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Russell Peters: Breaking Down Barriers

Russell Peters is one of the top 10 highest earning comedians in the world. Russell Peters is one of the top 10 highest earning comedians in the world.

A lot of comedians discuss race in their stand-up routines, but has there ever been a comic with such broad multicultural material as Russell Peters? One of the things that makes Peters so compelling to watch is that he leaves almost no racial stone unturned. And of course, there’s this most pertinent fact: he’s funny. His latest concert DVD, Outsourced, along with a new book, Call Me Russell, attest to both his razor sharp insight and global popularity.

Peters has played to huge sold out crowds from Toronto to Dubai to New York City’s Madison Square Garden, reaching unprecedented heights of popularity cross-culturally. On TV, he has appeared everywhere from Def Comedy Jam to The Tonight Show. There have been few comedians with such worldwide appeal, and it’s primarily Peters’ lovingly teasing portrayal of different races, cultures, and languages that have made him an international star.

Peters is an expert mimicker, able to switch from one accent to another with seamless perfection. And that’s crucial. If Peters wasn’t so deadly accurate with each syllable, the veneer would crack and his act couldn’t succeed. But his precision is a testament to both his skill and hard work. And yet, he’s much more than a guy who does impressions. His insightful glimpses into a range of cultures and human follies earmark him as a great stand-up comic.

It’s also worth noting that Peters may be the most popular South Asian performer in North America. Peters, the son of Indian-born parents, is one of the first celebrities to cross this particular racial boundary. Off the top of your head, how many Indian/South Asian celebrities can you name? For most readers, a few prominent names spring to mind - Ben Kingsley, M. Night Shyamalan, Frieda Pinto – but it’s a short list of A-list celebrities of South Asian descent. And none of those other celebrities are comedians; it's a spot occupied by Peters alone for the moment.

So what’s next for Peters? He’s writing books, selling out live shows, and releasing hit concert albums and DVDs, but has yet to conquer television with a series of his own. It’s a difficult leap, but there’s a long tradition of stand-up comedians making hit television shows. From Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart to Ray Romano and Jerry Seinfeld, the network sitcom has often been fruitful ground for comedians. However, many more performers who have found success on the stage couldn’t make the transition to the small screen.

Russell Peters previously worked with Fox to develop a sitcom, but that project never got off the ground. Now he’s working with NBC to take another shot. If it works, Peters will again be breaking new ground, bringing a hit show with a South Asian protagonist to homes across America. But no matter what the result of that venture, the success of his live shows, DVDs like Outsourced, and his new book, Call Me Russell have placed him in elite show biz company.

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Last modified on Monday, 29 October 2012 07:38

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