Sugar Sammy: Quebec’s Multilingual Court Jester

Sugar Sammy (Photo: Susan Moss)

Sugar Sammy (Photo: Susan Moss)

Samir Khullar aka Sugar Sammy is the Quebec-born son of Indian immigrants. As a kid, he spoke Punjabi and Hindi at home and French at school. But he learned to tell jokes in English.

Sugar Sammy (Photo: Patrick Cox)

“I’d host all the talent shows at school,” he says. “I’d make all the announcements on the intercoms, and when we had school trips the teachers would let me go to the front of the bus to entertain the kids.” He did all that in French. He had to– those were the rules. But he’d switch to English whenever he could, “just because it wasn’t allowed. As soon as it’s not allowed, as a kid you want to do it.”

That sense of linguistic rebellion has stayed with Khullar as Sugar Sammy. For years, he did shows in French and shows in English. He wanted to do a bilingual show, but people told him it wouldn’t work, that the public wouldn’t want to see it. Last year, he finally started performing bilingually, flipping back and forth between French and English.

Traditionally, Quebec is viewed as consisting of ‘two solitudes,’ one Francophone or French-speaking, the other Anglophone or English-speaking. But Sugar Sammy says that’s no longer the case. “I knew here was a certain demographic in Montreal…who live in French and English on a daily basis without even thinking about it. So I decided to put this show together and try to mix both sides.”

Sugar Sammy’s bilingual show, You’re Gonna Rire, is a raging success. It’s the kind of mash-up that Quebec’s French language charter is supposed to guard against. So you might think that some Francophone politicians, especially from Quebec’s separatist ruling party, may not appreciate Sugar Sammy. But he has become so popular that politicians court him in public.

He appeared recently with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois on French language TV. Quebec’s most powerful politician and its hottest comedian each used the occasion to prod each other linguistically. Smiles all round, of course.

Sugar Sammy now does four separate shows: in French (En français, svp!), in English (Illegal English Edition), the bilingual show (You’re Gonna rire) and a new show aimed at Quebec’s Indian immigrants and their offspring (Indian Edition). It’s mainly in English, with some French, Punjabi and Hindi thrown in.

The Indian connection has developed beyond that: Sugar Sammy just completed a series of sold-out shows in Indian cities. He told audiences there how surprised he was to find himself in a modern society, and how he’d have to tell his Canadian-based parents that they had misled him. “It’s no longer that pure India that they thought it was.”

You could go several ways with material like that. Sugar Sammy turns it into comedy.

There’s more on Sugar Sammy on his website and his YouTube channel. Also, check out this previous World in Words blog post and podcast on Quebec’s latest battles over language.



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1 Comment

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One response to “Sugar Sammy: Quebec’s Multilingual Court Jester

  1. Ian

    Finally catching up on a backlog of your great podcasts…

    I loved this podcast, and the earlier one on Quebec and French/English. Fascinating perspectives on language, and great laughs with Sugar Sammy. Thanks for all your work Patrick.

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