After two years of Covid-related postponements, musical comedian Sammy J is returning to Sydney with his long-awaited live show. He spoke with arts and entertainment editor Tahli Blackman.
“I don’t watch heaps of comedy because I go into work mode. I would rather watch Parliament House live feeds to relax and switch my brain off.”
So says Samuel Jonathan McMillan – the comedian, writer, composer and broadcaster professionally known as Sammy J.
Despite not watching much comedy himself, the Melburnian is certainly one Australia’s most watched comedians. Soon, Sydneysiders will get to see him up close and personal when he brings his musical comedy Symphony in J Minor to town.
The show is a live performance of his ARIA Award-nominated album of the same name, featuring special musical guest Richard Vaudrey on cello. Sammy reveals that the songs in the show are basically a collection of diary entries, with each song written about a moment in his life.
“There’s a song I wrote after our daughter was born, which I have dedicated to all of my friends,” Sammy tells The Sentinel.
“I won’t be seeing them for another 17 years so they should just go and have fun without me,” he jokes.
“I wrote another song about being stuck in a conversation with an Uber driver one time and having to engage in a heavy chat about sport. I was out of my depth!”
Musically speaking, the show is more advanced than past performances by Sammy. He says he has never really had the confidence to play with other musicians, such as Vaudrey, before.
“Richard Vaudrey is the most incredible cello player, so even if you hate me, you can still come to the show and enjoy the beautiful sounds of the cello,” he quips.
As far as influences go, Sammy has always been a fan of Tom Lehrer, who was a popular musical comedian in the 1960s. In Sammy’s early career, he would also watch The Simpsons and the works of comedy troupe Monty Python to get ideas about what makes people laugh.
Back where he belongs
Since Sammy’s Australian tour dates have been postponed for two years due to Covid-19 restrictions, he is eager to get back on stage where he belongs.
“I just did my Canberra show and I didn’t realise how special it would be to get back on stage and be in front of a live crowd again,” he says.
“It’s my main job doing comedy shows, so two years ago when it all stopped because of Covid-19, I was lucky enough to also have a radio show in Melbourne and the TV work that I do. I’ve been one of the most fortunate comedians in the country as far as work goes.”
In 2016, Sammy started to create sketches for the ABC that revolved around that year’s federal election. It was then that he came up with the idea for his sketch Playground Politics, which he describes as a parody of Play School.
When much-loved comedian John Clarke died in 2017, the Thursday night satirical spot for ABC TV became available and was given to Sammy J. Sammy says he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the two co-writers who help him write and film a weekly sketch in the space of 48 hours.
“I have the support of my two co-writers James Pender and Chris McDonald. We write together each week, which takes the pressure off because we know that between the three of us someone will have a funny idea,” he says.
The 50 Year Show
Sammy is nothing if not prolific and the fourth instalment of his 50 Year Show – a comedy spectacular set to run once every five years until 2058 – is coming up next year in 2023. He developed the idea for the show when he was 25 and just starting out in his career, and refers to it as a “long-running joke”.
“I look back on the first show and I cringe because I was a 25-year-old try-hard who wore clothes that didn’t fit right, but it’s been great to see how the audience and the show’s participants have grown with me,” he says.
“We have a 50-year baby whose gender we guessed while she was in the womb at the first show in 2008, there’s also a crossword segment and other bits that only get better with age.”
The 50 Year Show takes place in Melbourne, but Sammy is hoping to either get it on the road or to make a documentary out of it.
Comfortable and relaxed
After many years of trying to find himself on and off the stage, Sammy feels that he has accomplished a great deal and is now content being completely himself in all aspects of his life.
He is – to invoke former Prime Minister John Howard (who’s probably lucky his tenure predated the ascent of Sammy J) – comfortable and relaxed.
“I’ve always been far more interested in being myself and being original, even if that’s not everyone’s taste. Now I’m ready to settle down and start appreciating what I’ve got, rather than always focusing on the next big thing.”
Symphony in J Minor is being performed for two nights only in Sydney on Saturday, 30 April and Sunday, 1 May at the Enmore Theatre, Newtown. For tickets and further details, visit https://www.sammy-j.com/tour.
Tahli Blackman is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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