By Kat Mokrynski
Picture: all rights reserved
On January 11th, a new show will arrive at the SoHo Playhouse. Sugar Daddy, written and performed by Sam Morrison, takes audiences on a journey of love, grief, diabetes, and even seagull attacks. The show returns to New York City after receiving critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last August.
I was lucky enough to have seen the show at one of its first performances back in March of 2020 at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. Morrison moves beautifully between comedy and grief, allowing the audience to feel for him while also letting them laugh at other times. The show reminds me of a solo show I saw recently, Charlie Russell Aims to Please, with half of the performance being a comedy and the other half being more of a dramatic and theatrical piece.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Sam about what it has been like to develop Sugar Daddy and to bring it off-Broadway. We talked about his creative process, audience reactions, and of course, the show itself!
Kat: So how did you get started with stand-up comedy?
Sam: My first time doing it was in college. I always wanted to try it when I was growing up so I just tried it in college! My main focus in college was theatre but I always had this side interest in stand-up that I just didn’t get to explore as much because there wasn’t as much stage time. And then when I moved to New York, there were not just plenty of opportunities, but so many opportunities to do stand-up and so few opportunities to do acting and any other creative endeavours because you have open mics with stand-up. So then I started and I got addicted and things kind of spiralled out of control!
Kat: How did you go about creating Sugar Daddy?
Sam: I didn’t have a normal process of creating the show – I just started doing it as a coping mechanism. I would call my best friend and we would run jokes by each other, but it wasn’t for anything. I don’t want to say I never imagined these jokes could be onstage, but I really didn’t have intentions to talk about it. A way that I process the world is through jokes, so I just started putting things into joke form. I was just focused on the moment and using it as a coping mechanism. If something bigger came out of it, great, but at the moment, I was just trying to survive. My first times doing stand-up after Jonathan passed were really difficult. I think I didn’t really want to continue doing jokes about it, so I put it on the shelf for a while. And then I revisited it from a different angle. Then I started to write jokes that I actually liked. It’s really hard to get people on board – You gotta ease them in or trick them, in a sense, to be on your side, but also to allow themselves to laugh at tragedy and your pain. So you have to get them on your side, but also show them that you’re fine and that you are in control. That’s a really hard dynamic to try to pull off. It was really difficult to pull off at first. Eventually, I compiled enough material that when it was time to go to Edinburgh, I was deciding whether to do this show that I have written two summers ago called Founding Daddies, which I have been working on a lot or to do something about what I’m going through and working through right now. Objectively, at the time I think it was a bad decision, but I decided to go with this show. I put it up for the first time in March and it was just a hodgepodge. Then I just tried to get it on as many stages as possible and turn it into a narrative and a solo show, which is the hardest thing, but I love that part of trying to put it all together, figuring out what you want to say and what you want to leave the audience with. What kind of comedy and narrative is meaningful to me and to the world?
Kat: What is it been like seeing the show develop as you’ve worked on it? Have audience reactions changed over time?
Sam: Oh my God, so much! The audience reactions really run the gamut, especially at first. I don’t want to say I didn’t know how to talk about it, but I was still so in it and I think audiences could sense that, sometimes it was just difficult. I was being too vulnerable. In the comedy industry, especially as of late, we love vulnerability and we’re all racing to be more vulnerable than each other. I am very comfortable talking about it on stage, more comfortable than talking about it off stage, which I talk about it in the show. I was actively going through it and talking about it on stage and people would really clamp up – They didn’t know how to deal with it. And I didn’t really know how to deal with it either. I was just like, “I’m dealing with this shit, you guys deal with it too” [Laughs]. And also, there’s the element that this is my job. I do this every night and it just felt insane to not talk about this, so I was talking about it. So audience reactions really ran the gamut. The first couple of times that I did the solo show and it really connected with the audience . . . We get to a point in the show where it definitely doesn’t feel like a stand-up show and it doesn’t even feel like a theatre show. We’ve broken down the barriers around grief and our discomfort and are really on the same page, finding comedy in very tragic things. It feels almost more like a community than it does a theatre show. The cool thing is when you can really feel an audience’s evolution in how they see grief. And not just grief, but also their investment in the story, and even the diabetes aspects of it. You can really see and feel them changing and laughing more, and getting more invested. They’re just totally on my side and on the same page in a way that I have never felt before. So that’s where I work towards.
Kat: What do you hope audiences will take away from Sugar Daddy?
Sam: Oh my God, it’s gonna be so personal! I don’t remember if I say this in the show anymore, but I’m not good at grief. You should not be taking advice from me. I don’t even know if processing grief onstage is healthy, especially to the extent that I’m doing. But in general, I believe that people go into the theatre in a place and leave the theater in a different place. It doesn’t really matter what I wanted you to go through it. Take whatever you want or need from this show, or any show you go see. I hope it’ll take you on a journey and change you. What I hope the show does for most people is remind them of the value of their love. Everything that we go through has weight and is important, but there are things in our lives that I prioritize, and I believe that we should be prioritizing, that we do not. We are so uncomfortable talking about death that I think those things that we all believe and know should be prioritized are often left to the wayside. And so I hope that it’s able to demystify death, which allows us to focus on love in a more profound way.
Sugar Daddy will be running at the SoHo Playhouse from 11th January to 17th February. Tickets can be purchased here.
Thank you to Sam for the great interview and to Chelsea Nachman and Molly Barnett for helping to arrange it!