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03/29/2013

Quebec's Sugar Sammy pokes fun at province’s language squabbles

Sammy
Sugar Sammy -- Quebec’s multlingual court jester? (Aaron Lynett/Toronto Star)

Sugar Sammy, the fast-rising Quebec comedian who delights in poking fun at the province’s language squabbles, hit The World’s funny bone Thursday with a feature interview and podcast on the popular American radio show.

The World – a joint production of National Public Radio, Public Radio International and the BBC – profiled the Punjabi-English-French speaking performer as “Quebec’s Multlingual Court Jester.”

Sugar Sammy, whose real name is Samir Khullar, grew up in Montreal speaking Punjabi and Hindi at home, French at school and English on the stage – even at a young age.

On school trips, he told The World, the teachers would let him go to the front of the bus to entertain the kids in French. But he would 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.”

Sugar Sammy has managed to bridge the linguistic divide, becoming wildly popular among Anglophone and Francophone audiences alike. His new show, “You’re Gonna Rire” – which against the advice of many he decided to make bilingual -- is a huge success.

The Hollywood Reporter named him one of the 10 rising comedy talents from around the world and he has appeared on HBO, Comedy Central and the Tonight Show.

Sugar Sammy told the NPR show that Quebec’s language tensions are “the elephant in the room” but he wants everyone to know there is a vibrant atmosphere in Montreal where people easily switch from French to English – and have fun doing it.

“If you can make people laugh about it, you liberate everyone,” the comedian said.

The World's piece recounts how in one now-famous incident at the 2010 Quebec humour awards known as the Gala les Oliviers, for one announcement of the winners of the live French-language TV broadcast he was paired up with then Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois.

 When she said “Et les nominations sont…” he butted in to say “And the nominations are…” – then turned to her and, with a smile, translated it for her.

Now that Marois is premier, Sugar Sammy has not let up on his barbs.

To poke fun at the recent “pastagate” scandal over Quebec’s language laws, he recently tweeted from a restaurant, asking how you do say “macaroni” in French.

The answer?

Macaroni


Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter with the Star and the author of two books on child exploitation. He can be reached at jsher@thestar.ca and on Twitter @juliansher.

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