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Sugar Sammy cooks up controversy with political spice

Sugar Sammy warms up the comedy scene this winter. (Photo: Susan Moss)

A controversial post on Sugar Sammy’s Facebook wall didn’t just go viral, he says: “It went loco.” (Photos: Susan Moss)

Joking about politics can be a risky thing, as Montreal comic sensation Sugar Sammy recently discovered.

Sammy—the stage name for Côte des Neiges-born Samir Khullar—caused a sensation when he posted side-by-side photos of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on his Facebook page.

He asked, “Who would you choose as your leader, Marois or Ford?”

His answer: “I actually trust the crackhead.”

Not everyone found it funny—he was even threatened by some who felt he had gone overboard in the comparison.

The post was meant to publicize 13 one-man shows he will be performing in Montreal, Brossard and Quebec this month—nine in French that run till December 13, and four in English and French December 18-21 at l’Olympia de Montréal. It’s called You’re Gonna Rire.

But “instead of going viral, it went loco.”

He was accused of Quebec bashing, of pandering to anglo prejudice and ultimately felt compelled to remove it from his Facebook page.

In today’s highly competitive stand-up scene, this kind of free publicity probably has more upside than downside, but it can be tricky.

“I’ve always made jokes that push buttons—that’s my job as a comedian. I see things around me and I have to make fun of it,” Sammy told reporters as the furor raged.

Within two days of removing the item, as he predicted, it did disappear as an issue.

Other cracks that he’s made at the expense of true believers in Quebec independence are often cited as examples of his edge.

The Parti Québécois youth wing feels hurt by two Sammy quips. One says, “There are two sorts of Québécois: those who are educated, cultivated, and well brought up, and those who voted Yes.”

Some nationalists chastised him for telling a live, televised audience at the Gala des Oliviers award show about his success with higher profile U.S. media, sneering: “It’s cute, your little gala.”

Marois came on and shot back: “When are you going to stop living with your parents?”

In fact, Sammy is so successful that he has moved out of his parents’ home—they live in Hampstead now—and owns his own place in Old Montreal. He says he resists attempts by his parents to arrange a marriage for him.

In spite of his success, Sammy dresses casually and is free of pretense. In many ways he reflects his upbringing in multi-ethnic and largely working-class Côte des Neiges, on St. Kevin between Legaré and Lavoie, when he helped out at his father’s dépanneur in Décarie Square. He had a happy childhood.

“That’s where I learned how to be good to people. He personalized everything with his clients, and to me that was important. That’s part of my thinking and my way of being.”

He got the name Sugar Sammy because he organized parties while at McGill, invited lots of young women and charged men to attend, showing his entrepreneurial side. It was also a way for him to get ahead with women.

Photo by Susan Moss

Photo by Susan Moss

“People like hanging out with people who are light and fun.”

The fact that he went to school in French, and learned English, Punjabi and Hindi at home and in the neighbourhood, has enabled him to perform in four languages, and attract crowds in Europe, Asia and South Africa, where he is appreciated by the East Indian diaspora.

Is Montreal ready to laugh at the Quebec’s government proposed Charter of Quebec Values?

“I’ve been laughing at it. I’ve been laughing at the people putting it together. You’ve got to be able to laugh at it because it’s so ridiculous in so many ways.

“The fact (head coverings) aren’t allowed, and the mullet, or coupe Longueuil—a 1980s haircut short at the front and sides, but long at the back—is still legal in this province, where is justice?”

His En Français SVP shows are in French, but the content is similar.

“There is a little more international content in the bilingual show.”

His stage presence is friendly. He smiles broadly, chuckles along with himself to ease the edge, and does his best to maintain a light side even as he hits home with some sharp-edged material, which he writes himself.

Sammy has performed at hundreds of shows in about 30 countries, but his biggest following is right here in Quebec.

Religion can be a very touchy issue, but even in Egypt and India Sammy says he can and does poke fun.

“If you come to a comedy show, you’ve got to expect people to push boundaries.”

His models are African American comedians Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Chris Chappelle.

“They come from a marginal place in society and they talk about the difficulties. Even if they don’t talk about it, it’s in the air when they’re speaking. They have that struggle to push.”

A second group of shows include two titled Illegal English (January 30, February 21), three bilingual You’re Gonna Rire (February 1, 7, 8), and five En Français SVP (February 21, 22, 24, 25, 26).

Tickets, $38 to $58, may be purchased via admission.com or by calling l’Olympia de Montréal, 1004 Ste. Catherine E. 514-845-3524.

irblock@hotmail.com

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