By: Cate K.
Whenever I hear the word “ethnic” I’m never sure what to think. Racist? Descriptive? Old-fashioned?
None of the above for Canadian comedian Sugar Sammy. The Montreal-born, multi-lingual Sammy (born Sam Khullar) regards the ethnic stereotypes that some associate with the word as being wholly dependent on the person delivering the funny lines.
“It all comes down to how you say it,” the affable comic explained recently, his velvet voice purring across the line, “it’s the tone, and who’s saying it. I feel like some people can get away with that -and it’s not what race (they are), but the person themselves.”
Sam himself is a cool, funny, whip-smart guy with a gift for eagle-eyed social observations and dead-on mimicry for accents. The multi-lingual comic (he speaks English, French, Punjab, and HIndi) is a mega-star overseas, with multiple, celebrated appearances in Dubai, South Africa, and Jordan, to name just a few. He’s performed with comedians like Jimmy Fallon, Damon Wayans, and George Lopez, and has opened for Dave Chappelle. He’s had his own HBO special. The Hollywood Reporter named him one of the top ten comedy talents to watch and AskMen.com has called him “comedy’s new rock star”. Also? The guy has movie-star good looks and oozes charisma. Seriously, this guy has “star” written all over him.
Sammy was in Toronto recently to host “Ethnical Difficulties” as part of the city’s Just for Laughs comedy festival. The show (which was taped for future broadcast by CBC Television) featured an array of funny men riffing on their multicultural backgrounds. I was especially taken with comedian Bret Ernst, for the way he relentlessly mocked the stereotypes he sees fellow Italians (especially men) engaging in. With chest puffed out and shoulders back, he did a near-perfect impersonation of “that guy who gets $500 bottle service but lives with his parents.” Ouch.
Equally, Sam’s impersonations of East Asians -both in the crowd and in his stories -was funny, a bit cutting, but still very, very cute. As he told me days before the taping, portraying broad stereotypes onstage greatly depends on who’s the one delivering the lines. “Some get away with more than other people,” he notes. “I find, for some reason, I tend to get away with a lot -so does Russell Peters -whereas with some people, even if they say the word ‘Jew’, it’s over.”
It can just as much be “over” if you’re trying to be affable but your vocabulary stinks. Sam shared an appalling incident involving one over-enthusiastic (white) fan.
“He went, “Hey man, you’re like the coolest Paki I know!” And he kept going on and on like, “How does it feel to be a Paki? What’s it like to be a Paki who does great jokes? All the women wanna hang out with you… wow, I’ve never seen a Paki like you!” And I was like… dude? You’re calling me the Indian n*gger. Stop it.”
Currently pursuing TV and film opportunities, Sam’s also in the midst of writing another one-man show. It should be ready by 2011, but he doesn’t want to rush things. “With the first show, it took ten years to build that material,” he told me conspiratorially, “so I’d rather take time and do it well.”
Sure, patience might be a virtue, but I’ve watched Sam’s star zooming into the stratosphere, with more than a little awe. I can hardly wait to see what the next year holds for him -and his audience. It’s sure to be a sweet ride.