Russell Peters: One freedom Americans don’t have

Comedian Russell Peters was interviewed yesterday on The Current, a news show on Russell Peters.jpgCBC Radio (the NPR of Canada) hosted by Anna Maria Tremonti. He had some interesting thoughts on freedom of speech in America — or the lack of it.

AMT: “So you’re living in the States now … Can you feel free to speak the same way you speak other places?”

RP: “No, in the States, you’ve really got to watch what you say. In Canada too, but not as much. But in the States, you really do. You’ve got to think about what you say before you say it. I don’t know where they get off saying that America has this freedom of speech thing. That’s the one freedom they don’t have … is freedom of speech. Nobody says what they want to say. And when people do, they get labeled as crazy or out of their mind or whatever or renegades … They don’t respect you if you actually say what’s on your mind.”

AMT: “So do you feel that way about Canada too, like do you see a difference in North America versus other parts of the world in terms of feeling free to say what you think?”

RP: “North America is very sheltered. This whole weird political correctness thing that they’ve started is the worst thing that’s ever been invented in my lifetime. It’s ruined everything. … I love talking to old people because they say exactly what they see. There’s nothing wrong or racist or undertoned about it. It is what it is. My dad used to call my black friends Negroes. He didn’t mean anything by it. He was old. He grew up at a time when black people were Negroes. ‘Who’s here, Dad?’ ‘Oh, one of your Negro friends is here.’ He wasn’t saying it for shock value, he wasn’t trying to be political incorrect, it was just what they saw. People get offended with what they see nowadays.”

AMT: “And do you find that that isn’t the case, say, in Europe or the Middle East …”

RP: “Yeah, the rest of the world says what they see and says how they feel. And America takes offense to the rest of the world now, if you noticed. They’re trying to police the world, which is the wrong way about going. It’s not how you be a country, trying to be the world police.”

AMT: “Is that something you talk about on stage?”

RP: “No, can’t do that there. It’s anti-American.”

(Listen to the entire interview here, along with some of his hilarious comedy bits.)

29 thoughts on “Russell Peters: One freedom Americans don’t have

  1. The more I think about it…..Russell Peters is right. In the US today…..you say what you think people want to hear. Not what you really wanna say.

  2. It interesting to see the divide, in Canada you have federal sanction of speech police (see: Ezra Levant, shock jocks, etc.) Here the market will generally decide whether you get to say what you want, unless it’s in a high-school or university (SM posted a long time ago about the desi student at GW in D.C. (i think?) who called somebody a ‘fag’ and got kicked out) or occasionally in the capacity of a state or federal employee.

    It’s certainly nice hearing a POC (har har) recognizing the stifling effect of policing speech but I think he’s giving Canada too much credit–I don’t think an outfit like the westboro baptist church could operate with relative impunity there as they do here in the states.

    Didn’t Russel intentionally increase the amount of deaf jokes in his act after getting criticized for having them there in the first place? I thought that was distinctly un-Canadian.

  3. A Canadian is saying that Americans are too politically correct??? And Middle East is not politically correct. OfCourse Middle east is not politically correct because they are just flat out racists. Ask any Desi brother working a blue collar job there.

    • Yah, RP screwed the pooch with these comments about comparative PC-ness of different regions. It’s painfully obvious he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He should just stick to the silly accents, not social commentary.

  4. Find it very disturbing that a fairly prominent POC thinks he’s being stifled by “political correctness” in almost the same way privileged twats do i.e “Don’t force me to watch or worse think about what I say because someone somewhere doesn’t like it! (Tantrum… Waah!!) I don’t care that this is about simply being correct.” This twisted phrase “politically correct” simply stonewalls any further discussion about what we say being connecting to how and what we “think” as individuals which is of course inextricably tied to systemic marginalization and social structures that weren’t designed with equity in mind. The right appropriated the term “politically correct” in the late 80s – 90s turning a phrase that was intended to convey an attitude if inclusiveness and awareness of the experiences of marginalized groups into a pejorative that is supposed to now imply that artistic freedom or freedom of speech is being restrained. Oddly enough RP’s freedom of speech is NOT being restrained by LAW. He’s free to yammer on as long as he remembers that those with the sense to understand that artistic freedom doesn’t exist in a little bubble by itself are exercising their freedom of speech and saying Boo! or Poo! RP’s last HBO special (was it titled Red Blue and Brown?) had too many gag worthy, fail moments to even count. I was heartbroken!

    Also wondering why his dad couldn’t just say your friend is here if he couldn’t name the friend. Don’t recall my folks ever telling me, your Muslim friend is here or your Telugu friend is here or your Anglo Indian friend is here. So he’s right, his dad’s choice of words reveals the social context of the time and also how it shaped his view of the world and the need to classify people in a context where the classification doesn’t serve any apparent purpose. Somebody ought to also explain to RP that talking about race, mentioning someone’s race or identifying someone by race isn’t racist in and of itself. Context, context, context. (Face palm!) Well maybe he’ll start to get it eventually. He used to be funny way back when.

  5. Oh come on, give me a break. “If you say what is on your mind, they don’t really respect you?”

    Russell, I think that means you are a moron, not that there is no freedom of speech. I have said this several times before—Russell has exactly one trick up his sleeve—collecting racist statements and parading them as jokes. Zilch otherwise, so the poor idiot is running out of material. Boo hoo.

    Leaving aside this nut, I am surprised this is even an issue. Freedom of speech does not mean people have to listen to and respect every crackpot on the street. Respect comes from the content in speech—and yeah, that means if you want respect, you speak sanely without being racist.

  6. …..sad fact is that Russel Peter has run out of material & not finding much success in the US. I saw him couple of months ago in Florida & he spent most of his time picking on the crowd. Stand-up has always been ruled by controversial pioneers such as Richard Pyor, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks & George Carlin.

    RP is funny, but not intelligent or daring enough to get to next level……..see I said what’s on my mind, he should appreciate that ;-)

  7. Now I’m confused. All these years I thought that Russell Peters was a Negro pretending to be an Indian just like Andrew Dice Clay was Jewish but pretended to be Italian for comic effect. The Dice Man invented The Jersey Shore (the TV show, not the geographical area) but nobody gives him the credit (or the blame).

  8. You can say whatever you like as long as you don’t question Israeli policy, don’t ask why radical Islamists single us out as their nemesis, refrain from suggesting that some people don’t even have boots–much less bootstraps to lift themselves up by, or imply that “The Market” seriously undervalues intangibles like love, dignity, and community.

  9. Harbeer…. I think you will labeled an anti-Semite just for what you said ! Beware :)

  10. I would argue that America is better off for recognizing its horrible past with racism and making a big effort to respect all people, in public at least.

    Has Russel ever been to a soccer game in Europe? Where black players have bananas thrown at them by the crowd? Is this the openness he wishes to see here? The whole “My grandpa is awesome because he told it like it is” argument is so lame because your grandpa didnt tell it like it is, rather he told it how he wishes it was.

    I also kind of have a problem with an Indian trying to tell black people, how they should react to his jokes about black people. He was never a citizen of the Jim Crow south, but a whole lot of black people in this country were and when they tell there story of how they were treated(not so long ago) it makes you sick, but Indian ass Russel thinks they should be over it so I guess they should.

  11. Russel Peters is awesome, and I agree with him in theory: not everyone is created equal. There was a study done in the UK not too long ago which found that Black women, on average, are not considered as attractive as their say, white counterparts. The study was done by a mainstream university researcher and received an immediate PC backlash.

    The thing with the USA, however, is that people are still sensitive to the fact that slavery was practiced here, once upon a time. And then, following slavery, there was a period of discrimination. This is where the whole PC mentality comes in. It’s stupid, yes, and its counterproductive.

  12. Russel is saying that not all people are created equal; this is actually an underlying theme of his “jokes”, but there is an element of truth to it as well. The PC view is that equal always has to do with “better”, but that’s not necessarily the case. Equal can be related to perception as well. The PC crowd wants us to believe that every group of people is capable of the same exact thing, and that government intervention, as opposed to evolution is the great equalizer, but nothing could further from the truth.

  13. I agree with Russell. Things have gone far too PC in the US. One example of excessive PC is the whole flap over Outsourced. Completely unnecessary. Russell is basically saying that it is not what you say that matters but the spirit in which you say it. Thats why people of all races come to see him even as he pokes fun at them. They can see that he is laughing with them and not at them. People are different – Vive La Difference.

  14. I am surprised this is even an issue. Freedom of speech does not mean people have to listen to and respect every crackpot on the street.

    Verily, nor does it apply to individual sanctioning of someone else’s speech. It’s about laws being made specifically to curtail free speech (which incidentally does not cover defamation). I suppose it may mean something else in Canada, but I wouldn’t know about that.

    I guess he doesn’t like think-skinnedness…is that what he’s getting at? Too bad, if so. The whole world’s favorite hobby at present is being offended, at issues or people who are easily offended themselves.

  15. Freedom of speech means that you have the right to speak what you want, and other people have the right to criticize you for it. Freedom of speech goes both ways. Freedom of speech doesn’t protect you from the consequences of your words. Right to free speech is what it says it is; the right to be able to speak publicly; and nothing more.

  16. John Pilger writes about a group of Soviet journalists who visited the US to interact with their counterparts. Summing up their impressions of the press the Soviets remarked how bland and uniform the US press seemed, with almost every outlet parroting the same line on every issue. Back in the USSR, they had to imprison and torture reporters to bend their while, while in the US it took nothing at all.

    Russell’s got a point, even if he overdoes it.

  17. I don’t think the current is like NPR at all. I am a Canadian and I think CBC sucks to be honest most of the programming is geared towards an older audience. It seems CBC forgets there is a population of Canadians under the age of thirty five. I agree with Russell that the Untied States is more conservative but I wonder if Russell is really looking at the deeper issue of power relations. Yes, Russell’s father may call black people negroes BUT if a white person said that I am sure some blacks would be offended. I think it relates to power. Russell also gets away with making racial jokes because he is a man of colour. I mean look at Chris Rock he makes some racist jokes about white folks and nobody says anything. However, Sarah Silverman makes jokes about people of colour and people suddenly get very upset about it.

  18. I also want to add I don’t think Russell Peters has a right to tell black people whether we should accept the term negro or not. The word negro isn’t as offensive as the other N word but it is still a word from an anterior time. Would Russell Peters like it if black people told South Asians to accept terms they find offensive? Just because Russell Peters is a man of colour he doesn’t get a pass for his racism.

  19. Bill Maher could have said what he said on Canadian network television and would not have lost his show. Canadians generally have a higher tolerance for self-criticism (though much lower tolerance for criticism from outside), a higher tolerance for criticism of institutions, etc. We still have a royal family, so we’re generally deferential (or apathetic) towards them and highly critical of politicians of all stripes in a way that Americans aren’t generally. I remember that the general reaction I saw when a terrorist plot was revealed a few years ago to behead the Prime Minister, many Canadians sort of found it funny and were somewhat sympathetic to the terrorists’ intentions…

    That said, Canadians focus very much culturally on ‘niceness’. There are certain things you should or should not say. Form is very important, things like always saying good bye before you hang up, lots of little social rules like that where- generally speaking- Americans are less likely to stand on ceremony. There is some truth to what RP is saying but it’s more complex than that, of course.

  20. Yeah…the problem is when your friend’s grandfather answers, “One of your nigger friends is here. You know, the one with the huge ass.”

  21. “Russell is basically saying that it is not what you say that matters but the spirit in which you say it.”

    Very well said. You can tell from the context, that Russel Peter’s father meant no offense whatsoever, when he used the term “Negro”. It’s just the word that popped up in his mind, naturally and harmlessly. Whereas a White person using that term often does so in a spirit of contempt, arrogance or condescension. As someone remarked, there are deep issues of history and power at play here. An Indian using the word simply doesn’t have the hard edge or nastiness, that a White individual could have.

    Not going far off topic, I have noticed that Indo-Americans are more confident, self-assured, happy and serene, than Indo-Canadians. In Canada, Indians are part of the cold, staid, sluggish, and historically unfriendly, Canadian environment. This generally causes them to either be shy and withdrawn, or alternatively, to act up, and look obnoxious. Because of this unpleasant Canadian social environment, ethnic Indians are often sullen, resentful and judgemental toward other Indians. Whereas Indians in the US tend to blend in pretty well with the larger community, and while interacting with other Indians, are friendly, polite and warm. I had a direct experience of this recently while visiting Milwaukee, for the US Open table tennis championships. And on my other trips to the US. There are of course, going to be exceptions to the pattern of behaviour in both countries.But the general rule holds.

    Well, there’s a plug for the US, at least on that particular issue!