curtain call

Sam Morrison’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ is bittersweet

Sam Morrison in Sugar Daddy.
Sam Morrison. Photo by Arin Sang-urai.

The Rundown:

What happens when your boyfriend dies of COVID and you’re diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? If you’re comedian Sam Morrison, you write a one-person show, take it to the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, then open it Off-Broadway at New York City’s SoHo Playhouse. Morrison’s sharp wit and zingy one-liners balance the gravitas as he processes grief associated with the unexpected death, medical diagnosis, and a gunpoint robbery that challenges his values of both past and present.

Self-described as “just another hack NYC-based gay diabetic widow comedian,” Morrison continues to gain traction on the national college circuit, having headlined more than 75 schools and appearances on The Drew Barrymore Show and at RuPaul’s DragCon. Sugar Daddy delivers humor and pathos from a likable talent.

No Tea, No Shade:

“Welcome to my grief group,” says Morrison at the beginning of Sugar Daddy, “Of all the groups I’ve been to, this is actually most helpful, because you can’t speak.” But Morrison has plenty to say to fill an hour, his riffs strung together through a sorrowful narrative that simmers just below the surface — masked, as we often do — with comedy.

The comedian’s real-life circumstances over the past several years provide plenty of dramatic fodder, and Morrison feasts on the details of being attracted to “fat, old men,” delivered without irony. He meets Jonathan in Provincetown during Bear Week, and the pair immediately connect.

Sam Morrison in Sugar Daddy
Sam Morrison in ‘Sugar Daddy.’ Photo by John Cafaro.

Jonathan’s death, or perhaps, more importantly, his life, very much informs Morrison’s narrative and how it connects to his recent diabetes diagnosis. His continuous glucose monitoring system, a device attached to the outside of his left arm, becomes a symbolic memory of their relationship and ultimately a double entendre of “sugar daddy.”

Many of Morrison’s one-liners stick, but when they don’t (at least at the performance I saw), he puts on the breaks to temperature-take the audience. The stagnation undermines Morrison’s intent and genuine wit, diluting the evening’s momentum. He also speaks of his identity as a comedian and the creative process, “People have been asking me a lot if it’s a hard show to do …” Collectively, these sidetracks lessen the show’s impact, whether that’s laughter, tears, or an empathetic urgency that Morrison teases but doesn’t consistently deliver.

Let’s Have a Moment:

Even the most loving, committed couples have their spats, and for Morrison and his boyfriend, things get heated during quarantine. The actor has signed up for a Zoom acting class, which requires that he video record his performance, which is then shared with “a hundred other unemployed gay men” and the acting teacher. Morrison submits his work for presentation before realizing the unedited cut includes a massive fight between the couple. Morrison accuses Jonathan of being a lousy scene partner, and he responds, “Sam, f*ck your little class!”

The Last Word:

Morrison is in good company this winter, with several solo shows opening in New York City, including Anthony Rapp’s Without You, Ryan J. Haddad’s Dark Disabled Stories, and Judy Gold’s Yes, I Can Say That!

In an interview before the show’s Edinburgh run, Morrison said, “I think for grief comedy to work, the audience has to really trust that I’m okay, before they can feel comfortable laughing. Ironically, I find the best way to do that is being very open and vulnerable about how I am not okay. If I’m able to be open enough, they’ll follow me anywhere and it’s very cathartic and a little magical.”

With more trust in his material, Morrison can stay on the path to sweet success.

Sugar Daddy runs through February 17 at New York City’s SoHo Playhouse.