Sometimes, you need an outsider’s point-of-view. Looks like America is about to get hers, as Sugar Sammy, a Montreal-born comedian who has found success in both the Great White North and Europe, begins an American tour that will hopefully be as funny as it is probing. He’ll be popping by for two nights of shows at The Riot on March 11 and 12.
“The fun part about my perspective, is I’m going to be pretty honest without thinking about the consequences, because I don’t live there,” the 46-year-old jester proclaims. ”I’m coming in and I’m really auditing America pretty extensively. My comedy is: I’m the neighbor from up north who has been watching you guys for a while. I’m close, but not in your bubble, which gives you a great outsider perspective and an honest perspective. This is really lacking right now in America. I’m not just coming from the left or coming from the right, it’s going to be a two-sided comedy, which will hopefully be fresh.”
Vowing to avoid the stubborn binaries of the political discourse, Sammy urges his audiences to challenge being sorted down the middle. “I think most of us are pretty centered,” he set-ups earnestly, “but we are asked to choose a camp. When you are asked to choose a camp, you are asked to choose everything that camp thinks. If you choose this, it comes along with this, this, this, and this. If you’re voting Republican, you’re not just voting for their fiscal and economic policies, you are also against all this – which most people aren’t. Most people are very much nuanced, and I think that’s missing in the cultural landscape and in the arts right now.”
Nuance can be a tricky concept in this day and age – and from the wealth of material Sugar Sammy has shared with his nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter, he’s waging war against some familiar targets: Karens and Hecklers. But does spotlighting his worst interrupters online just create more in-person? “It can do both!” Sammy replies, with a big laugh. “The type of person who sees those videos, and thinks: ‘this is fun and I’m going to heckle him.’ And there are others who think: ‘I saw what happened to this person, I’m just going to sit quietly, laugh and enjoy the show.’ You get both for sure.”
Also sure to stir a bit of controversy is Sammy’s willingness to riff with the crowd about in blunt terms about race and culture. From the comic’s standpoint, the topics themselves are less crucial than how they are dealt with. “It has to have that sense of play,” he pleads in response. “So even when I speak about politics or speak about race or speak about culture or speak about sexuality and sexual orientation, everything has a sense of play to it. That needs to be there, and I think sometimes comics take their art — obviously, it's good to take your work seriously, but to take yourself too seriously that it reflects itself in the work. There’s that heaviness in it where it almost feels like it’s getting too preachy. I feel like that sense of play where the joke always wins has to stay there. When it does, I think the audience comes away winning no matter what you beliefs are.”
While the comedian hails from Canada, many know Sammy best as a judge of the French equivalent of America’s Got Talent entitled La France A Un Incoyable Talent. That far-flung success has afforded the joke-writer a few luxuries, including a fearlessness when it comes to criticism. “I think the fun part about me is I’ve built up enough of a career in different markets, so when I approach a new market, I don’t have all my eggs in one basket. Even if in one market you’re cancelled, I’m like fine — I’ve got eight other markets over here that are fine with me I’ll just go over there. So I’m almost just like going to be: Cancel me! I’m not going to filter myself. I’ll just keep making all this other money in Europe and Canada. Or even within America, your country is so divided... you can get cancelled in one state and be a super star in another.”
Interestingly enough, international touring has played right into one of Sammy’s strengths – his language skills. He’s performed not only in English, but in French, Punjabi and Hindi. So here’s something you might not have thought of previously – is English even a good language for telling jokes? “I think English is the best language for comedy,” Sammy assures. “I think it’s the economy of words in getting to a punchline faster – and the ease of the language makes English so much better timing wise. I think more and more, I’ll THINK in English even if I have a show in French, but it does depend where I am.
In France, I’ll be thinking in French a lot more or in Quebec, but I think English is the language I learned stand-up in. I grew up like most comics of my generation, worshipping Eddie Murphy – watching Delirious and memorizing it. That’s where I sort of learned timing and rhythm and all that stuff just watching Eddie Murphy and taking in his shows. And even if I’m doing stand up in different languages, I think culturally that American stand up has always been the template that I’ve used to build those shows. But sometimes, it’s not even language, but culture. Like the French in Quebec is totally different than the French in France – they’re almost different languages and you have to approach them differently. I always find English easier.”
In the end, Sammy refuses to be ruffled by those who wish to parse his material looking for ideology. Surprisingly, Sammy almost welcomes the challenge. “People have to remember that stand up reflects a lot of what is going on in society. It’s also not a prescription on how to behave in life. I do think this kind of microscopic look on comedy has made us better writers, and that’s what’s good too – it forces comics to be better writers, even if they have certain perspectives on things, it makes them bring it and write it in a certain way where it works more. The criticism is not often about perspective, it's more often about lazy writing. Two comics can approach the same topic, but one approaches it more creatively, and I think that usually lands better than someone who just puts a bit out there that you can tell the person didn’t take the time to craft it in an original way.”
“Now, I think the downside of it is this got many comics to filter themselves a bit too much. They’ll write the joke, then filter themselves because they think people will get angry at this point of view, and they might even get angry at the second point of view. And if you scrap that and that, you are down to your 3rd or 4th best version of the joke whereas if you had gone on fearlessly and written it well. I do think that’s more of the route to take, you want to put your perspective out there, but make sure its well written. Never let your first idea go just because you are afraid of the reaction.”
Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12 at The Riot, 2010 Waugh. For more information, call 713-264-8664 or visit theriothtx.com $20-140