Sugar Sammy has the Pulse of the City

Saw Sugar Sammy’s Le Show Franglais at l’Olympia on Friday night. Wow. Simply excellent.

I know I’m late to the party, but the tickets were purchased over a month ago by my mom – a birthday gift, and a testament to the enduring popularity of Sammy’s unique show. My understanding is that it was initially supposed to have only a limited run and that there was a lot of speculation it wouldn’t go over terribly well. That was three months ago. My mother was astounded she couldn’t get anything before last Friday, but took it as a good sign that everything else was sold out. I’ll cut right to the chase, you should see this show at any cost. It was immediately apparent the show was running like a well-oiled machine; everything from the choice of venue, to the MC, the opening acts and the flow of the main performance was indicative of someone exhibiting a well-honed craft. Sugar Sammy, and this show in particular, may very well spear-head a revolution in this city of the Juste pour rire. If we can laugh together, there won’t be much left to keep us apart, and a whole new brand of comedy may very well come into existence. Thus, I feel there are many comedians who will rise in his wake; it’s more than just the novelty of bilingual comedy, it’s that the model allows for a relaxed and open discussion of culture. This innovation is fascinating to me, because ‘cultural comedy’ has largely seemed to be of an exclusionary nature, or pejorative. Perhaps until now.

It was smooth, it was relentless. It was unforgiving, unyielding – at the end I saw a vast group of Montréalais gently massaging their Joker-esque perma-grins as they stumbled out into the cold and chaos in the direction of Place Emilie-Gamelin. As I strode out with them, listening to the on-going laughter as those attending reminisced about their favourite moments, it contrasted sharply with the apparent seriousness of the reality beyond the well appointed Vaudeville-styled theatre (and by the way – I can’t believe I hadn’t seen a show there previously – a very nice retro theatre and local landmark). And yet the show was our reality too. I wouldn’t pigeon-hole the show as being ‘cultural comedy’ – it was so much more than that chiefly because it was about all of us, our shared society. The somewhat lackadaisical NDP slogan from the last federal election, ‘travaillons ensemble’ was often repeated throughout. Though it’s insufferably Canadian in its modesty, it fits what I feel is a growing general sentiment in this city, this province and country – put aside your differences and get to work. Besides, you might discover you enjoy ‘les autres’, or maybe even les maudits anglais.

While I feel the implications of a show like this might be significant, I don’t want it to detract from what is first and foremost an excellent comedy show by anyone’s definition. There was a fair bit of improvisation and lots of interaction with the crowd, hallmarks of any good entertainer. What made the show great was the incisive wit, the rhythm, the equilibrium. It was evenly French and English, evenly contrasted moments of electric, unrelenting cheeky rejoinders contrasted with slower, constructed anecdotes. His social commentary is wide-reaching but takes on a particularly funny perspective when understood in the context of this show, with the city and it’s unique cultural identity serving to throw misperceptions and prejudices a curveball. Plus he’s a devout trouble-maker and smart-ass, which plays well with Montrealers regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds. I think his story about how he trolled his hardcore separatist history teacher the day after the 1995 Referendum was the joke that brought the house down – a collective ‘oh snap’ of nervous laughter boomed out of more than a thousand people after several bear-baiter jokes concerning the Referendum which had set the mood. It was explosive. It was awesome.

Also – my date for the evening comes from a small town in the Pacific Northwest. She had never been to a comedy show before. She was really impressed. I’m really glad this was her introduction to the world of Montreal comedy.

So what can I say – go do whatever you can to see this show. You won’t be disappointed.

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