Sweet Success

Sugar sammy takes his comedy from the stage to the small screen

By Jason Santerre

You’ve probably never heard of Samir Khullar. But if you’re a native Montrealer born in the 1970s, you have plenty in common with Mr. Khullar. For one, you remember the last two Stanley Cup wins in 1986 and 1993. You also remember that extraordinary Expos team in 1994. You’ll never forget the Referendum of 1995. And you both have your share of jokes about mayoral corruption, wild-eyed motorists and crater-sized potholes.

The biggest difference between you and Mr. Khullar is that when you make a joke, you don’t get paid for it, nor do you have thousands in stitches. As a matter of fact, Samir Khullar would go on to break box office records with a comedy routine entitled You’re Gonna Rire. Of course you know Samir. But you can call him Sammy — Sugar, if you’re sweet.

These days, Sammy’s routine is about as Montreal as you can get. Delivered in a “Franglais” most of us can understand if not totally appreciate, it tackles topics Montrealers love to loathe and loathe to love. Ticket sales continue to break records, so no wonder Sugar Sammy is being dubbed Canada’s comedic rock star.

But there must be more to his success than being bilingual and a sharp dresser with a sharp tongue. “I grew up in Côte-des-Neiges,” he says. “I went to the most multicultural high school in Quebec. I spoke four languages. All of that plays a part in my connection with my audience.” When fans approach him after a show, they often ask about his Indian roots and his routine's multicultural themes. “A Haitian dude or a Lebanese guy will say, ‘Hey, man. How did you know about this thing or that?’ It’s because, growing up, some of my best friends came from those countries. I just picked up on their way of speaking, their idiosyncrasies. In a way, Montreal forces you to learn about different cultures.”

So is Montreal his muse? “So much about the city inspires me,” he says. “These days, the material writes itself—it’s like copy and paste. After the referendum in ’95, bridges were built between the two solitudes. It was great, but then the Charter sort of killed that. People started retreating in their own corner again. And then everyone started pointing fingers, and for first time ever, someone said to me, you’re not a real Quebecer. That hurt.”

Despite past tensions, Sammy says he wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. “I love my family and my city so Montreal will always be home for me. Besides, all of the politics might be a pain for most people,” he says, “but for the comedian in me, it makes for material I love.”

Speaking of love, and because this is Montréal enSanté’s “Love Issue”, we wanted to know if Sammy’s show would make for a good first date. “Yeah it would,” he says. “It would ease any nerves, and it would give you something to talk about after the show when your date’s in a great mood. It’s like I’ve done all of the foreplay for you.”

Wow. That’s sweet. And smooth. It’s like Sammy flirted with our date but we don’t even mind. But Sammy is more than a smooth operator who’s quick with a quip. He’s now an actor, too, starring in 10 episodes of Ces gars-la, a comedy series he co-created.

“It’s a buddy comedy,” says Sammy. “It portrays two very different Quebecers—a Francophone and an ethnic Anglophone, and since Simon and I are real-life friends, we wanted to base the show on issues we face in our real lives.” Simon is Simon Fecteau, one-third of Quebec comedy trio Les Chick’n Swell. Fecteau plays the straight-laced foil to Sammy’s untamed Lothario in the show. The premise? Two 30-something guys with few responsibilities and lots of time for fun and flirting with Montreal as their backdrop.

When asked about a possible progression toward that coveted Hollywood sit-com, Sammy says he’s in no hurry to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Canadian comics. For now, he’ll bask in the glow of Montreal’s spotlight.

As for the proven success of his Canadian comic contemporaries south of the border, Sammy has a theory: “Canadian comics are successful in the U.S. because our brand of comedy travels well,” he says. “We’re influenced by American pop culture and British comedy, so I think it makes us more neutral. We’re like the Switzerland of comedy.”

* Catch Sugar Sammy & Simon Fecteau in Ces gars-la, every Monday at 8 p.m. on channel V. And tickets for Sammy’s stand-up show at the Olympia Theatre are available via his website at www.sugarsammy.com

Spring 2014, Vol 6 N°2

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