. Really cool guy.

Toronto has quite a stifling politically correct atmosphere and his comedy does help to disintegrate these fetters. Whenever I'm around my non-white friends or acquaintances, I always bring up a Russell Peters joke to break the ice.

I have to say though - a key aspect of his comedy is his barely veiled message to the audience which is as follows: "Without the White Man, us Indians would be a bunch of backward illiterate peasants".

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-513285/The-secret-Indian-sister-haunts-actress-Julie-Christie.html

The girl, called June, was the result of a relationship between Julie's father Frank St John Christie, the manager of a tea plantation in India, and one of his Indian tea-pickers.

( Indian teapickers are mostly untouchables and forest tribals )

porty said...

The Portugese were in southern India -- mostly the western part I think. They were not in the north.

tellemand said...

Some of the "Indian" ancestry that the "Anglo-Indians" had was actually Persian. So I'm not sure if that counts as some sort of admission to some secret poc club. I mean -- Persian. Cyndi Crawford is part Persian.
There are all kinds of Indians and they range from white (rare) to black (more common). Most are medium brown. So Vivien Leigh may have had an olive skinned Persiann ggggrandmother. And that says---what?

Anonymous said...

Reply to Jeppo said:

"90% of the first 200,000 folks who settled in this suburb of Toronto, which was virtually all farm fields 50 years ago, were white. 98% of the next 200,000 were Indian. Diversity!"

I'd say more like ethnic cleansing!

By the way, that 90% white figure is probably more like 99%. Not to mention the farmers in those fields from 50 years ago and more would have been 100% white too.

As a multi-generational Torontonian, if I were to walk around Bramladesh, I would feel as out of place as if I were in the sub-continent. I didn't want to live in India, so I didn't MOVE to India.

But the Indian sub-continent MOVED to me.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian Coe, champion athlete

Engelbert Humperdinck, singer

Diana Hayden, Miss World

Boris Karloff, Actor

Ben Kingsley, Actor

Merle Oberon, Actress

Cliff Richard, Singer

Pete Best, musician Beatles

Vivien Leigh, Actress

Julie Christie, Actress

Reita Faria, Miss World

Lara Dutta, Miss Universe


Im pretty sure some of those are Anglo-Indian in the other sense of the word. i.e. they are Brits born in India, not of any Indian parentage.

Anonymous said...

He also recounted how he used an insinuation of racism to get out of a tricky situation with cops in London.

Hold the front page! Dog bites man!

Non-white manipulates racism legislation to get out of trouble.

Anonymous said...

In India, Anglo-Indian legal definition = English Father + Indian Mother

Lara Dutta = Indian Father, Anglo-Indian-hybrid-mother.
= Not-Anglo-Indian

Diana Hayden = Born in Anglo-Indian Family

Boris Karloff = 1 / 8 Indian

Merle Oberon = 1 / 4 Indian

Anonymous said...

Let's not give this guy to much credit until he starts making fun of Jews. Indians are easy targets.

So in other words, white people.

Robert Smith said...

Peters begins the one special of his I've seen talking about how Indian he is, about how he's not white, about how brown he is, presumably to reassure the audience that what is to follow is okay to laugh at. Yet, he certainly doesn't sound Indian. (He sounds like, I dunno, Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield in Caddy Shack.) But he apparently hadn't been out in the L.A. sun much before the show I saw (in contrast to the video clips above where he is well-tanned). I was struck by how, when not tanned, he's not terribly Indian looking.

I think the problem is Peters realizes stereotypes are ridiculous and he makes jokes about them. You on the other hand apparently listened to him and thought he was giving an anthropology lecture. It cracks me up when people say people don't "sound Indian." I guess Barak Obama doesn't "sound black." Or Colin Powell doesn't "sound black." Really Steve Sailer do you think human vocalizations are based on some phony construct of race or do you think they are based on who you happen to hear the most on radio/TV or in your preschool?