The Montrealer on his hustle, how he avoids burnout and the key to rocking a runway.
It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that Sugar Sammy is the hardest working comedian in the biz right now. Critics and fans of comedy alike may deem Ali Wong, who delivered a pretty immaculate comedy special while seven and a half months pregnant, or Louis C.K., with his new-hour-every-year process, as contenders.
However, I submit, for your consideration, Sugar Sammy.
Not only does Sammy (who just set off on a 12-city tour across Canada that wraps up in Kitchener, Ont. on October 28th) spin jokes in four different languages (English, French, Hindi and Punjabi), often writing a completely new show in each one, he's taken his act to 29 countries across six continents, has opened for legends like Dave Chapelle, tours constantly, putting over 100 shows in the U.S. and France under his belt just this year alone and has taken home the prestigious Olivier for Comedian of the Year twice. The hustle is beyond impressive — it's enough to make the rest of us want to crawl underneath the covers clutching tear-stained copies of our five year plans.
It's also enough to lead less-prepared performers straight into a black hole of career burnout. For Sammy, that's a constant concern — but one he tackles methodically, much like the rest of his work. "I do take my breaks... at certain parts of the year where I go, 'this is sacred, nothing's going to happen there.' And then I kinda go away to make sure that I'm not reachable," he laughs. "That's a conscious decision that I make, and that you have to make, because at this pace it can go really badly."
The breakneck pace of touring is familiar territory for comedians, and it's only magnified by the sheer amount of energy that radiates through your average Sugar Sammy set, where he bounces seamlessly between anecdotes about his traditional Indian family, commentary on the politics of the day and lots and lots of conversation with the crowd. His jokes are punctuated with an inquisitive vivacity that feels precocious in a way that few adults (and, let's face it, children) are able to pull off, paving the way for an hour of comedy that weaves in typically tricky topics like racial, cultural and gender differences — without creating division amongst the hundreds of fans who've gathered to hear him speak.
And while some might've been inclined to shy away from joking about these kinds of weighty subjects in such politically charged times, for Sammy, it's only cemented their place in his act. "I think [these issues are] important to address... because otherwise it's the elephant in the room," he says. "We're so immersed in these events right now worldwide… I think it's important that it colours the arts as well, you know?" And, yes, it's also cathartic. "Laughing about [it] can be liberating," Sammy explains.
Sammy's also quick to acknowledge that the freedom he's afforded, to push boundaries and explore uncomfortable spaces onstage, is often owed, at least in part, to the fact that he's usually bounding onto the international stage with quintessential Canadian ideals in tow. "People like the outsider's point of view," he adds. "They see you as an ambassador from almost another planet trying to tell them how it works and how to live the Canadian way."
As much as Sammy's Canadian identity has shaped the way that fans all around the world see him, it's had an even more profound effect on his approach to comedy, particularly when he arrives in a whole new country, ready to start writing a whole new act. "I like coming in way earlier and starting to work on material," he explains. "It's almost anthropological work… it's a lot of research, it's a lot of listening, and... you have to be willing to learn something new and appreciate something new about a whole different culture. That comes from being Canadian. In Canada, we have that instilled in us."
That education isn't one sided, either. Sammy's learned just as much about the world back home from making friends across the globe as he's learned about the countries he's visited, namely that "we have [national pride] in Canada, but we're not as vocal about it" as other countries are. "It's a very passive patriotism," he adds with a laugh. "We, like, write about it in our journals."
But despite the differences in languages, customs, faiths and skin colours that he observes, highlights and moulds into laughter onstage as he plots his way to world comedy domination, there's one constant Sugar Sammy sees in his audiences that keeps him going. "They all want betterment, no matter where they are," he argues. "I think we all strive for that."
Check out our rapid fire with the comedian after the jump.