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Saturday Conversation: Comedian Sugar Sammy
by Ariel Long
2017-06-24

Jokes all around, this internationally acclaimed comedian Samir Khullar, formally known as Sugar Sammy, will be coming to Naples, Florida to perform one of his renowned stand-up shows.

Born in an Indian family, but raised about in Côte-des-Neiges in Montreal, Quebec, Sugar Sammy grew up in a diverse community surrounded by different languages and cultures in which he has attached himself to.

He tells a wide range of jokes from politics, to race, love, and even pop culture. But don't be surprised if he has you laughing as he impresses you with his French accent because he is a polyglot fluent in English, French, Punjabi, and Hindi.

Before checking into the Off the Hook Comedy Club in Naples, we reached out to speak with him.

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited.

Ariel Long: I know you were inspired by comedy at a young age. I read that you were inspired by Eddie Murphy and one of his specials. Can you elaborate how different predominantly men of color, such as Dave Chappelle or Richard Pryor, how you gravitated towards their style of comedian and storytelling more than others?

Sugar Sammy: I think it was [that] I identify with them more because they were guys who were sharing their perspective from a marginal point of view in society and making it funny. Talking about being the underdog, talking about being discriminated against, talking about their daily struggles I felt like I communicated [and] connected with that more, being of Indian descent.

Living in Quebec where there was a lot of talking of separation because Quebec culture was different from the rest of the Canadian culture, I think people of ethnic descent weren't really being accepted into the conversation. But I feel that was always the type of comedy that I gravitated towards because I had that and I grew with different people and communities and from different cultures and backgrounds.

I felt like that was where I would go towards because I felt more compelled towards them. Also, another thing that's number one [was] the content of what they did. But number two I just thought they were cooler dudes than any other white guys out there. Like Eddy murphy had a whole leather suit on. He was like the black Elvis of comedy in the 80s to me.

It's so fascinating to see someone that cool up onstage with the leather jacket. Being up there and being as raw as possible and as unfiltered as possible, you're going to gravitate towards that a little bit more than you will towards Johnny Carson who's a little more accessible.

Growing up I appreciated Carson a little more you know looking back in a retroactive way, I really appreciate what he did. And getting older I like more of that refined comedy, but he brought up by Carson, McDonald, and Letterman and the brits.

I love African-American comedy because there is just something so cool, raw, unfiltered and confrontational with society that I feel like speaks to me. All those influences now are who I am the African-American, the Brits, the more refined American and I think all of that together encompasses the type of comedy that I do which I think is interesting as well as mixed.

Ariel Long: You were saying, that one of the reasons why you gravitated towards Eddy Murphy was the fact that he basically did his comedy as “raw.” Would you say that that's one of the reasons that has influenced you to be so raw?

Sugar Sammy: Yeah, I mean I think from him and from all my other influences. I think Dave Chappelle speaks to me in that way, Chris rock speaks to me in that way, but even some of the brits who pushed, like Ricky Gervais.

You look at someone like that, I mean I love what he does. Whenever he gets up onstage he's always addressing the elephant in the room and he does it in a way where it really hurts. I feel like that always been the type of comedy that I like. And all those influences for sure are a big part of who I am today.

Ariel Long: As a tall, attractive, brown man has it ever been a challenge to sell out your shows in different cities? If not, can you give a story or two on how your shows sold out but you didn't feel appreciated by your audience because of your jokes.

Sugar Sammy: No. The material works wherever I go because I do my homework. I review the research and I try to build a bridge between myself and [the] audience that I'm talking to. For comedians, we have to behave like anthropologist. You got to do your research [and] you got to be right on about everything. If you're a little bit off and your stereotypical and bring a stereotype up there on stage talking to them in a way just swiping generalizations about themselves then they're not going to respect you.

It's very important for me that my homework is done in advance and then I connect with them in an honest way. I think that's what works. I really think I put in the effort. I don't always stick to it but I do all my homework and make sure I do extensive homework before I come down and perform in the country. With the U.S., its easy because I'm Canadian and we're close by so we get to see what happens on a daily basis with you. For me, I take it all in and I process it before I bring [it] up on stage.

Ariel Long: Now I'm glad that you actually brought up the fact that you know U.S. and Canada are so close. With some of the recent events happening in the world, the election, foreign policies, terrisot attacks, throughout Europe and the middle east, has this ever had any effect on the cities and countries that you've performed in?

Sugar Sammy: For me, I was in a year of touring in France so I talk about all of these things. that's our job as Canadians to address all of these things in a humorist light. That's a difficult task finding that balance that you talk about this difficult subject but you make people laugh, so it liberates them from holding it all it. It liberates them from the tensions of it all.

All of those things that you mention I bring them up on stage. I talk about the state of the world onstage right now. I talk about the state of America on stage, which is really fun. I think as a Canadian perspective on what's going on in the states, it's a severe and honest analysis on what's going on in America right now and I think Americans appreciate ‘ok this guy is telling us the truth, but from an outside view' which is fun.

Ariel Long: Awesome. So, I know that you just said that you finished up your tour in France?

Sugar Sammy: Yep!

Ariel Long: Has there ever be a time where someone ask[ed] you to talk about something different?

Sugar Sammy:  No, they…cause I…my show is a variety of topics. I don't just talk about politics and racism and terrorism. I also talk about sports, my girlfriend, I'll talk about my parents, being Indian…I'll talk about all that, you know. I talk about rap, I'll talk about R and B, British music. The subjects are so varied it's not just one topic for one hour, it's such a varied mixed. People never get bored or never find it heavy. By the time they're like ‘oh my god that was funny but wow that was pretty intense' I've moved on to something else. So, I think that's what makes…that probably defines the magic of my show right now. Like it goes pretty much everywhere.

Ariel Long: Nice! When you are creating your stand ups [in] different varieties of languages, has there ever been an inconvenience of each language affecting your comedic style or your writing process, if any at all?

Sugar Sammy: No. The comedic style stays the same, so I'm always edgy, unfiltered, you know, stand up. In terms of materials, no because it's just the language that I change but culturally I have to adapt. Meaning that even if I do it in English, a show in America, it would be completely different from what I'm doing in the U.K. or completely different from what I'm doing in Montreal.

When I do Quebec, it would be my honest and severe analysis of Quebec. When I do the U.K. I'll talk about the U.K. with a few things about the U.S., but the majority of U.K. with an accent on everything and the same thing with wherever I go.

I'll always have that in mind when I'm writing or when I'm adapting that there will be a show that anchored in an American culture when I'm here, anchored in Candna, anchored in British culture when I'm in the U.K. or France.

I'll talk about France a lot more as a Canadian, I'll talk about America a little or Canada but ill really give them an analysis about France. When you come to my show [I'm] basically giving you a checkup of a complete examination of the country. I always keep my Canadian view and I talk about other cultures but I also really critique where I am. When I'm in America I'll talk about the states, talk about what's going on right now, the changes of what's going on in the last couple of years. It will be there. But then I'll compare to Canada, then I'll compare to France as well. It's not that we're better because we have this and it doesn't mean the French are better because the French are way worst for this thing. So I'll make sure I'll give a pretty varied and a pretty complete picture of what's going on.

Ariel Long: With performing well over 1,500 comedy shows and still counting, I see you co-wrote, co-produced a tv show, do you ever get time to sleep?

Sugar Sammy chuckled.

Sugar Sammy:  Yeah, I block off a couple months in the year where they are just my months to relax but my brain never turns off. I'm always writing material. Every day I'll come up with something and I'll start working on it. It's just one of those things [where] the best material comes from just living your life and that's what's been happening to me. It's travelling and opening up my brain to new things.

Ariel Long: Has there ever been a place where you have not been that you want to place into your passport?

Sugar Sammy: Oh yes! The only continent I've never played right now and need to play, just first need to learn the language and start building that bridge to at least speak a little bit of it, is I want to go to south America. I've never done South America [and] I'm so curious about South America and to travel and tour there. I really want to make my way down there so that's one of my dreams in the next few years to be able to play in [an] South American audiences.

Ariel Long: Now once you get to South America, where do you want to go specifically?

SS: Oh, I want to do the whole continent! I want to do a tour! I really want to be able to tour the whole place. I want to go to Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Peru, Chile, Salvador, I want to do them all, you know. That way I get a big picture, but I feel like I have to tackle the States first and I think it will build a good bridge. I'll just make my way south slowly. I would love to do south America. I think that's really big on my wish list.

Ariel Long: Are there any other wishes you would like to do? What are your other dreams and aspirations?

Sugar Sammy: Like uh, a threesome? No, I'm kidding.

Sugar Sammy and Ariel laughed hysterically.

Sugar Sammy: I think I'm rather pretty happy right now, I got a great family, a great girlfriend, and works going well. I just kind of take it all in and in life you got to stop and appreciate what's going on, so I think I'm pretty appreciative of that. I think my biggest wish would be that I can continue just being healthy, taking care of the people I love and being able to see them as much as possible, keep working, and doing what I love for the rest of my life. That's all I need. Everything else is just cherry on top, you know?

Ariel Long: I actually saw one of your interviews you did a few years ago and one of the things it said that you really liked was your hate mail and that you collect it. So, I have to ask you, do you really collect your hate mail?

Sugar Sammy: Yeah!

Ariel Long: Wow!

Sugar Sammy: I have a folder in my email and I just I save it for my second show in Canada. My next tour will be probably reading it on stage [and] making fun of it. Might make a book out of all it, you know, where I have the hate mail and next to it I have my responses and I think that might be fun too.

Ariel Long: So, my last and final question would be what is next for Sugar Sammy? Will you settle down, start a family, you just mentioned possibly a book of your hate mail. What's next for you?

Sugar Sammy: Oh, writing a book of my hate mail…oh that would be fun! But definitely thinking about the family angle. I got a woman that I have a great relationship with and I see my brother has a kid now and I see how happy he is as a father. That's something that's definitely encouraging and that motivates me to become a dad. I think in the next couple of years that would be the next project, but just keep on touring. Making my presence known bigger and bigger in the states.

Having a T.V. special in New York would be fun. I think that's my next target and then continuing to build France as well, six months a year. I think those are my short-term and long-term ambitions, you know?

Also keeping a balanced life. I think sometimes you see stories about artist that you've always loved growing up and they spend so much time working and focusing on their work that they don't have a balance on life and they perish a little too young. Sometimes with all the pressures that they put on themselves [and being able to slow down sometimes and smelling the roses is something I tell myself to do. You look at guys like Prince, George Michael and all these guys I grew up with who perished way too young and you feel like sometimes it's important to keep as much balance in your life as possible.

Ariel Long: Well I just want to say I truly enjoyed this and I'm not going to hold you up any longer…

Sugar Sammy: No way!

Ariel Long: But is there anything else you would like to say?

Sugar Sammy: I want to specify is my French tour I'm going to finish one leg of the tour. The tour is going to finish in November, so I'm going to be doing France six months out of the year for the next few years, just to specify so the people won't think that my French tour is over. And then North America for the other six. Half the year in Europe and half the year in North America.


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