If you grew up as an outsider, you probably know just how important fictional characters can become to those who feel they don’t fit in.
There are times in our lives when we fall into the thrall of a hero, someone greater than ourselves, who we aspire to be like.
For comedy-keyboardist extraordinaire Sammy J, that hero was the Phantom. In his latest show, ‘Hero Complex’, Sammy J explores that heroic influence on his life.
‘Hero Complex’ is a story about stories and the impact of heroes in our lives. “It’s quite an intimate story that I’m telling, an entertaining show but one that still has, in this case, a lot of heart in it, and something that’s quite intimate and personal.”
And like all good heroic adventures, he jumps straight into the action. “I start the story at the end, which is a true story about how a Federal Police officer searched my attic last year.
"And then I trace that back to a moment when I borrowed some Phantom comics off my school’s gardener in 1996, which is directly related. It’s a fairly massive, decade-long adventure.”
It’s also an idea that’s struck a chord with comedy fans. “With this show, it feels like people are coming on board with the story. A lot of people really identity with that idea of someone being obsessed with something. People can appreciate the idea of someone in their own world, finding respite in something.”
Oddly, the research that went into crafting ‘Hero Complex’ has had some unforeseen side effects. “This is utterly tragic, but I started writing this show, and to write it I was dusting off my Phantom comics and Phantom memorabilia and things. And since doing that, I’ve fallen back into the Phantom world.
“I had a dream last night – this is true and tragic – I had a dream I was hanging out with Billy Zane. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll come and see the show one day. He certainly gets a mention.”
As a comedian, Sammy J’s style is rather impressive. Think cutting, pointed, intellectual commentary that somehow manages to retain a kind of childlike whimsy. “Between musical theatre and the Phantom you’ve probably got all my influences pegged.”
But the man himself tries to stay modest. “Just changing people’s outlooks entirely, that’s my humble ambition.”
Like all good superheroes, there’s more to Sammy J than meets the eye. He’s a tireless ambassador for Oxfam and Big Brothers Big Sisters, hoping to change the world one child at a time.
As an ambassador and former big brother, Sammy J is quick to point out how important such projects are. “The work they do is close to my heart, because it’s preventative and it’s dealing with people who don’t have mentors, or who need a better influence.
“And it comes back to the occasionally lonely times as a child that I can relate to. Although I had the Phantom as a mentor, of course, so I had it pretty good.”
Sammy J, it seems, is a big believer in living up to the standards set by heroes. Perhaps we can’t all save our cities or our planet, but there’s still countless chances to make the world a better place. We can be heroes, after all.
Sammy J’s Hero Complex Shows
17 Feb - 5 Mar - Adelaide Fringe23-26 Mar - Brisbane Comedy Festival30 Mar - 2 Apr - Melbourne International Comedy Festival12-13 May - Sydney Comedy Festival18-21 May - Perth Comedy Festival