Sugar Sammy likes Surrey, and the feeling is mutual, apparently.
The Montreal-based comedian hosts this year’s edition of the Just For Laughs comedy tour, which stops at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre on Friday, Oct. 13, with fellow laugh-inducers Alonzo Bodden and Gina Brillon.
When Sammy called the Now-Leader for an interview to preview the show date, he was quick to recall playing Surrey in the past.
“I’ve done the Just For Laughs tour that brought me to Surrey and I’ve done some specialty Punjabi shows there as well,” he started. “And I was a regular there until about five years ago, when things got intense for me here in Quebec, in terms of my tours in France and stuff like that, but I was a regular at the Bell theatre in Surrey, and it’s a theatre I love.
Surrey has always been a fun market for him, Sammy added.
“I love the audiences there and the rest of B.C. I miss it there, so it’s about time that I touch base with them again. I’ve done a few corporate shows there, but I haven’t done a public show there in probably at least five years, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my audience. I know people have been writing and emailing me for a while, it’s just that my work here in Quebec has taken off. I started touring in France and haven’t had the chance to do something cross-Canada since 2010. Times flies.”
Sammy, whose given name is Samir Khullar, describes himself as “a good Punjabi boy, which is maybe why Surrey and I connect very, very well.”
He’s been good at attracting crowds, too, specifically in his native Montreal, where Sammy last year performed his hit bilingual show, “You’re Gonna Rire,” one last time for a massive audience during the annual Just For Laughs festival in that city.
The politically-charged show highlighted differences between Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec.
“I toured it for four years and sold about 372,000 tickets for that, and my grand finale for it was outside during (the festival), an outdoor show, and 115,000 people showed up for it,” Sammy recalled. “It was in downtown Montreal and they blocked off a bunch of streets – I almost couldn’t get to my own show, traffic was just nuts, bumper to bumper. We had to call security and Uber had to drop us off, me and my girlfriend, about four blocks away and someone had to walk to get us and bring us backstage, because everybody was heading to that show. It was amazing.”
The 17th edition of the Just For Laughs tour starts in Surrey and will continue in 12 other Canadian cities, heading east, in the last half of October.
Bodden brings his act to the Bell as a winner of NBC-TV’s Last Comic Standing: The Best of the Best, while the Bronx-born Brillon has made appearances on E!’s Chelsea Lately, The View and Late Night with Seth Myers.
“I introduce the acts as the host,” Sammy noted, “but I also do material – probably 15 to 20 minutes off the top and then another 20 to 25 in between and bring up Gina and Alonzo, who are amazing. They’re two of the best right now, at the top of their game. I’m looking forward to touring with them, because it’s always fun touring with people who make you step up your game, who make you jump to another level, to make sure you don’t pale in comparison, to make sure you come prepared. Those two are going to make me work hard.”
Asked about any pre-show routines of his, Sammy shared some insight.
“It’s always important that I don’t show up at the venue too early,” he explained. “That’s probably the biggest thing for me, because I don’t like to get backstage with time to kill. Everyone else is way more nervous than you are, generally – all the behind-the-scenes people – so I try to stay away from absorbing that nervousness, and I try to get there pretty close to showtime and make sure I don’t get smashed. That’s pretty much it. Usually I have coffee or a Diet Coke just to give me a bit of pep but that’s it, I’m ready to go. The rest usually falls into place.”
He’s also big on flossing his teeth before he hits the stage, a habit he developed following one show in particular.
“I had this one incident on my Quebec tour where I had just (eaten) food beforehand and there was, like, a piece of chicken stuck in the back of my teeth. So I’m doing the show and all of a sudden you could see the piece of chicken flying across the stage, and the whole audience gasped (and) I just had to address it, talk about it.… It just became part of the show.”
As for his stage name, Sammy shed light on that, too.
”It’s a name I got when I was in university at McGill, in a fraternity,” he explained. “I used to throw so many parties to pay for my tuition, kind of a part-time job of mine, and I became a bit of a man on campus and all the girls started calling me Sugar Sammy, a nickname that just stuck, because I’d let the girls in for free and get them drinks, treat them well. And I just kept the name for comedy when it caught on.
“Some people ask if I’m a boxing fan or something, with names like Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray Robinson, but if you look at me, I do not have any of the athletic capabilties of a boxer, that’s for sure.”