Russell Peters The Global King of Laughter

Uniting the globe with his sharp-witted observational comedy, Russell Peters has changed the conversation surrounding race and culture, shifting the narrative towards inclusivity. In this exclusive interview, Peters shares his incredible journey to becoming the Global King of Laughter, the challenges he faced along the way, and the advice he has for aspiring comics.

Russell, we met you at the second edition of the Global Citizen Forum almost ten years ago in Toronto, where you performed for an audience of the world’s leading immigration specialists and change makers striving for global mobility. We now find ourselves in Dubai for this reunion.

As someone who has been an integral part of this transformative journey to now winning the Global Citizen Forum Award, tell us, what does global citizenship mean to you?

“Even before the Global Citizen Forum, I always felt like a global citizen. I’m somehow defined by being an Indian guy from Canada, but I always felt like the rest of the world was also me.”

You’ve been consistently listed by Forbes amongst the highest-paid comedians globally, the first comedian to sell out the Air Canada Centre, and the first to have a Netflix stand-up special.

Where did your journey begin? Was there a pivotal moment in your life that inspired you to pursue comedy professionally?

“I started doing stand-up comedy in 1989 when I’d just turned 19. At that time, I had no idea it would become what it did for me. I just knew that I didn’t want to work for anybody and that this was a natural thing for me to do. It’s just my personality and has always been an extension of who I am. So, here we are 34 years later, and with the Global Citizen Forum Award, it’s even better.”

Coming from an immigrant family, what was it like growing up in Canada? How did your cultural background influence your comedic style and perspective?

“My parents immigrated to Canada in 1965, and I was born there in 1970. Growing up in Canada is interesting because when you’re a brown guy in Canada in the seventies and eighties, you’re a minority. But then you’re Canadian, so you’re an outsider from America – so I’m a double outsider. That really gave me a unique perspective.

I’ve never looked at things at the surface level; I’ve always had the mindset of “what was here first? How did this get here?” So, I think my comedy was shaped by growing up and dealing with different challenges in life, such as racism, and it was my outlet to try and get out of bad situations.”

Your comedy often challenges stereotypes. How do you navigate humor around cultural differences while also breaking down barriers and promoting empathy?

“A stereotype has to start somewhere. There must be more than one person who’s done this type of thing and more than one person who relates to that stereotype. That’s your jump-off point. Then, you consider what’s deeper and how you can make people understand each other better. It was never my intention to teach people through my comedy, but I guess subsequently, I did.”

With so much happening in the world, both culturally and politically, humor is a force that has the power to unite us. In your experience, how does comedy serve as a vehicle for societal change or understanding, especially in the context of a global audience?

“Comedy is the last bastion of truth out there. The news is skewed nowadays to fit different perspectives when there should be only one perspective – the truth. The truth is like poetry, and nobody likes poetry. I think that’s why people try to attack comedy now – because this is the last thing telling you what’s really happening.

People don’t want to know the truth because they’re so self-involved that it has to fit their agenda. If it doesn’t, they won’t hear about it. Whether good or bad, people will skew whatever you say to suit their needs; you will be manipulated and marginalized. It’s happening to me now, and it’s been happening my whole career. People should hear what you say, not what they want to hear.”

Cancel culture has affected a lot of comedians and other artists – has it had an impact on your material and creative process?

“No, I’ve never been fazed by cancel culture because the younger people are doing it, and they aren’t my audience anymore. I’m 53 years old – my audience is generally 30 and older. It’s funny when somebody posts a clip of mine from 15 years ago and I see the young people jump on it and attack it.

When I think about certain things I said early in my career, I can’t believe I thought it was funny. But at the time, it made sense. So, I laid the foundation for other comics not to have to do that. Everything progresses and evolves; we’re ever-changing as a species and as people.”

As you said, people don’t accept things if it doesn’t fit their agenda. How do you think we can overcome that?

“We’ve got to start getting back to being honest with each other. I think that’s one of the problems with cancel culture – it’s not about honesty; it’s about opinions. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion and the way they feel. However, you must find the middle ground and try to understand each other. That doesn’t mean you’ll change your opinion, but you now understand me better. It’s about understanding more than it is anything else.”

When you perform, what is that one message that you’re trying to get across or want people to take away?

“My ultimate goal has always been to make people laugh. I want people to come, laugh, and when they leave, I want them to feel like they had a good escape. That’s really what your job is as a comedian.”

As someone who’s broken many records, what advice would you give to aspiring comedians or artists navigating the entertainment industry?

“I always tell people, don’t ever get in the business because you think you’ll be rich and famous. Get into it because it’s something inside you. My driving force was always to make people laugh and be the best at it every night.

The money and fame eventually came. Now that it’s here, do I want to lose it? No, obviously not. You don’t stay at the top forever, it’s just an improbability. So, you’ve got to be true to yourself more than your craft. The more you are true to yourself, the craft follows. I feel like I’m just me on stage. With a microphone, it’s a slightly amplified version of me, but I’m always myself.”