TORONTO — Canadian comedy star Russell Peters says he feels so-called cancel culture is dismissive and he wants to explore the topic in his act in a way that opens up the conversation from all viewpoints.
The 49-year-old Brampton, Ont., native has a new comedy special on Amazon Prime Video, Russell Peters: Deported, which was shot in Mumbai, India and covers everything from his personal life as a father of two, to his Indo-Canadian heritage and the racial stereotypes he’s known to confront.
The typically outspoken comic/actor is also touring smaller comedy clubs and says he’s working on new material about how call-out culture fails to consider the nuance of certain scenarios.
“I’m actually trying to figure out how to word it all right now,” Peters said in a recent interview.
“I want to talk about opening this conversation, but I want to word it in a way that triggers you and makes you understand at the same time. So I’m trying to walk this fine line right now.
The Canadian Press spoke with the Los Angeles-based Peters about the new special and the effect of a socially conscious era on comedy.
CP: Why give this special the title Deported?
Peters: I’m a brown man from Canada living in the United States during the Trump administration — who do you think is going to get deported first, or thrown in a weird camp?
CP: And why did you shoot it in Mumbai?
Peters: I’ve made a lot of jokes about India and Indians and Bombay in the past, and I wanted them to know that it was done out of love. And what better way to show your respect to somebody than taking a moment in time and capturing it forever in their city, and letting them know, ‘Hey, I did this out of love’?
CP: It seems like it’s a tough time for some comedians with so-called cancel culture. How do you feel about all of that?
Peters: They call it ‘cancel culture.’ It’s just dismissive is what it is. They’re trying to fight people being dismissive of them by being dismissive of them. So that’s really what the cancel is — you’re cancelling each other out. This generation is wanting us to open up and expand our horizons and accept different things and become more open to their way of thinking. And I would say that most of my generation is open to all of that. But the problem is, I have questions, and you’re not allowed to ask questions. Like, ‘You’re attacking me.’ ‘I’m not attacking you. I just have questions…. I just want information. I’m not attacking.
‘The more we know, the easier it is for everybody to accept. Okay, you don’t like that word? Well, let’s discuss it. Let me tell you why I use the word. And I understand why it offends you, but I want you to understand why it’s not offensive when certain people say things; or you’ve got to focus on the intent when somebody says something as opposed to the word, you’ve got to look in their eyes and the tone of their voice. You’ve got to pay attention to all of these details. You can’t just be triggered like that. Then you’re not helping any kind of cause, you’re creating problems.’
CP: Is this making it more difficult to be a comedian?
Peters: No. I mean, ultimately (comedians) don’t care … about your feelings, because we know what our intention is. If there are 50 people and one person gets offended, you have the right to get offended. But you also have the right to walk away and not have to listen to this anymore. You don’t have the right to try to end my career because you didn’t like what I said.
That’s what we’ve got to get rid of: the knee-jerk reaction from the powers that be that are like, ‘Oh, they didn’t like it. Oh, we’ll get rid of it.’ I’m like, ‘No, why can’t we explain? Why can’t we have a discussion about this?’ You wouldn’t do that at home: ‘I didn’t like the way my husband talked to me. We’re getting a divorce.’ ‘Wait, what?’ It doesn’t work like that in real life.
So we’re making an unrealistic world for people to grow up in. We have a potential generation of extremely soft people. And we’re also at the brink of war. Do you want those people on your front lines? ‘No, they’re shooting missiles. Oh my god, I’m offended by these missiles. Hashtag no missiles.’ It’s all the stuff I’m working on.