Sugar Sammy runs this town

Blockbuster bilingual comic Sugar Sammy shares his surprise at success and reps Cote-des-Neiges, in advance of his next run of shows at Olympia.

Sugar Sammy

It’s my contention that Sugar Sammy will one day run for public office, and the comedian will do so not because it’s been his goal all along, but because enough people will demand that he save us from ourselves. The astonishing success of his bilingual comedy show (45 shows in its first run) proved that Quebecers are tired of old divisions and ready to become more inclusive, and who better to lead us into a brighter future than an openly federalist, polyglot humourist who makes sovereigntists laugh, reps Côte-des-Neiges and still lives with his parents?

The answer is, of course, no one. Last December I chatted with the comedian, who has a slew of shows coming up in English, French, a mix of both, as well as in Hindi and Punjabi, over a fancy salad.

Erik Leijon: How many bilingual shows did you think you were going to do?
Sugar Sammy: I thought we’d fill up one for sure. Deep down I was hoping for four, and if there was momentum after four we’d keep pushing. We ended up doing 45, and we’re forecasting about 60 by the time it’s all said and done. I’m glad I missed the mark on that one.

EL: So what the hell happened?
SS: We went by response. As soon as we launched it, it sold out in 45 seconds and our Admission page crashed as soon as we put it out there. That first weekend we sold out nine just by announcing them, just by letting people know it’s out there, with no advertising. Once we started the campaign it exploded; it was going at such an outrageous speed we didn’t even see the machine rolling, and that’s before the first show even took place. We’d sold 25-30 before we even had one review. I’m freaked out: one city, one show, it’s unheard of.

EL: Are the bilingual shows today a lot different from the first ones?
SS: A lot has happened in the province since it started. I talk about Charbonneau, tunnels falling apart and the red squares, which only happened after the premiere. We have a new mayor, mayors are getting kicked out, mobsters are getting kicked out. We have so much going on — the elections too — I keep adding new things.

EL: What did you learn about Quebec in the end?
SS: People are open to a different point of view, that was an eye-opener. They’re accepting of this new identity we’ve unknowingly created, this new place we’re going to. I think the younger generation, maybe 30 and under, it’s not even a question — the younger generation isn’t as hellbent on protecting the old Quebec history as much as finding a new one together.

EL: There’s a bit more tension in Quebec these days. Is that good for a comedian?
SS: The best time. Whenever everything’s peaceful and okay, it’s tough to write. You have to have people shitting on each other for you to come up with something. Otherwise you have to dig so much harder for material. I’m going to go do English Canada: I have to write about my family, my relationships, my travels. Here I get to write about what’s in the news, it writes itself here. This is the laziest I have to be.

EL: I guess your Hindi and Punjabi show will work better in other parts of Canada.
SS: Montreal’s a good place to test it though. Advertise in Parc Ex and see what happens.

EL: You can talk about Indian restaurants on Jean-Talon.
SS: Some of those restaurants are shady man. I went to a restaurant there [which shall remain nameless], I went to the bathroom, and on the way I just took a peek in the kitchen. This dude was grilling meat, and the coals of the fire he was grilling on were in the floor. He had a bonfire he made in a fucking hole in the back of the kitchen. He was looking at me like I had caught him, and I immediately thought “I’m going to eat that.” I ate it though. Grilling it in the floor, man. I’m pretty sure if the board of health walked in there, the place would have been shut down in five minutes. I could say the same about all the Vietnamese places in Montreal too.

EL: Care to say some kind words about your neighbourhood, Côte-des-Neiges?
SS: That’s my neighbourhood. My grocery store is there, my pharmacy is there, I love that neighbourhood. It fuels so much material, it opens your brain to a different way of living. A lot of times you’re playing the game of “find the white guy” there, because it’s so multicultural. Whenever I go to other parts of the world and make jokes about Haitians or the Lebanese and they wonder how I know them so well, the reason why is I grew up in Côte-des-Neiges.

EL: Even Plaza Côte-des-Neiges?
SS: I call it The Place Where Dreams Go to Die. It’s very rundown. I was there yesterday, my dentist is still there. They just put in a Walmart so it might wake it up a bit, but really, it’s down and out. The basement food court is horrible, and they have two dollar stores — once you have two dollar stores in your mall, you’re fucking done.

EL: Where do you like going in Côte-des-Neiges?
SS: The best part is between Côte-Ste-Catherine and Queen Mary. There’s an organic food store that opened, and a couple of good restaurants. There’s a good Tonkinese soup place across from the Jewish, there’s a Middle Eastern sandwich place where they grill it on coals, charcoal sandwiches, a lot of good stuff. That’s a good stretch, U de M is there so you get a lot of students. If they had better condos, more modern stuff, I’d buy a place.

EL: Is that a result of your success, you’re now in the condo game?
SS: I’m trying to be. I need to move out of my parents’ house, I’m too attached.

EL: You live with your parents?
SS: Yeah man, I can’t shake them, I like them. Everything’s there, everything’s done. The only upside of having your own place is you can have access to sex all the time, but that could be a bad idea too — I might not have had a career if I were in that situation. I stay at my parents to protect myself, I know I have to be home at a certain point. I have to hang with them a little more to get more material too. Now my dad is retired, so he’s actually looking forward to bills coming in because he has so much time on his hands. He goes to the bank to pay them, he talks to telemarketers on the phone, I’m going to come up with more ideas hanging out with him. ■

Sugar Sammy’s next run of shows starts March 27 at Olympia Theatre (1004 St. Catherine E.), Wednesday through Sunday, 8 p.m. $37-$58

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