Home > Critical Thinking, Musings, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > Russell Peters and “Brownface”

Russell Peters and “Brownface”

You might be aware of a rightfully maligned style of comedy known as Blackface.

According to Wikipedia..

Stereotyped blackface characters developed: buffoonish, lazy, superstitious, cowardly, and lascivious characters, who stole, lied pathologically, and mangled the English language. Early blackface minstrels were all male, so cross-dressing white men also played black women who were often portrayed either as unappealingly and grotesquely mannish; in the matronly, mammy mold; or highly sexually provocative. The 1830s American stage, where blackface first rose to prominence featured similarly comic stereotypes of the clever Yankee and the larger-than-life Frontiersman; the late 19th- and early 20th-century American and British stage where it last prospered featured many other, mostly ethnically-based, comic stereotypes: conniving, venal Jews; drunken brawling Irishmen with blarney at the ready; oily Italians; stodgy Germans; and gullible rural rubes.

So when does ethnicity based comedy crossover into “blackface” type material?

My answer is- when it dehumanizes a group rather than simply poke fun at them.

For example a comedian mocking jewish mothers for their obsession with academic success and guilt, does not cross the line as the subjects of his observation are still decent but somewhat flawed human beings. Similarly a comedian opining on the drinking habits of the Irish is not representing them as fundamentally subhuman beings.

Blackface type material is different because it is devoted to portraying the targeted group as subhuman, with no redeeming qualities. Using that criteria, it is my opinion that Russell Peters comedy acts IS “brownface”, though he tries to appear balanced by token offensiveness to other ethnic groups.


  1. robert61
    March 9, 2011 at 1:25 am

    The rejection of blackface has more to do with changing social conventions about who gets to mock whom in public than any qualitative difference allegedly attributed to the mocked group. Drunken micks and kvetchy yentas are somehow more “redeemed” than shambling negroes? If you say so. Further, like most comedy, the blackface minstrel show mixes mockery with affection. I’m on thinner ice here; the only blackface I’ve seen is Al Jolson on YouTube. However, if you don’t on some level feel for the character singing “Swannee”, there seems to be little point to the performance.

    Russell Peters fails the who-whom criterion since he comes by his brown face genetically rather than through stage makeup. I couldn’t see anything obviously more offensive about him than any other ethnic comic. I bailed out after about 1:30 though, since he bored me. Maybe the bad stuff comes later.

  2. almost 40 yoV
    March 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

    I think you´re over-analyzing this a bit.
    Stereotypes are there for a reason, because they ARE true for the most part. Not necessarily in the exaggerated way comedians “expose” them, but nonetheless much more than our pansy PC culture deems appropriate.

    Russell´s own brand is simply based in the fact that he makes fun of what he grew up in. Just like Chapelle, or Mencia(when he wasn´t stealing other stuff).

  3. Ted
    March 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

    No, Peters is not brownface. As the above poster noted, he is more like Dave Chappelle, who goes through some over the top characters. Personally, I thought Chappelle’s stand-up was better than his show. But when Chappelle got tired of doing his routine (or ran out of ideas), he quit. Peters comes across as good-natured, not mean-spirited, which explains why he can sell out to non-Indian audiences in South Africa and the Middle East. Chris Rock described him as the most successful stand-up that no one has heard of.

  4. Meme
    March 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Dissention, why don’t you write a blog titled: What Desi Men Have To Offer Non-Desi Women And Vice Versa……?

    180-240$/hr and they better be good otherwise there will be no repeat business.

  5. Meme
    March 11, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Oh come on. Many Desi men who otherwise would’ve had to opt for arranged marriage are married to nice and nerdy non-Desi women.

    While their Desi parents are relunctant to permit it at first, or even threaten suicide in good ‘ol Desi drama fashion, after the couple pops out a kid that is lighter in skin due to White Mom DNA, all is well.

    You will die old and alone without anyone to love you if you continue down your route, Dissention.

    • March 11, 2011 at 12:02 pm

      “You will die old and alone without anyone to love you if you continue down your route, Dissention.”

      By the way, once a person dies, it won’t matter whether he is alone or not. Dying takes few seconds or minutes. But what if he died young?

  6. Meme
    March 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    While he’s young and his libido is high, he can find value in this way of life. As you grow older and your libido wanes, you don’t have much use for sex and you desire love, care, empathy, companionship, etc. A fact of life.

  7. DoesNotMatter
    March 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    @Meme, Getting married is no guarantee that one will not die alone. Infact there is a high probability you will die alone anyway. As for disention, no one can love him and he can love no one. It is not an emotion he is familiar or comfortable with. He get’s his jollies wishing for ill to befall other people.

    • March 19, 2011 at 5:20 am

      Everyone dies alone.

      • MW
        March 21, 2011 at 9:52 pm

        Thanks for the Fallada reference!

    • Meme
      March 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      So then he can find a compatible woman with the same dystopian views and the 2 of them can hate the world and grow old together.

  8. commie.basher
    April 26, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Or you can become gay and have a good probability of finding another man with the same dystopian views.

    I prefer paying 180-260$/hr for a hot and willing chick.

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