A fearless comic with a talent for provoking both laughter and outrage, Sammy, born Samir Khullar, is a 42-year-old son of Indian immigrants. He is also a child of Bill 101, the polarizing Quebec law behind the sign infraction, which requires immigrants to send their children to French schools. As a result, he glides effortlessly between English and French in his shows, and has made Quebec’s tortured identity politics his main preoccupation.
.. “In Quebec the ultimate taboo is identity,”
.. diving into his favorite subject: those who want Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada.
“Are there any separatists here?” he asked in perfectly accented Québécois French. “Come on, don’t be shy.”
.. He switched to English for a joke on President Trump’s security strategy on the Mexican border. “We don’t have a lot of Latinos in Canada,” he said. “It’s too cold. We don’t need a wall. We have winter.”
.. When he first came up with the idea of doing a bilingual act, “You’re Gonna Rire” (“You’re Gonna Laugh”) in 2012, comedy producers told him he was crazy: The Anglophones wouldn’t understand the jokes in French, and the English humor would be lost on the Francophones.
So he produced it himself, and the show became an overnight sensation. It transformed Mr. Khullar, a virtuoso improvisor whose looks have been likened to Elvis, into a household name in Quebec, garnering him coveted comedy awards and making him a millionaire.
.. He was variously labeled a dangerous “Francophobe,” a federalist “fanatic,” and a political activist masquerading as a comedian.
.. GQ enthused that “the funniest person in France is Québécois.”
.. He recently opened a show in Paris, where he is living for a time, with the line, “I’m happy to be in France. You guys are my favorite Arab country.”
.. Mr. Khullar occupied a unique place by bridging Quebec’s cultural divide. “He’s a good barometer of a society that has come of age and can now laugh at itself,” she said.
.. Mr. Khullar embodies a new generation in Quebec less burdened by the language and culture wars of the past, added Marc Cassivi, a columnist for La Presse, a leading French-language newspaper, who wrote a book about bilingualism in Quebec.
“It is doubtful that Sugar Sammy would’ve survived as a comedian in Quebec of the 1970s, and would’ve left on the first train to Toronto,” Mr. Cassivi said.
.. Immersed in French in school, Mr. Khullar and his younger brother spoke Punjabi and Hindi at home, and learned English on the street and by watching “The Dukes of Hazzard.” At his high school, where he was anointed the class clown at age 15, his best friends were Jewish-Moroccan, Haitian, Guatemalan and Chinese — a comedic focus group of sorts that he credits for his ability now to cross borders and make people laugh.
.. His decision to become a comedian was clinched when he first saw Eddie Murphy’s 1983 stand-up comedy television special “Delirious” as a teenager and was attracted by his raw, unbridled humor. “Here you had this guy in bright red leather owning the stage with the charisma of a rock star,” he said. “I wanted to be that guy.”
.. His political awakening as a comic came in 1995 during a referendum that asked Quebecers whether the province should become an independent country. After the “no” camp won with a bare 50.6 percent of the vote, Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau, a leader on the “yes” side, blamed the result on, among other things, “the ethnic vote.”
.. The comments stung Mr. Khullar, who was 19. “Here I was a teenager who was doing everything to be part of Quebec society and I was being told that I was responsible for the failure of Quebec’s dream of statehood,” he recalled. “I realized that I would always be the ‘other’ in Quebec, no matter what language I spoke.”
Instead of stewing, he used his sense of alienation as fuel for his comedy.
.. He became co-creator in 2014 of a successful French television sitcom called “Ces gars-là,” (“Those Guys”) in the spirit Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and began crisscrossing the globe.
.. Determined that his comedy have the whiff of authenticity, he obsessively prepares for his shows abroad by observing people on the subway, doing his laundry at public laundromats and eating at restaurants.