Sammy J has long been associated with his partner in crime, the purple and ever-entertaining, Randy. We last saw the twosome at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, where they took the South Australian audiences through the story of their wild and fantastical theme park. Since then, things have been somewhat on the outs for the duo.
Giving Sammy a call recently to chat about his upcoming solo show at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival, he answers the phone in the middle of slight admin dramas.
“It has been a little bit odd, I’m not going to lie!” he laughs. “Randy got sick and so we’ve been busy cancelling our tours and schedules and so on! He’ll be okay, but it’s a bit of a recovery process. Adelaide was lucky because it was the only city in Australia to have actually seen our show! Melbourne we did a week in and then we had a week off before we were about to continue with the next week we had and then we had to cancel. We thought, ‘Oh okay – that’ll just be a week or two,’ and then he stayed sick so we had to cancel New Zealand and then we had to cancel Perth!”
Fans of Randy shouldn’t fear though, he’s making a steady recovery. It would seem that Sammy’s solo gigs coming up are coming in hand then, if a little cashflow was needed.
“I’m propping up the little bastard as always.” he jokes.
“He’s on the mend,” he continues. “It was a flu that became an infection that became a spleen thing. In good time, as we know, Randy will mine us the comedy gold. In the meantime, we’re financially devastated! I’m quite lucky because I was asked to do this election stuff for the campaign on my own, which is handy and will be fun.”
The ‘election stuff’ Sammy refers to is his recently announced show on ABC iView (starting on Monday, June 13th), where he’ll be picking up where the station’s election coverage has been lacking (‘a lack of songs and craft activities’ reads the social media post). It’s going to be a busy few months for the Melbourne-based comedian, who now is balancing his Cabaret Festival show with this unique foray into political coverage for the national broadcaster.
“I do feel very lucky,” he admits, turning his attention back to the Cabaret Festival show he’s bringing to Adelaide. “For me, I don’t believe in ‘the big break’ or anything. I think you just try to do good work and keep people interested. I do like that I was approached to do this, hopefully it’s going to be something a little different. That’s all I ask; I don’t care if people don’t laugh, so long as they’re not bored.”
As to whether or not there’s any distinct change in vibe between Sammy J solo and Sammy J and Randy, the switch between show formats isn’t one that fazes him much at all. The end goal remains the same.
“For me it’s really natural,” he explains. “I started solo and have always done solo stuff, but I think I’m conscious of the audience though, for them I know it’s quite new. The challenge is just in the first ten minutes, I want to make people relax and calibrate to the different format. With Randy, we obviously have a fantasy world – in the TV show in particular, but also onstage – and we’re completely larger than life, anything goes. We regularly fornicate with animals in our banter and stuff and then on my own, I’m the other Sammy J who is the real Sammy J, where I talk about my wife and my kid and the world at large.”
“By its nature, it’s a far gentler performance, but it’s still the exact same sense of humour which for me, just always about trying to surprise people in some way. For me, it’s not a stressful thing at all – it’s a fun challenge. I’d like people to leave, as always, wanting to come see me again, whether it’s with Randy or whether it’s on my own. I want them to like my general vibe, that’s all I can ask.”
Joining the likes of Dita Von Teese, Tripod, Megan Hilty, Barb Jungr and Bobby Fox on this year’s Cabaret Festival program hasn’t come without its slightly daunting elements, as Sammy notes. Relishing the creative liberties cabaret, as a genre, offers though, he’s keen to explore where his solo material can go within this different setting.
“I was very reluctant to call myself a ‘cabaret artist’ for many, many years,” Sammy laughs. “Then after having done like, ten cabaret festivals, I had to admit that maybe I was! Cabaret is funny and indefinable and I think that audiences out there can sometimes just view cabaret as basically that old stereotype of being quite twee, someone with a little bowtie in a piano bar.In the same way that comedy has broadened out to include so many different genres and styles, I think cabaret is the same, except that cabaret has that extra release sometimes; instead of making people laugh all the time, you can make them think, you can make them cry.”
“I still will only call myself a comedian, not even a musical comedian because I use my music as a tool in my head; in one sense I feel slightly illegitimate, charging people to watch me sing songs on a piano! It is what I do and this is just lovely, it gives us a chance to do some new stuff and some old stuff too. Hopefully, for people who have only ever seen me with Randy, it’s a chance to see a different style in my solo show.”
As is tradition at this festival, the more outrageous the costumes, the better. Indulgence is encouraged, as is debauchery. For Sammy J, whose style of off-kilter comedy fits in rather perfectly within this anything goes cabaret mentality, can the Adelaide crowds expect him to be pulling out the glitter and the razzamatazz?
“You’ve just made my mind up,” he says. “I do have a pretty fabulous velvet jacket. About four years ago I’d just done some sketch, so I was in the money, and I went and bought this expensive jacket. I became quite self-conscious though; I thought, ‘This is just too much,’ and I never wore it until the Melbourne Comedy Festival had their 30th anniversary this year and they did a gala night. I wore it that night, just the once, and I had so many comments and so many people wanting to come and touch me; it was like some sort of Holy Grail.”
“I’m going to crack it out for the second time in my life for Adelaide,” he decides. “It’s very cabaret. On top of that, there is a grand piano on stage so between the velvet jacket and the grand piano, I think the “Backwards Song” will never have sounded as classy. Not only is it desirable, I hereby make it a demand for people who want to talk to me, it [contact] has to be tactile. If you’re going to be around, once you see the jacket, it’s not even a choice people make. They’re drawn to it.”
Sammy J will be appearing at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival over two shows, on June 18th and 19th. Find out more about tickets and event info, HERE.