Canadian comic Russell Peters was in Cape Town, taking a break from a busy schedule that includes filming a CraveTV television series in South Africa and India.
“Russell, a wha-deh gwan bredren!” I greeted him in the Jamaican patois that he frequently uses in his racially tinged standup comedy.
“What the heck is that? You sound like a white guy trying to sound Jamaican,” he quipped.
I was crushed. I am Jamaican-Canadian and I have the passport to prove it. But I have to concede that Peters, born in Canada of South Asian descent, almost sounds more authentic than I do.
That is the gift of Peters, a vocal chameleon in a divided world (he hung out with a United Nations of nationalities in high school including more than a few Jamaicans), and a comic with an uncanny ear for dialect and culture whose pointed observations on race show we have far more in common than we think.
Peters started his standup career at the age of 19 in Toronto. He is the first comedian to produce and star in his own Netflix special, Notorious in 2013. Forbes listed him as the ninth highest paid comedian in the world with earnings from standup of $9 million (U.S.) in 2016.
While in the middle of filming The Indian Detective, Peters planned a detour to Ottawa to co-host Sunday’s Juno Awards with rocker Bryan Adams.
The two were chosen to replace singer Michael Bublé, who stepped down after his 3-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer.
Here’s an edited version of Peters’ conversation with the Star.
You’ve been offered a bunch of television roles before, but why The Indian Detective?
You would think everybody and their mother offered me a series, but it never really went down that way. They pitched this to me five years ago. It came in so many different incarnations. I basically said when you finally get it together I’ll do the show. And it got better and better and here we are two months into shooting. After Cape Town we go to Bombay for more shooting, then I’m flying into Ottawa for the Junos.
It’s by Frank Spotnitz, who is known for perhaps more macabre genre shows such as X-Files and The Man in the High Castle. Is this X-Files meets Inspector Clouseau?
I don’t know about X-Files. That show deals with supernatural s---. No, we don’t deal with that supernatural s--- here. But it’s got the Frank Spotnitz smarts to it. It just doesn’t have the X-Files wackiness to it.
You’re co-hosting the Junos with Bryan Adams. Did you listen to him growing up?
I got excited when I heard it was Bryan Adams. Because I don’t know how you can grow up in Canada and not have heard a Bryan Adams song in your entire life. When I was a kid, Bryan was everywhere. And when you do your research you look at how many songs he wrote for other people in addition to his huge hits and it makes you respect the man even more.
The other thing is I’m excited to see the chemistry between Bryan and myself. We’ve met before and he said he was a big fan. And I’m a big fan. It’s one of those things you’re not trying to one-up each other.
The nominee list over the years has grown incredibly diverse. Who would have thought, for example, that suburbs like Scarborough would provide inspiration for music powerhouses such as Drake and The Weeknd, who are both up for awards?
Growing up, the music we had was very white-oriented. It was Rush, it was Trooper, it was Glass Tiger. But then other people started to say, ‘Hey we can make music too,’ and thank God they did!
This isn’t your first Juno rodeo. You’ve done this twice before and won a Gemini for the job. What’s different this time?
Last time I hosted I was in my 30s. Now I’m on the other side of 45. It’s going to be maybe a bit more mature, but still going to be me. The co-hosting is also different. It’s not one of those things where you’re reluctantly sharing the reins. This time I’m genuinely excited about it. This is not one of those interviews where you have to say you’re excited about it. I am excited about it!
Michael Bublé couldn’t make it this year as the host. He’s taking some time off to spend with his family. Now you’re carrying the torch for him.
Michael is one of my very good friends and he’s got so much going on. But we talk every couple months. I just want to make sure he’s OK.
Awards season so far has been all about stars getting political. You also live in Los Angeles, so you’re now practically American. Can we expect you to stir the pot?
You can’t be in Ottawa hosting the Junos on Canada’s 150th birthday and ignore the big-horned elephant in the room, which of course would be Trump. I’m sure we’ll get there at some point, but it won’t be the end all and be all of what we’re talking about.
Given the political climate, are you going to be inviting your swanky Beverly Hills friends for refuge in, say, sunny Brampton?
Well, I don’t live there anymore, but they will have a room in the house in Etobicoke if they need one. Come on down!
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