“Identity comedy is universal. I may be talking about my Indian parents, but I know that my ‘Indian’ parents are the same as everyone’s parents in some way — Greek, Italian, Arab, Chinese,” Peters said. “That’s what my audience is responding to. I’m also exploring race and culture, and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that.”
In “The Indian Detective,” Peters stars as Toronto Police constable Doug D’Mello, a man desperate to prove his salt and be promoted to detective, but instead winds up suspended following a bust gone wrong. Through a guilty ploy by his father (Anupam Kher), he heads to Mumbai during his repose where a pretty girl (Mishqah Parthiephal) leads him to stumble onto a related case.
In India, D’Mello is referred to as “The Canadian,” doesn’t entirely fit in with the local culture and proves to be just as much of a screw up as at home.
“On the surface, D’Mello seems like he should fit in when he goes back to India, but he quickly finds out that even though he’s ethnically Indian, he’s culturally Canadian,” Peters said. “He’s a fish-out-of-water [type] coming to terms with his own mixed feelings about India and his relationship with his father.”
Those universal themes of figuring out your own identity and place in the world are what have made the 47-year-old Ontario native one of the most successful comedians in standup. Peters carefully crafted a name for himself in the North by squirreling up laughs about his Canadian-Indo heritage at comedy clubs around the world, eventually selling out arenas like Madison Square Garden and The Sydney Opera House. He’s also made bit appearances in film (“The Jungle Book,” “Fifty Shades of Black”) and TV (“Life in Pieces,” “Family Guy”), and was also named one of the best standup comics of all time by Rolling Stone.
Now, Peters may now experience his biggest mainstream exposure yet in the U.S. with “The Indian Detective,” which also stars William Shatner, Christina Cole, and Scott Cavalheiro.
Tonally, the series isn’t the typical half-hour sitcom that stand-up comedians usually make while moving to the small screen. Peters was adamant about avoiding set-ups and punch lines, which was partially why this series simmered for in development for five years. It wasn’t until Frank Spotnitz, a dramatic writer with experience on projects like “The X-Files” and “The Man in the High Castle,” came on board that things finally got rolling.
“Frank had asked me what kind of jokes I should write and I said, ‘Frank, don’t write any jokes. It’s not your forte at all. You write the best story you can write and I’ll add some of the comedy as I see fit,’” Peters said. “It’s not so much about the joke on the page, it’s more about the tone that comes out of your mouth. I really stressed on not writing jokes, just writing the story and then I’d improvise when I needed to. He was cool with that and it worked out really well as far as I’m concerned. You can tell when I’m being me.”
That riffing throughout a more serious script is a model that has worked well for Eddie Murphy over the years and is something Peters specifically hoped to emulate. While he’s quick to note that plenty of stand-ups have transitioned to the screen over the years, Murphy’s career is one he followed in particular and uses as an inspiration here.
“He’s always been an inspiration for me, both on stage and with his acting,” Peters said. “I was trying to go for his tone.”
Spotnitz said Peters and his brother Clayton (who’s also his manager) helped form the show because they knew exactly what kind of tone they wanted.
“They talked a lot about “Beverly Hills Cop” and their love for detective shows from the ‘70s, so that gave my co-writer, Smita Bhide, and me a really clear idea what we were aiming for,” Spotnitz said.
“Writing comedy — even a comedy-drama — is much more difficult than writing drama,” he added. “Drama is much more forgiving – there’s a range of things that will work to varying degrees. But with comedy, tonally you’re walking a very thin line and if you fall off it, you’re dead.”
For the Canadian launch of the series (it bowed in November on national broadcaster CTV) Peters opened up his expansive house just outside of Toronto, where he stays when he isn’t at his full-time L.A. residence. In rooms decked out with a rickshaw photo booth, oversized stuffed giraffes and KISS and Notorious B.I.G. paraphernalia at every turn, he, his mom and brother Clayton chatted up media, the catering staff and famous friends (the cast of “Bat Out of Hell the Musical” and tennis star Milos Raonic were circulated among the crowd), posing for selfies and opening up about some of his own challenges in doing the show.
“With stand-up, I’m in control of the entire situation but with acting, you have to be collaborative and work with people,” he said. “The days are much longer when you’re acting. We were doing 14-hour days, six days a week. With standup I get two days off, we rest. I wake up late in the afternoon, I have breakfast then I go do my show for an hour-and-a-half and then I come back. It’s a much easier life, the standup world. For me, it’s what comes naturally.”
To achieve the show’s expansive look, filming for “The Indian Detective” took place in Canada, Mumbai, and Cape Town. But at its heart “The Indian Detective” is a Canadian series, with plenty of Toronto references and a script that doesn’t shy away from its surroundings. Peters said he wasn’t worried about the jokes translating.
“I don’t really care how it translates for them because they don’t really care how it translates for the rest of the world,” he shrugged. “It’s about time we took control of our situation and let the world know this is who we are. The English don’t change with their shows, so I think it’s time we took a stand and let them know this is how we get down.”
“The Indian Detective” is now streaming on Netflix.