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'Sugar Daddy' review — Sam Morrison's comedy show is half sweet, half sour

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

We all know comedy equals tragedy plus time. But how much time? It varies. To deal with losing his beloved boyfriend suddenly to Covid-19, New York comedian Sam Morrison churned his anguish into grist for stand-up.

The result is Sugar Daddy, his cleverly constructed tell-all – or thereabouts – that is punchy and poignant, despite some rough stretches. Grief isn’t neat and tidy. The same goes for this show that has landed off Broadway following a run at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Think of this work as “Love, Loss, and What I Joked.” Morrison, who describes himself as “an anxious asthmatic gay diabetic Jew,” opens the show with a quip that the SoHo Playhouse audiences are part of his cure.

“Hello and welcome to my grief group,” he says. “Of all the groups I’ve been to, this is actually the most helpful.” A beat, then he slyly adds, “because you can’t speak.”

He’s got that covered. Morrison is a fast and furious motormouth. A loud one, too. Which turns out to be the source of most of the sour patches in Sugar Daddy — the comedian, guided by director Ryan Cunningham, shoots for hysterically overemphatic but too often winds up shrill. Sure, blasting into overdrive is a comic choice. But instead of pulling you in, he pushes you away.

Establishing and maintaining a connection is key to a piece this raw, personal, and curvy. By design – and it’s a deft one – the show is packed with detours, non-sequiturs, unprintable references to sex, and an in-your-face blood-glucose level check. Recently diagnosed with diabetes, this comic believes in both show and tell.

Morrison frames the piece with a mugging incident. “I have a gun,” said the thief. “Give me the phone.” Morrison refused. “I said, ‘I can’t do that. My boyfriend Jonathan passed away, I have his photos on this phone.’” The robber persisted. Meanwhile, Morrison takes a narrative detour, one of many tucked into 60 minutes.

After sharing bits of his sexual history, Morrison recalls meeting Jonathan a few years ago during Bear Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Jonathan was 26 years his senior. Morrison wasn’t looking for a relationship, just a port in the storm. But they clicked. Two years later, a global pandemic arrived.

They quarantined at Morrison’s grandmother’s house. They played games, created a just-for-us silly language, and, like all couples, argued. One disagreement was recorded and shared by mistake. That becomes an amusing anecdote.

Since Jonathan’s death, Morrison has had no time for shallow platitudes. But he allows himself to think seemingly random events may actually be signs of something more. Like an aggressive seagull. Jonathan?

Back with the mugger, Morrison recalls convincing him to steal his wallet instead of his phone. Then he realizes the photos were safely backed up in the cloud, which leads to a limp bit about privilege. The wallet, however, was Jonathan's and couldn't be replaced. But it could be returned, which leads to another incident Morrison freights with meaning and mines for all it's worth.

Amid the one-liners, a telling and revealing moment was unscripted. Morrison caught a theatregoer secretly snapping a picture mid-show and quietly asked him to knock it off. “This is hard,” the comedian said.

Laughter may be the best medicine, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Sugar Daddy is at SoHo Playhouse through February 17. Get Sugar Daddy tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Sam Morrison in Sugar Daddy (Photo by John Cafaro)

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