Call Me Russell by Russell Peters with Clayton Peters & Dannis Koromilas
First Published: Oct. 26, 2010
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
When I was growing up, I hung out with mostly black kids, but every now and then, some white kid would come and hang out with us, and we’d be like, “Wow! A white kid! I’ve heard so much about you!”
Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
Reason for Reading: I don’t usually read current celebrity’s (who are in the prime of their careers) memoirs but Russell Peters is a bit different. I think he’s the best Canadian stand-up comic out there; and he is 100% Canadian born and bred but if you’ve never heard of him and notice the book cover there you’ll notice he is also Indian. His humour is based on race and I thought his story would be interesting.
Russell Peters memoir didn’t disappoint my expectations. Some may be expecting a funny book, but this is not an extension of his act. Besides a couple of chapters beginning with a famous routine, the book is a straightforward narrative of Russell’s life experience so far. He has some funny stories to tell here and there, like when he was punk’d by the King of Jordan, but this is not a funny book in the way you might expect from a comic.
The most interesting part of this book is Russell’s childhood, which is the source of a lot of his material. His experience as a first generation Canadian to his immigrant Indian parents is as entertaining as I had expected. Russell even explains his particular cultural background of Catholic Anglo-Indian which he frequently refers to specifically and how it differs from other Indian heritages. He is proud of his race yet identifies as “Canadian”; he also identifies himself as Catholic but shows no signs of practicing. He recounts the racism he met growing up in the Canada of the 70’s and 80’s when the word “Paki” was used frequently as derogatory slang for anyone of brown colour from Indian/Arabian countries. (In fact, the word was so much a part of our culture that I admit to using it myself as a child/teenager, though never directed to a real-life person (as opposed to those on TV) as I lived in a completely white little town, with the only non-whites being the three Saudi Arabian doctors. However, personally I just thought the P- word (which is never used anymore in decent company) was a short form for Pakistani and I would correct anyone if they used it for someone I knew was from a different country, ie. our three doctors. I know, I was naive about those things.) The stories of his Dad who had more of a British accent than the Indian accent he uses in his act and his mom, who was a fair skinned Anglo-Indian who never really dealt with racism. People always thought she was what they were: Italian, Filipino, German, etc. I wish Peters had expanded on this part of his book and perhaps ended the book when he finally got his first big break in the US.
The next part of the book that lists the gigs at clubs and improvs, then theatres and eventually moving up to touring on the road, then making it in the US, touring around the world, making DVDs etc. could be educational I expect for other inspiring Canadian comics. But otherwise was quite boring for me, except for the stories Russell threw in that were funny. As Russell describes his lifestyle as an adult and a stand-up comic he is fairly candid, never going into any details, but still letting us know his lifestyle was the typical male star’s life of free women wherever he looked and he shows no shame or remorse for this part of his life though he does say he is engaged now (in fact married as of the writing of this review) and wants to settle down. I sure hope the girlfriend knew about all that before she read it in the book! There is language in the book, mostly dropping the f-bomb as if it were a common adjective and the sh- word, but this should be expected from anyone who knows his act which also contains adult language but not to the point of vulgarity, imho.
All in all, an interesting story of how a Canadian kid of immigrant background and a visible minority made it big using his race as the basis of his humour and making a connection with all races in the end. As he says in the book (to paraphrase) he has lots of people from different ethnicities coming up to him and saying they totally relate to his immigrant father, *their* dad was just like him, they too had an “Indian dad”. I can relate to this myself, having immigrant parents in the late 60’s, even if they only came from England. It was the mindset of those parents to give their children a better life in Canada (not to Australia: too far away, not to the US: the civil rights violence was going on) and they brought their old-world values with them. I can soooo relate to Peters’ famous “Beat Your Kids” routine which includes the “Somebody’s Gonna Get Hurt Real Bad”. I got quite a few of those “just in case” ones myself and my dad’s words of choice were “someone’s looking for a knuckle sandwich” or “someone’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’”. He added the humour but I knew enough to smarten up! I’m glad to have read the book, but I wish he had stuck to his pre-famous days, expanded on the stories of his childhood and his parents, saving the rest for when he was old & gray and had more to tell.
Warning, this has language! But is hilarious!