Comedy has long been one of this country’s finest national exports—we’ve birthed the likes of SCTV, Kids in the Hall, Jim Carrey, and a good chunk of your fave SNL cast members ever (not to mention Lorne Michaels himself). Nobody knows this better than Russell Peters, who went from toiling in Toronto comedy clubs to becoming the first comedian to sell out the ACC to selling out arenas across the globe and becoming the first comic to get his very own original stand-up special on Netflix. Later this fall, he’ll be heading out on yet another world tour, with stops in over 30 countries.
Right now though, the Brampton-born comic is back in Toronto to promote his new Netflix show. Peters is partnering with comedy legend Carol Burnett for A Little Help with Carol Burnett, where a panel of kids attempt to give helpful advice (or, well, “helpful” “advice”) to celebrity guests and regularpeople. It’s part Kids Say the Darndest Things and part Dr. Phil, and Peters acts as the resident kid wrangler, a job he says having a 7-year-old of his own definitely helped prepare him for.
These days, Canada’s most famous stand-up comic splits his time between Canada and the States, so we asked Peters to weigh in on what each country does better—from poutine to politics (it’s all in the video below!)—and talked to him about what it was like working alongside comedy royalty in Burnett.
TITLE: How’d you get involved with this show? I know this isn’t your first go-around with Netflix.
RUSSELL PETERS: No, Netflix and I have a long-standing relationship. But it was an audition process. All I heard when I got the call from my agent was, “There’s this show with Carol Burnett…” And I just said “Yes!” And they go, “But you don’t know what it is.” It’s Carol Burnett. It doesn’t matter what it is. [Laughs.]
What was more intimidating – working with her or working with all those kids?
They both had heavy intimidation factors. But I think more so working with her because I wanted to leave an impression – a good impression. And the kids, you know, kids are kids. And being a father, I know how to deal with kids. Or at least one. [Laughs.]
Do you think fatherhood helped prepare you for this job?
Oh, fatherhood 100% helped prepare me for this show. I don’t think I would’ve gotten it if I wasn’t a father. Because I probably would’ve approached the kids the wrong way. My job is to keep them engaged and make them want to have fun, and that’s kind of my forte. Because I’m not a good disciplinarian.
Who has less of a filter: you, Carol, or the kids?
Well, I’ve got something to lose, so… [Laughs.] The kids. The kids have less of a filter.
Are you a big binge-watch guy? Do you watch a lot of Netflix when you’re on tour?
I’m not a big binge-watcher. Well, I think I’m not a big binge-watcher, but then I got hooked on… I know it’s not a Netflix show, but it was onNetflix when I watched it, alright? I watched Billions, Season One and Two—on Netflix, internationally—so I guess I am a binge-watcher, because that’s what happened on tour.
Did you ever consider putting your daughter on the show?
I had thought about it, but I brought her to set to watch, and she didn’t seem too interested, so that worked out well for me.
Is she interested in what you do, generally?
Not particularly. She’s 7, so she just wants to play with other little girls and she makes up her own little games that I have to play with her as well. We play “Kitties,” sometimes. Where we’re both cats. And I literally have to get on all fours on the ground and pretend I’m a cat. And then we get into little arguments, because I do things that cats do and she doesn’t recognize them, and then I’m like, “Have you ever seen a cat in your life?!” And she has a cat, which bothers me more. Because I’m like trying to clean myself and she goes, “Daddy, what are you doing?” And I go, “I’m cleaning myself.” And she goes, “No, that’s not what cats do.” And I’m like, “Baby, have you ever seen your cat? Your cat cleans yourself like that!” Sorry, I got a little carried away there…
That’s alright. We can just do the rest of the interview about what cats do, if you want.
[Laughs.] We also play “Bunnies.” These are very basic games. I’m really good at them.
I read that you were the first comic to get a stand-up special on Netflix.
I was. I was the guy to get the first straight-to-Netflix special. That was the Notorious special. And that was in 2013. So there I was, changing the world. [Laughs.]
It’s become such a great repository for stand-up comedy since then. Do you think that helps an aspiring comic, to have all that material at your fingertips?
What do you mean? That the comic can just go take that material? [Laughs.]
Hopefully not. More to see different examples of stage presence, how people interact with the audience. Like how athletes watch game tape.
I think you should get that when you’re in the clubs. Watching comics work out material. That’s really where your time should be spent if you’re a comic. Not watching comedy on TV. You should be watching it live to understand really the essence that maybe the camera can’t pick up
Do you watch other comics’ stand-up specials?
Not really, no. You know, I’m in the comedy clubs all the time. A lot of the guys on Netflix, I know them all, and we’re working together every night, working out our new material. So when they’re saying getting ready to shoot their special, I already saw you do it. I don’t need to see the end product. [Laughs.] I know what you were trying to do, and I know that it’s going to be great.