The Sugar Sammy revolution isn’t over. It’s just going international.
Sugar Sammy headlined his last You’re Gonna Rire show Thursday night in front of a jam-packed crowd at the Place des Festivals, a free outdoor gig that was part of the Just For Laughs Festival. He’s set to head off to France to see if his multicultural wise-cracking can have the same kind of success on the other side of the Atlantic.
But before he hits Paris, Sammy had to have one last kick at the can ici and he was clearly enjoying performing his bilingual comedy show in front of this huge audience.
When he hit the stage, people were chanting ‘Sammy Sammy’, treating him like the rock star that he’s become here. And what a story it is. He came up with the idea of doing a show in French and English and every single person in the biz here told him it would never work. Everyone said the francos wouldn’t like it nor would the anglos. That bilingual simply doesn’t work ‘round these parts.
Well guess what? Sammy was right and everyone else was wrong. He’s now performed You’re Gonna Rire and the all-French version En français svp 420 times, sold 371,509 tickets and generated $17.4 million at the ticket wicket.
That is some kind of revolution. Sammy showed that the older generation of anglos and francos were out of touch. That there was a new wave of folks here on both sides of the linguistic divide who are less hung up on the old language tensions. That were willing to laugh at jokes in both languages.
Sammy started the show with the same routine he used way back in February, 2012 when this adventure began at the Olympia Theatre on Ste. Catherine St. East.
“Everyone’s saying — ‘Why a bilingual show?’ Sammy said during the show. “Because it’s Montreal baby.”
It’s as simple as that. But as he underlines, not everyone is on the Sammy bandwagon.
“As soon as I announced the bilingual show, some people lost their f—ing minds.”
In fact, some of those same francophone columnists are still grumbling about how the success of Sugar Sammy is only the latest sign of how Quebec society is crumbling at the seams and is destined to become the next Louisiana. Columnists, I might add, who need to get out a little more often.
The funny thing about You’re Gonna Rire is that it is a very political show. Sammy does have an agenda. He likes bilingualism, which is still a dirty word in some quarters in Quebec, and he most definitely digs the idea of multiculturalism.
“This province belongs to all of us equally and not everyone believes that,” said Sugar Sammy.
In the last third, he premiered some of the material he’s been doing in France and it was interesting to hear his take on culture in France. You come out realizing it’s the social issues and the political fare that are Sugar Sammy’s real bread and butter.
He ended by once again talking about how much resistance he met when he first proposed the idea of a bilingual comedy show. But he said he knew in his bones that it would work.
“This show is such a Montreal show and that’s what Montreal is all about,” said Sugar Sammy. “It’s not just about tolerating each other. We love celebrating our differences.”
That’s why Sugar Sammy is setting box office records – because there’s a new generation of Quebecers who are indeed totally down with the idea of celebrating our differences. They’re part of the Sugar Sammy generation. And this is a great thing. It’s not like Sammy invented this generation. He’s just a product of it, the poster child for the post-Bill-101 era, when for the first time children of immigrants were forced to go to French school.
So a kid from an Indian family like Sammy’s speaks French, which almost certainly wouldn’t have been the case 20 years earlier. Just as significantly, there’s also a generation of francophones who came of age in schools with a wildly varied ethnic mix. That’s a real revolution that’s way bigger than one stand-up comic selling a bunch of tickets and it’s already changing our distinct society.
Oh and by the way, don’t worry, Sammy’s coming back. Sugar Sammy called this “my last bilingual show on this tour”, clearly hinting that there will be more bilingual shows to come. And Just For Laughs chief operating officer Bruce Hills took the stage right at the end to practically beg Sugar Sammy to return from Europe as soon as possible.
“Don’t stay in France for the rest of your career,” said Hills.
So here’s betting we’ll once again be riring with Sugar Sammy in the not-too-distant future.