Russell Peters' Comedy Routine

December 15, 2011

I don't know how much of stand-up comedians' material is based on real experiences and how much is just made up, but in this routine Canadian Desi comic Russell Peters claims that he was mistaken for a native when he traveled to Italy. He says a guy approached him on the street and spoke to him in Italian, and then was shocked to find out that he's Indian. Based on this, he invites all "brown people" to go to Italy and be "freaked out" like he was when they're mistaken for Italians. There are several problems with his story that point to it being at least partly untrue, and to him not being very good at interpreting situations.

  • Russell Peters is of Anglo-Indian descent, but he still looks very South Asian. I'm not sure I'd even buy him as West Asian, much less Southern European. His brown skin and quasi-Australoid facial features would make for a very tanned and odd-looking Italian who, if anything, would be viewed with suspicion by locals. But the story works for American audiences because it panders to stereotypes they have about the "darkness" of Italians, and I think Peters is well aware of that.
  • When you're in a foreign country, being spoken to in the official language of that country instead of your own is totally normal and in itself not evidence of anything. What language did Peters expect the Italian guy in Italy to speak? English? Hindi? Unless you're booking a hotel room or strolling around town in khaki shorts taking pictures of the Colosseum, locals would have no reason to speak to you in any language other than Italian, and even then there's no guarantee.
  • South Asians are actually one of the largest immigrant groups in Italy, numbering in the 500,000s (not to mention the ~300,000 Gypsies, who are of Indian descent), so I doubt that any Italian would be shocked to see one, or as unacquainted with their appearance as Peters suggests. It sounds like a scenario made up by someone unfamiliar with Italy's demographics who just assumes that the country is homogenous and has no foreign population, which again plays well with equally clueless American audiences.

Regardless of whether or not that incident really happened the way Peters describes it, any "brown people" following his advice are going to be very disappointed when they're immediately recognized as foreigners in Italy (or possibly mistaken for Gypsies), since only a tiny fraction of South Asians can dream of ever convincingly passing as Italian, and even then only via cosmetic and surgical enhancement.

Here's a little test that should be nearly impossible if Peters is to be believed. Try to spot the South Asian individual in each of these photos of Italians:


Really tough, huh?

36 comments

Anonymous said...

You rock!!!

Anonymous said...

The contrast is phoney.

Many Italians are darker-skinned than these photographs of Italians while there are lighter-skinned Indians than the male you posted.

Anonymous said...

I see from the second comment that stereotypes are hard to die.

Anonymous said...

Watching an old film of an Italy-Spain soccer match the Italian players were much browner than the Spanish.

Anonymous said...

Watching a new film of Bolliwood Indians have much bigger noses.

Anonymous said...

Italians are the swarthiest Europeans.
The only difference between Italians and light Indians is in physiognomy.
The same is true comparing Italians and the less Subsaharan influenced among Moroccans and Tunisians in Italy.

Anonymous said...

Indians have bigger noses than ITALIANS?

Anonymous said...

Brown people trolling around as usual

Anonymous said...

Italians don't like the truth.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9Vr_-DKH9s

Anonymous said...

Italians:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRgtWiTVScQ

Anonymous said...

It's true that except in looks there is not much difference between an Italian, a North African and a light Indian.

Truthseeker said...

Watch Italian sportspeople and most look a bit "off" racially either in skin tone or because of a big nose or Afro hair.

Anonymous said...

bulls***shooter:
Italian team: http://www.youtube.com/user/LouiseHans10?feature=mhee#p/f/13/decrl8EMQUw

Truthseeker said...

North Africans only differ from Italians by being taller and skinnier,often with rather protruding teeth.
Indian/Pakistanis have puffier faces but otherwise the skin tone is closer than say between an Italian and a typical North European.

Barbarian said...

Italians are mostly non-white.

Anonymous said...

Comments from the same troll with different names.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Truthseeker, who wrote this major lie:
"Watch Italian sportspeople and most look a bit "off" racially either in skin tone or because of a big nose or Afro hair."
I WATCHED. DID YOU?
HERE'S THE LINK TO THE ITALIAN SPORTPEOPLE:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZB5_mfuHac

Dixie said...

Italians are pretty brown.
You rarely see one with a ruddy complexion and the women are too sallow and tanned.

Dixie said...

Italians are tanning crazy which is why they look really dusky beside North Europeans and many don't cut or wash their hair.

Dixie said...

Poor Italians.
Nobody really likes them.

They are seen as swarthy,dirty,lazy and crooked or any or all of these.

Barbarian said...

If Italy get kicked out of the EU they could always try the African Union...same colour and level of corruption.

Anonymous said...

@Italianthro
Please do not delete those stupid comments!
1) They are too hilarious!!! You can really see how clueless they are!!! Too funny, please do not delete them!!!
2) Well, they say it all... I mean the average IQ ;-)
Did you read the one about the hair? I could not stop laughing!!! XD

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

<"Watch Italian sportspeople and most look a bit "off" racially either in skin tone or because of a big nose or Afro hair.">

Is it? You'd better learn from here then. After knocking down the Cuban guy, see what the Italian boxer does:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqBHD5V6Ei8

Anonymous said...

Well... after seeing the Italian Roberto Cammarelle knocking down a Cuban boxer, have a look at another Italian -Clemente Russo- knocking down a Russian. Just not to make it too unfair http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElLfRaTjd28&feature=related

It'd be interesting to see a match against an Indian, but I cannot find any.

PS Thank you Italianthro for your space.

Barbarian said...

The Cuban boxer is so dark that even an Italian looks white beside him.

Proud said...

Ignore these anti-Italian trolls.
They don't have a clue.

DagoRed said...

Someone need to meet Mr Freud.

DagoRed said...

Russo and Cammerelle are both napolitans.

Italianthro said...

>>> "The contrast is phoney. Many Italians are darker-skinned than these photographs of Italians while there are lighter-skinned Indians than the male you posted."

The skin tones in the photos are typical of both populations. But that's just part of it. There's very little phenotypic overlap between Southern Europeans and South Asians because the latter all have varying degrees of non-Caucasoid (i.e. Australoid) ancestry.

Average Indian male vs. Average Italian male
Average Indian female vs. Average Italian female

>>> "Indian/Pakistanis have puffier faces but otherwise the skin tone is closer than say between an Italian and a typical North European."

Total nonsense. Untanned Southern Europeans are closer in skin color to Northern Europeans than they are to South Asians (and most North Africans and Middle Easterners too):

http://racialreality.blogspot.com/2006/01/skin-reflectance-of-selected-world.html

Italianthro said...

The troll spam is getting out of hand, so I'm restricting commenting to registered users only. Sorry for the inconvenience.

louise said...

@italianthro
Hi, it's off topic... sorry!!!
I was just wondering whether one day you can write something about red hair! Sorry, it is a little personal!
Basically the place where I live is one of the areas lived by the Celts. I would like to understand if my hair is red because coming from the Celts, although our villages were conquered by the Romans in 25 BC, or because it it something present in any other European tribe, Romans in my case. I know it won't change my life, I'm just curious to find out if genes can date back such a long time... It would be so cool, wouldn't it be?
Ah, sorry, my background: Aosta Valley, Piedmont and Lombardy. Also, I would like to understand why the gingers are prevalently in Naples, if possible.
Sorry for invading your space, but unfortunately I am not into anthropology and you make it sound so enjoyable!
Thank you for your work, I do appreciate it!!!

Onur said...

Only a Gypsy can look like Russell Peters in Turkey.

TheReal Aryans said...

What type of racist trolling was that.There are people in Siceles who can pass for North Indians and their are light skinned Indians who can pass for Italians.I know on an average Indians don't look Italians but there are exceptions in a population of 1.2 billion.I know North Italian looks like Nordics but South Italians are darker.Get over it albino like skin complexion doesn't make u superior. Asia rule is just about to come ,so u should wish to look more like Asians.

Italianthro said...

^ Northern Italians don't look Nordic, and Southern Italians are only slightly darker. But neither can pass for South Asian unless they're overly tanned.

And Russell Peters is the one who's trolling because he looks like an average Indian, not one of the "light-skinned" "exceptions" you're talking about.