Sugar Sammy can come home again. In fact, many wish he hadn’t left home for nearly a year to make a name for himself in France.
Fact is, Sugar Sammy is Montreal’s — and this province’s – master socio-political satirist, one of the very few comic provocateurs who is able to resonate with anglos, francos and allos. Not only would he have had a field day dealing with some of the ill-conceived, surreal silliness that has transpired in his absence, but many also feel that his constant barrage of barbs might have had a shaming impact on our decision-makers. Hello, urban rodeo in Old Montreal!
Between his ongoing gig in France and a coming U.S. club tour, the comic will certainly be making his presence felt here for at least two nights at Just for Laughs when he hosts Sugar Sammy’s International Galas at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts. Originally he had been slated to do only a July 28 gala, but because of anticipated demand, a July 27 gala was announced on Thursday. One of the highlights of last year’s festival was Sugar Sammy’s final performance of his hit bilingual show You’re Gonna Rire, in front of an outdoor crowd of 115,000.
Sugar Sammy (né Samir Khullar) is the first Montreal standup to host an anglo gala at Just for Laughs since Caroline Rhea in 2004. (As for William Shatner and Jay Baruchel — who hosted in 2007 and 2013, respectively — they are actors, not standups.)
Sugar Sammy had heard little about events here while in France. But no sooner had he flown into Montreal this week than he was given a crash course on some of the nonsense associated with our 375th B-day bash, and the usual tales of traffic gridlock, potholes and orange-cone chaos.
“I did hear about that video — since pulled down — promoting cultural diversity in Montreal, but that it didn’t actually feature any culturally diverse Montrealers,” Sugar Sammy cracks. “That’s rich. That almost left me speechless.”
No small feat.
Sugar Sammy pledges to take heed of these developments when hosting his JFL galas, where the focus will also be on showcasing comics from all over the planet. Regardless, he’ll be heading back to France in the fall to play the country’s big comedy rooms, leaving us in the lurch once again.
“It’s crazy, and I didn’t really know that all this was going on here. That video stuff is nuts, particularly since there was an earlier one for the 375 party which was also an all-white approach — and which was also pulled down. You think they would have learned by now.”
“I guess not.”
Say what you will about the local comedy scene, but standups don’t have to do much digging to come up with material — bucketfuls of fodder are falling off our bridges and crumbling Turcot Interchange.
“I’m feeling guilty now,” Sugar Sammy says. “But there’s madness going on around the world which trumps — no pun intended — the craziness of life here.
“It’s a satirical gold mine out there. In France, there are so many tensions — more powerful than the ones here. Racial tensions, corruption tensions, political tensions. The fear among many is that France is not as French as it used to be, and now with ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen getting to the second and final round of voting on Sunday, there is a lot of fear and discussions out there — somewhat like we had here with the Charter of Values.”
Stakes are so much higher there, he acknowledges, that the French pundits and populace barely have time to take on Trump. “They have their own problems with Le Pen, and are not able to relate to the Trump issues nearly as strongly as they do with their own politics.”
Yes, we’ve had our share of terrorism and racism here, but not to compare with the mass carnage in France. One might assume this is not exactly the stuff of huge guffaws.
“I address all that stuff head-on,” Sugar Sammy says. “That’s what our jobs are as comedians: to deal with that elephant in the room. We play a kind of role as social anthropologists. We do our research. We go in and get to the bottom of issues, but with a sort of comedic sensibility. Audiences really respond to that, too, because they are looking for an emotional release from it all.”
And French audiences have really been responding. So have the critics:
Paris Match: “Sugar Sammy is shaking it up. No filter. … Even though he wasn’t known here when he arrived, he is now one of the best box-office performers in Paris.”
The TV show Quotidien: “Sugar Sammy: Paris’s newest rock star.”
Consequently, Sugar Sammy will spend six months a year in France — spewing in the language of Voltaire — for the foreseeable future. One has to hand it to him: while Gad Elmaleh, the world’s most successful franco standup, and many other French comics are staking out anglo terrain, Sugar Sammy once again goes against the flow.
“The reality is that our issues are pretty lightweight compared to what’s going on in France,” he says. “Sure, we have some problems here. Like, is Nathan Beaulieu going to be traded? How much money are we spending to illuminate the Jacques Cartier Bridge? Is Éric Lapointe’s team going to win La Voix Season 5? But, ultimately, I think we’re going to be OK.”
AT A GLANCE
Sugar Sammy’s International Galas take place July 27 and 28 at 9:45 p.m. at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts as part of Just for Laughs. Tickets cost $54.01 to $121.01 and go on sale Friday, May 5 at 10 a.m. For reservations and more information, visit hahaha.com or call 514-845-2322.