BANFF, Alta. – Russell Peters isn’t modest when it comes to how much he makes for a living.
When he was being honoured at the Banff World Media Festival this week, he was introduced by Elaine (Lainey) Lui, co-host of “The Social,” as the Canadian comedian who made $20 million last year.
“Twenty-five,” corrected Peters.
The 45-year-old has come a long way from Brampton, Ont., where he grew up, to Malibu, Calif., where he’s lived the past decade.
“It’s the same,” he jokes.
“You stand in my backyard and you’re looking at the Pacific Ocean and there are palm trees everywhere. I look at my friends and go, ‘It’s just like Brampton.'”
Peters is known for his fearless and hilarious takes on his Indian heritage, as well as his comedic dissection of other world cultures and languages. Despite a decade as a Forbes list top money-maker, he’s still lesser known in the U.S. As his comedy pal Chris Rock puts it, in America, Peters is “the most famous person you’ve never heard of.”
Peters doesn’t think a lack of diversity has kept him off American television. The problem is, as he puts it: “I’m too real.”
He told the Banff audience that he was once in a meeting with several U.S. network broadcast executives.
“I won’t say it was NBC,” he said. One executive came late to the meeting, excusing herself by saying she was just “catching up on who you are.”
This didn’t sit well with Peters, who ended the meeting by pointing to all the posters on the walls of the office featuring that year’s crop of NBC rookies and telling the execs exactly why each and every one of them would flop.
His agent almost had a heart attack.
“I rub the industry the wrong way,” he says. “I can’t bite my tongue.”
Network TV can be forgiving, however, especially to comedians who sell out arenas throughout Asia and Europe. Two years later, NBC asked Peters to be a judge on “Last Comic Standing.”
Peters says he’s never been afraid to wait his turn. This month, he was introduced as the star of the upcoming CraveTV series “The Indian Detective” (launching in 2017).
In the past, he’s hosted the Junos and taped comedy specials, but turned down a lot of series ideas.
“They never really pitch you who is right for you; they just pitch you who they have, whoever’s available,” he says.
Plus, he adds: “I’m lazy. I like sleep.”
His agent would tell him a network executive really wants to see him for a 10 a.m. meeting.
“Can they really want to see me at 2:30?” he’d ask.
For those reasons — plus the fact Peters didn’t need the money — “The Indian Detective” has been in development for five years.
“We’ve had so many people coming in and out of the project,” says Peters, “that I literally have to ask: ‘Is that person still involved?'”
Peters credits Bell Media’s Randy Lennox as the network executive who finally made it happen. A key was putting Peters together with veteran showrunner Frank Spotnitz.
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His background as a writer/producer on “The X-Files,” as well as the recent Amazon post-war drama “The Man in the High Castle,” seems a bit out there, but Peters says it’s perfect. “The Indian Detective,” he explains, is really a drama with comedy.
“I want it to be a serious show with some very funny moments in it,” he says. “When people try to do a funny cop show, it has to be over-the-top funny. Every beat has to be a joke.”
Peters likes “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” but that’s not what he’s going for.
“I want it to be more of a, ‘You’re not supposed to laugh at this situation’ type show.” Think “Moonlighting,” he suggests.
Production on the first four episodes will begin this fall in Toronto, South Africa and India. The plot has Peters’ character investigating a murder in his parents’ homeland. He’s the only one cast so far.
Why, after waiting so long to do a series, go with CraveTV? Peters has a one-word answer: “Letterkenny.”
“Oh, my God, I love that show,” says Peters, who had screeners of the Sudbury, Ont.-produced small-town sitcom sent down to him in Malibu.
“I love the fact that they aren’t just bumbling idiots. They’re swift-tongued, they’re like real people.”
It’s the same reason he loves the new Vice Media channel Viceland.
“It’s just so real. There’s no fluff pieces. It’s just amazing,” he says.
Being real rules on TV today? Peters wants in.