Comedian Russell Peters doesn't pull punches in climate of 'cancel culture,' 'political correctness'
LOS ANGELES -- CTV W5's interview with Russell Peters was one of several we did with members of the comedy industry, for a wide-ranging and nuanced story on how political correctness has changed the world of stand-up comedy. For the full documentary watch "Laugh Attack" in our video player above. To watch Sandie Rinaldo's extended interview with Russell Peters, an online exclusive, read to the bottom of the story.
Russell Peters went from a challenging childhood where he was the target of bullying to become one of the biggest names in comedy, known for his sharp observational humour about ethnicity, race and cultural stereotypes.
Rolling Stone magazine lists the 52-year-old Indo-Canadian who was raised in Brampton, Ont. as one of the 50 best comics of all time. He was also one of the highest paid in the world, according to Forbes Magazine; and in 2007, the first comedian to sell out the Air Canada Centre.
It’s why when CTV W5 decided to look into how political correctness, "cancel" and "woke culture" were affecting the comedy scene -- given the backlash meted out to high profile comics like Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais over their transgender jokes and the notorious slap after actor Will Smith took offence to a comment about his wife, from Chris Rock at the Oscars -- Peters, the man with a reputation for not pulling any punches, became our first choice to interview.
We wanted to know if he was reining in his biting, no-holds-barred humour.
W5 went back and forth with Peters’ people. There were scheduling conflicts on both sides. It took weeks of negotiations and finally we were given a day and time for an interview at Peters’ California home; although it was almost cancelled at the last minute because the comic was juggling touring and down time.
The W5 team arrived at Peters’ sprawling contemporary 8,000 square foot home in L.A.'s San Bernardino Valley. We set up on the main floor in a room jam-packed with Peters' memorabilia next to an open-tread steel and wooden double staircase that ascends to the upper floor against a wall of glass.
Several of his comedy buddies sat outside on the covered patio next to an azure coloured pool.
Peters’ wife Ali, whom he married in February 2022, greeted us warmly. While waiting for her husband to show up, she casually sat on the staircase and chatted about the home’s architecture.
We also talked about the community, where in June of 1994 residents had a front row seat to the infamous OJ Simpson high speed police chase that was followed live on TV and ended with his arrest.
A roar of a sports car pulling into the driveway signalled the arrival of the man-of-the-hour who entered the house and breezed past us to chat with friends and family.
It was only when he recognized us that Peters’ laser focused humour and charm shifted into high gear. He was excited to chat with a group of Canadians about all things Canada; excited to make me laugh.
The interview was quintessential Peters, engaging, energetic and unapologetic. "We are free thinkers. The minute you try to put reins on our brains, you ruin the game."
He went on to emphasize this one important point: if people don’t like his humour, don’t come to his shows. 'I’ve got to service the people that want to hear what I have to say."
Does he have any regrets? Not really. But he tells us, "We made gay jokes freely and we wouldn’t just say gay, we would say 'f—--t.' And that was perfectly normal back then and perfectly acceptable."
"But your job is to push the envelope," Peters added, "and then you understand that the envelope keeps moving away. So I was constantly chasing the envelope."
Peters had lots more to say about political correctness that some will find entertaining, others, offensive, and you can watch "Laugh Attack" in our video player above or on our YouTube channel.
With files from W5 Producer Chad Derrick
Want to see more? Click here to see the parts of our interview with Russell Peters that weren't included in our main story.
You can also watch Russell Peters @ JFL on CTV.ca and the CTV app