Living the sweet life

He’s as charming as he is funny, but don’t let the name fool you — he’s not a sweet-talking, smooth operator kind of guy. Sugar Sammy has come a long way from his extracurriculars of throwing pub-parties to earn cash while at McGill University (where he would let women in for free as a means to luring cash-heavy guys—hence the nickname). Sammy is as bona fide as the jokes he delivers and far more modest.

You sense his modesty after just a few moments in his presence. Emerging from the room where he just finished a media interview, Sugar Sammy seemed at home with the prospect of sitting for yet another interview, during which the possibility of having to answer the same slew of questions was quite high.

Dubbed the rock star of comedy, this rock star isn’t up to any shenanigans — he’s driven by his pure passion for laughter. While he may have his daily schedule planned out by a group of professionals, he’s everything but high maintenance and demanding. For starters, you can beat the urge to call him “Sugar” and simply use his real name, Samir Khullar which is a suitable alternative, and not be afraid to tell him just how much you adore his work. “You don’t see yourself from the outside and how well you’re doing and how successful [you are] until other people sort of tell you,” said Khullar. “I think it’s a healthy thing—to not buy into your own hype or even pay attention to it at all. So I’m just happy to work, and just build my following, have my fan-base grow everyday and make sure that I keep them happy.”

In his multilingual act, Khullar speaks the universal language of comedy as he traverses between his Punjabi, French, English and Hindi audiences. Nevertheless, submerging himself in the different cultures he is eventually staged before is crucial to his bantering skits, which are among audience favorites. This allows Khullar to do some crowd-specific ad-libbing before delivering his planned material.

“It takes living around people and getting to know them, you can’t just do that by watching them from afar,” said Khullar about being able to dissect cultures and pull out the comedy-inclined features.

“Once you get to know people, become friends with them, then you can really pin-point exact things.”

“It has to come from a place of love, as long as it comes from love, people love it,” added Khullar. “If it comes from aggression or if it comes from a place of hate people see it right away.”

In some ways, he treats his address to this multicultural audience the same way he does with his family, for whom comedy was more of a tradition than a sporadic occurrence. “[With my parents] they would always poke fun at me, I would poke fun at them, but in a tender way,” said Khullar. “I always believe in that, I believe you can make fun of somebody and still have the love at the end of it.” It’s widely known that one of his greatest comedic influences is his family, but there isn’t any chance of seeing this group on stage any time soon. “I’m just the only one gutsy enough to go on stage. I say ‘Lets do the Indian partridge family!’”

Still, being wary of what you say is a big part of the process and Khullar is no exception to that rule. “It’s a lot of finessing and seeing where you can go an how far you can go. I do a lot of self-editing on stage,” admitted Khullar. Hitting the threshold of socially acceptable material is a boundary that is often approached and sometimes crossed and comedians are often seduced by it. Khullar knows that hitting that threshold is common but he holds onto his fan-base by mastering his craft of weaving in and out of those moments. “It’s sort of a magic trick as well, you have to make it flawless when you move out of it.”

After ten years on the grind, he’s gained a reputation for his unique, lofty comedy equipped with catch phrases, running gags, and comedy of conventions amidst the graphic overtones, and an arsenal of thought provoking quips. “There are times where I feel like I totally earned where I am right now and I feel pretty validated,” he said. “But there are moments where I just go, I need to work on this or I need to get better or I need to go back to the drawing board.”

Even with his success, he knows that doubting his ability to produce is part of the gig. “If you think you’re the best all the time, someone‘s gonna take you down, quick,” said Khullar. “I was walking around and I just had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that said, you have another hour that you have to build, how are you going to do this?” This was the night before he was slated to host two double-ups for the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Toronto, “Slowly,” he said, “like I did the rest of it.”

And taking slowly is exactly what he did. The day after our meeting and hours before he was needed on stage, Khullar did what any self-effacing artist would do — he went to an open mic to test out new material. “We actually work on this stuff, day in and day out.”

In just a matter of days, he’ll have conquered Indianapolis, Chicago, Toronto, then it’s off to Montreal before jetsetting to San Jose, Houston and Seattle — constantly on the move, constantly reaching a new audience. These are among his local stream of cities — his passport includes a stamp collection from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, India, Australia, Germany, Dubai and South Africa, to name a few. But there are the few places which seem to stick out more. Vegas is one of them. “It was just one of those places where you feel guilty just being there.” While Vegas may not be the place to relax, Khullar knows where to get his fix. “I love the Caribbean, its my favorite place for vacation,” said Khullar. “To me, that’s where I want to retire. I’ll go down there, work on the radio in the mornings and be a guy on the island, live in my flip-flops, shorts and tank-top.”

“I live a very hectic lifestyle, so for me I always try to find the peace within it.” For Khullar, finding that peace is as simple as getting a massage, beach-bumming in the Caribbean, or enjoying holistic food and a booze-free lifestyle as a way to protect himself from the traps of stardom. “I find that keeps you young, keeps you relaxed.”

There’s no better time for this comedian to stay young. He has a smorgasbord of ventures ahead of him and hopes to dive into movies and television when not building on his comedy act. “I want to make sure that I do it well. I’m definitely working hard at it and training and doing acting classes as well, day in and day out.”


Indo-Caribbean World, July 21, 2010

One Response to “Living the sweet life”
  1. Roberto S. says:

    Great post. I gotta admit as a fan of stand-up, Sammy is hilarious and his delivery so smooth. Definitely one of my fav’s

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