It certainly is no fun and games as we stumble our way through the credit crisis, but comedian Sugar Sammy – or Samir Khallar – couldn't be happier. The Canadian-Indian artist who performs tonight at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, along with Africa's Daliso Chaponda and local hero Wonho Chung, believes the recession has worked wonders for stand-up comedy.
Emirates Business caught up with the funnyman to find out why the current economy tickles him silly.
Dubai must be good business considering this is your third performance in the city?
Actually, this is my seventh trip as I've done several private shows and corporate events here. I absolutely love the audience.
What is the vibe you get from the local audience here?
They are hungry for stand-up comedy. When I toured last year with Showtime Arabia, the response was phenomenal.
Yet many stand-up comedians hesitate performing here due to the restrictions on their set list and the cultural sensitivity of the region. Have you faced the same?
I've never been told by event organisers to tone my act down. But every place has a different moral sense and stand-up comedians are just joke salesmen who adjust themselves culturally.
We create a product and like marketers, we use different techniques to sell our sense of humour to our audience.
So it's okay to poke fun at Arabs?
They love it! They take it with good humour and that's how it should be.
It is often said that Indians don't know how to laugh at themselves. As someone who's of Indian origin, what do you say?
I've never heard that. And Bollywood comes through with some amazing comedies. But Indians can be reserved and during some shows, I do get the odd kid who comes backstage to request I steer clear of certain subjects as their parents are also in attendance.
Do you always have a ready set list before you perform on stage?
I always have a bunch of material ready and tested, and 99 per cent of the time I stick to it. Although, a lot also depends on how the audience reacts to stuff erupting from my arsenal. However, 40 per cent of my act is improvising with the crowd. The first participants – those guys in the first couple of rows – love the game and usually meet me after the shows for autographs and buying DVDs.
Can we expect a new DVD after Down With The Brown was released last year?
I have shot for a HBO special, Sugar Sammy Live in Concert, which airs on June 14. The DVD will be released soon after.
Has the current recession been good or bad for business?
It's more than good for business; in fact, it's been thriving and I've even had to refuse shows. People want to laugh in the face of a recession. Also, organisers realise throwing a stand-up comedy show together doesn't have very high overheads – no band, bells or whistles needed.
So why is that event organisers still charge high prices for stand-up acts?
I don't know. The comedians certainly aren't making any money. Maybe it was the limo charge that tipped the scales.
Was stand-up comedy the only career choice for you?
When I was eight years old, I saw Eddie Murphy in Delirious and was hooked. I knew then that it would be my mission in life to entertain people. In school, I was that kid standing in front of the class or in the playground, making people laugh. My first show was at 17 for which I got a standing ovation. My career was set after that.
So, how did Samir Khallar become Sugar Sammy?
I was in a fraternity in college, known for throwing Van Wilder [a famous film character] parties. I had a technique: Hot girls would come for free and the rest of the crowd would pay their way in. The idea was a hit and there is a point to this story. Those girls called me Sugar Sammy and that name kind of stuck.
Did the family approve of your career choice?
Stand-up comedy? What's that? According to my family, I'm here on a medical convention.
What does the future hold? Any chances of branching out into television or film?
I am in talks over a TV show based around my life. As it's in the early stages, that is all I can reveal. But I do want to keep building my career and 25 years from now, maybe even look back on the material I wrote and feel proud of my legacy.
What do you say about comparisons with the more famous Canadian-Indian comedian, Russell Peters?
It doesn't bother me. Even Eddie Murphy was compared to Richard Pryor at the start of his career.
If you could pick three people who you would love to perform for, who would they be and why?
Can I pick four? They would be my mom, dad, brother and sister. They are my first line of defence with every new material I come up with. Their opinion matters above all.
What would you tell Osama Bin Laden if you ever came face-to-face?
Would you be my opening act?
PROFILE: Sugar Sammy Stand-up comedian
Canadian-Indian Sugar Sammy, or Samir Khallar, has been wowing audiences with his stand-up comedy routines for years. And even though he refuses to reveal his age, the Montreal resident has been performing in front of live stage audiences since the age of 17.
Sammy has toured the world and even opened for comic legend, Dave Chappelle.
Known for his jokes based on ethnicity, Sammy sometimes performs in four languages: French, English, Hindi and Punjabi (an Indian dialect).
Tonight will be his seventh performance in Dubai, after which he will travel to Jordan for a show. He also plans to embark on his first comedy tour in India this summer, his first in his country of origin.
A television career is also on the cards, which the comedian will reveal at a later date, once the deal is final. He is single.
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