When talking shop with his “uber successful” friends, Russell Peters often finds himself in a grass-is-greener kind of situation. “They’re like, ‘I wish I had your fame. You got all the money without all the hassle.’ But I’m like, ‘My ego wants the hassle.’” Peters sells out shows all over the world, is currently ranked #9 on Forbes Highest Paid Comedians of 2016 list, but has yet to become a household name. The title of his latest Netflix special, Almost Famous, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to his current level of recognition. But that might change soon. He spent the summer in New Orleans filming the movie Supercon, a heist comedy starring John Malkovich, Maggie Grace, and Mike Epps, and has been popping up in more TV and film roles in the last two years. I caught up with Peters to discuss the itch for new material, his history with Netflix, and the importance of placing fans above the media.
Your latest special Almost Famous is out now. How does it feel to release another creative baby into the world?
It’s back to the drawing board. I’ve got to start working on stuff. I feel the pressure again. But I’m excited that it’s out. I don’t know if people are just being nice, but I’ve only heard good things so far.
Do you have to deal with haters? Do you have people that get at you on Twitter?
Those are trolls. Those aren’t real haters. Those are just douchebags. The minute you say some slick shit to me I block you right away. I don’t need to be harassed by them.
I know you said you were working on a movie all summer. Do you ever take time off from standup?
Yeah, I was off all September. I was supposed to be off until January, but I’ve started getting the itch already, so I’m heading back out to the clubs, hosting, doing spots, trying to figure out new material again. I’ve booked weekends at clubs out here in California just so I can try to work on some material.
You had the first-ever comedy special on Netflix. Do you think that you were a trailblazer in terms of giving people new ways to experience comedy?
I do feel like that. As a matter of fact, when they approached me about it three-and-a-half years ago I was like, “Hell yeah I’ll do it!” I love being the first because no matter who does it after you, or better than you, it doesn’t matter because you were the first one.
Are you looking at other areas in which you can be the first comedian to do something?
Nothing that I can think of off-hand. But I’ve been the first a few times. I’m the first Indian comic. I was the first to play the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I’m the first comic to set the attendance record in Australia. I’ve got a lot of records that I’ve set. That’s very comforting for me. I’m sure somebody will come along and knock them out. Kevin Hart has taken out most of the stuff I’ve done and deservedly so.
You started the Almost Famous tour a couple of years ago and then recorded the special in Toronto earlier this year. You become more and more well-known each year, but do you still feel like you’re just on the cusp of being famous? I get that the title is tongue-in-cheek, but how do you really feel about your level of notoriety?
Uber successful people envy my level of fame. They’re like, “I wish I had your fame. You got all the money without all the hassle.” But I’m like, “My ego wants the hassle.” I’m one of those people who desires to be liked and loved by everybody. I love that feeling. When people come and ask for a picture and an autograph I’m more than willing to do it.
You do well all over the world. Do you feel like the United States is the last major country that hasn’t fully embraced you?
Well, you could look at it that way if you want, or you could look at it as the media hasn’t paid much attention. The people have spoken, you know what I mean? The numbers are there to back that up. Wherever I play it’s sold out. It doesn’t matter if it’s Madison Square Garden or the Irvine Improv. Maybe the media hasn’t caught on, but the people have. The media doesn’t pay me, the people do.
Do you think that the lack of attention from the media represents some type of systemic racism or bias?
I would be hesitant to say that only because I think… the media likes to patronize people. If you look at the people that they get behind they’re always the ones that are a little more ethnic sounding or a little more ethnic looking. That’s not a slight to those people. I’m kind of in the middle. I’ve got a normal name. I can or cannot look Indian. But does it affect my success? No. The only thing it would hurt is my ego and you can’t live your life by your ego. That makes you a fucking idiot.
You’re doing fine.
I’m going to be okay.
I think you’ve mentioned before how it’s been harder for you to get TV and movie parts. But you just shot a movie this summer and you’re about to film something in South Africa.
Yeah, in January. I shoot for three months.
Are you really interested in getting that kind of work or would you rather just be a standup?
Initially I really, really wanted to get the acting work. That was my whole main focus. The funny thing is that it took so long to happen that I started caring a little less about it.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your 27 years of doing standup?
Treat everyone equally and you’re never above bombing, no matter who you are.