Canadian Comic Discovers New Comedy Lingo For Divided Montreal

Stand-up Samir Khullar has succeeded on stage doing what Montrealers take for granted: switching between the English and French languages, while telling jokes.

MONTREAL - Montreal comedian Samir Khullar is working the Hyatt Regency bar at the Just For Laughs comedy festival, saying hi to fellow comics and shaking hands with fans.

But in a Montreal divided into French- and English-speaking communities, Khullar is persona non grata among many francophones for defying the critics and mounting a wildly-successful bilingual one-man comedy show, You’re Gonna Rire (Laugh).

“You have two solitudes that don’t see eye to eye, and there’s always different TV shows, separate musicians and comedy shows and theaters for each community,” Khullar, who goes by the stage name Sugar Sammy, explained.

But the multilingual comic who speaks French, English, Hindi and Punjabi decided it was time to target the city’s two main markets with one comedy show that sends up their linguistic angst and reliance on franglais, or going from English to French and back in one conversation.

So Khullar called a press conference in November 2012 to unveil his plans.

Local concert promoters said he wouldn’t sell out one show at the 1300-seat Olympia Theater by telling jokes in both French and English.

But the local media, which has long worked in both languages, interviewing foreigners and translating their words into French, mostly said it was time Montrealers laughed, and thought, in a new way.

“I think I didn’t know 100 percent it would work until the tickets went on sale. Then they started flying and sold out in 45 seconds,” Khullar recalled.

Now, 45 sold-out shows later, or around 55,000 tickets, the comic is looking to take his concept of a bilingual comedy show on the road across Canada, which in its major cities like Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver has become a cultural melting pot due to the growing number of hyphenated Canadians.

“I’ll speak four languages in the course of a normal day in this city. You can’t tell people anymore it’s a problem to speak more than language,” Khullar said, taking a dig at Quebec’s language hawks that believe their culture is forever under attack from the English language.

But comedy being about timing, isn’t telling jokes in two languages a major hurdle to get over?

“It’s definitely delicate, but you have to have worked on both sides of the fence like I have to gain the timing to make jokes in both languages,” he explained.

“It’s a rhythm you feel, like how to be on time on beat, singing in the right key. You just feel it,” Khullar added.

The Just For Laughs comedy festival wraps on Sunday.

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