Russell Peters is a highly successful Canadian-born comedian, now living in L.A. and Las Vegas, whose shtick is to ask immigrants in the audience where they are from and then make fun of their accents (video on Indian accents) and customs (video on why whites should beat their children so the white kids don't feel left out when talking to their nonwhite friends). He loves ethnic stereotypes and is clearly a student of them. Judging from the video I saw of his show in London, nonwhites turn out in huge numbers for him. (Forbes said he made $15 million in 2010, mostly from ticket sales.)
Peters begins the one special of his I've seen talking about how Indian he is, about how he's not white, about how brown he is, presumably to reassure the audience that what is to follow is okay to laugh at. Yet, he certainly doesn't sound Indian. (He sounds like, I dunno, Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield in Caddy Shack.) But he apparently hadn't been out in the L.A. sun much before the show I saw (in contrast to the video clips above where he is well-tanned). I was struck by how, when not tanned, he's not terribly Indian looking. He looks like he's from somewhere in between India and England. So, I guessed he must be a Parsi, the Persian ethnicity of Bombay.
But, on RussellPeters.com's FAQ:
Is Russell Peters your real name?
Yes it is. My family and I are Anglo-Indian. Anglo-Indians are a community of Indians, from India who were mixed with the British when they occupied India. Both of my parents are Anglo-Indian and both of their parents were Anglo-Indians and so on. Anglo-Indians traditionally always married Anglo-Indians.
Anglo-Indians are Christian (I'm Catholic, as is my mom and my brother, my dad was Anglican), which also goes back generations. The first language for Anglo-Indians is English and our communities could primarily be found in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.
This is the question that I get asked the most often and I'm always amazed as to how many Indians, especially the younger ones, don't have a clue about our history. Go ahead and GOOGLE 'Anglo-Indian' and check yourself!
Good advice. The Wikipedia article on Anglo-Indians is pretty interesting:
The first use of the term [Anglo-Indian] was to describe all British people living in India [e.g., Kipling]. This is the definition contained in the Indian Constitution. However in popular usage the term changed to describe Anglo-Indians as people who were of mixed blood descending from the British on the male side and women from the Indian side. People of mixed British and Indian descent were previously referred to as 'Eurasians' but are now more commonly referred to as 'Anglo-Indians'.
During the British East India Company's rule in India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was initially fairly common for British officers and soldiers to take local Indian wives and have Eurasian children, due to a lack of British women in India at the time. By the mid-19th century, there were around 40,000 British soldiers, but less than 2,000 British officials present in India. As British females began arriving in British India in large numbers around the early to mid-19th century, mostly as family members of British officers and soldiers, intermarriage became increasingly uncommon among the British in India and was later despised after the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, after which several anti-miscegenation laws were implemented. As a result, Eurasians were neglected by both the British and Indian populations in India.
Over generations, Anglo-Indians intermarried with other Anglo-Indians to form a community that developed a culture of its own. Anglo-Indian cuisine, dress, speech and religion all served to further segregate Anglo-Indians from the native population. They established a school system focused on the English language and culture and formed social clubs and associations to run functions like their regular dances on occasions like Christmas and Easter.
... A number of factors fostered a strong sense of community among Anglo-Indians. Their English language school system, their Anglo-centric culture, and their Christian beliefs in particular helped bind them together. ...
During the independence movement, many Anglo-Indians identified (or were assumed to identify) with British rule, and, therefore, incurred the distrust and hostility of Indian nationalists. Their position at independence was difficult. They felt a loyalty to a British "home" that most had never seen and where they would gain little social acceptance. (Bhowani Junction touches on the identity crisis faced by the Anglo-Indian community during the independence struggle.) They felt insecure in an India that put a premium on participation in the independence movement as a prerequisite for important government positions.
Most Anglo-Indians left the country in 1947, hoping to make a new life in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations, such as Australia or Canada. The exodus continued through the 1950s and 1960s and by the late 1990s most had left with many of the remaining Anglo-Indians still aspiring to leave.
Like the Parsi community, the Anglo-Indians are essentially urban dwellers. Unlike the Parsis, the mass migrations saw more of the better educated and financially secure Anglo-Indians depart for other Commonwealth nations.
Peters caused a stir while visiting India by saying:
“I hate Bollywood. The films are all garbage, just terrible. It’s my opinion — obviously there are billions who love them. I have never seen a Bollywood film in my life. I have refused to do them earlier and will do so in future,” Peters claimed at a press conference.
As per few media reports, Peters allegedly also cracked some jokes about Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan’s mediocre acting skills and even joked about her pregnancy. According to sources, he however retracted his statements on Bachchan later. Whatever the case be, Peters is nonchalant about the angst he seems to have evoked amongst Bollywood fans.
This was not popular with self-appointed offense-takers in India:
The political wings of India also condemned Russell’s alleged statements on Bachchan’s pregnancy. Shalini Thackeray, cine-worker’s union president of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) commented, “Bollywood is a vast industry, which churns out more films than anyone else in the world and Peters has no right to talk ugly or disgrace our industry or its actors. His comment on Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan is indeed in a bad taste, but I think his irrelevant comment should not deter or affect an actor of her calibre.”
A leader from Shiv Sena, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Who is this Russell Peters and why should we entertain him? I think he should be banned in the country if he doesn’t respect our traditions and films.”
Peters was unimpressed:
Standing by his opinion, Peters tweeted, “There is no reason for me to like everything you like, my opinions are just that — my opinions. There are plenty of things I love that you won’t! The fact that my words have upset some of you so much only makes me victorious!”