Sam Morril has the reputation for being one of the funniest joke writers in New York and for very good reason. I was honored to have had the opportunity to sit down and talk comedy with him after one of his sold out shows at Zanies in Chicago. He had so many insights and stories, I could’ve talked to him all night. I learned that there are talented comedians in every city and that the New York comedy scene isn’t as intimidating as you may think it is so if you’re a comedian contemplating a move to a coast, there is no time like the present. I learned what movie Sam thinks should be the next Hollywood reboot and although I would personally like to see him reprise Tom Hanks’s role in a reboot of the movie Splash, he would absolutely crush the part in the movie he selected. Sam also helped me to appreciate the power of a great joke and see that a great joke can make you laugh in the face of anxiety, it can build a bridge between a mother and a son and most impressively, a great joke can be so powerful it can cause a person to fall in love with comedy and make a lifelong commitment to the craft.
Morril is one of the fastest-rising stand-up comics in New York City and one of the best joke writers in the scene today. He is a regular on Comedy Central’s This Week at the Comedy Cellar, where he appears frequently when not touring cities across the nation. He was named one of Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch in 2011 and has performed multiple stand-up sets on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Late, Late Show with James Corden and Conan. He’s also had stints on Last Comic Standing, America’s Got Talent, @midnight with Chris Hardwick, and Inside Amy Schumer. In 2015, Morril recorded his debut album, Class Act, with Comedy Central Records, which went to #1 on iTunes and made numerous top 10 lists, and appeared on season four of Comedy Central’s The Half Hour. His first one hour special, Amy Schumer Presents Sam Morril: Positive Influence premiered on Comedy Central in 2018.
Morril was the host of his very own show on MSG called People Talking Sports, which ran for two seasons and received an Emmy® nomination. Morril also has a cameo in the Academy Award nominated film, Joker.
Sam Morril’s comedy special, “ I Got This” is streaming for free on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel and on standup.com/sammorril.
The Interrobang: I like to create a “comedy safe space” where we are free to talk about anything we want and the stage is the only safe space that matters.
Sam Morril: Sure! It’s funny but you never really hear “safe space” referred to like that. You only hear it the other way, where it’s inhibiting free speech. Where they’re like, “This is a safe comedy room and you’re not allowed to talk about ‘this’ and you can’t talk about ‘that.”
The Interrobang: That’s a space where the audience is supposed to be “safe” because they’re viewing censored comedy. I think it’s important to create a space where Comedy is what’s being protected. Whether it’s an open mic, a podcast or a special being recorded, the moment you step on stage you are creating, which is art and it should be protected.
Sam Morril: That’s what an open mic should always be. Obviously, it’s important at all levels but especially at an open mic. You really need to have that freedom to fail, especially when you’re figuring it out. There’s a difference to me only because when you’re taping your special, you’re good and when you’re at an open mic, you’re not good… but I am all for it!
The Interrobang: So, I know a little bit about you. You started comedy when you were 19 years old but I’d like to go a little farther back than that. Nineteen is pretty young to take the leap into comedy and the fact that you’ve stuck to it all this time says to me that your love for comedy had to of started well before then. What is your earliest memory of connecting with comedy?
Sam Morril: Oh sure, there’s a few. I’ve always loved Chris Rock, Rodney Dangerfield and George Carlin. Chris Rock in the 90’s was so influential for a lot of people my age or older. I remember Thanksgiving, we’d go to Boston and I’d listen to Chris Rock’s album, “Roll With the New” in my CD player on the way there. I probably didn’t even understand half of it, I was so young, but I thought he was so funny and the bits I got, I thought were brilliant. I remember my mom seeing me laughing so hard that she took my headphones and put them on. I can still remember the look on her face. She was horrified, because Rock was so vulgar, but then in a moment that switched to her laughing and I thought, “Fuck… That’s the power of a great joke!” and that’s Rock’s comedy. He takes you to a place you didn’t really want to go but then makes you happy you went there and that’s why I love his comedy so much. Then I got into Dave Attell. He’s the best. I remember seeing him at Caroline’s and thinking, “This is the funniest human being I have ever seen.” I still have an autographed play bill from him from when I was 18 years old… but if I ever told him that he would probably walk away and be like, “Fuck that. That’s weird.” But he knows how much I revere him and how I think he’s the best.
The Interrobang: I agree. He’s such a great joke writer. The best! There’s only one thing he doesn’t do… tell stories. I saw your hour tonight at Zanies. You had jokes, jokes, jokes, similar to a Dave Attell kind of style. They were all so well written and so funny but then you ventured off and told us a story.
Sam Morril: That’s a new bit, the story you’re referring to.
The Interrobang: A new bit? Are you serious? It’s killer?
Sam Morril: That story is already completely insane so… That guy said such ridiculous stuff that I really just had to remember some of the stuff he said and add a good comment here and there. I like to put a story in every long set I do. I think it breaks up the rhythm. I heard Dangerfield say that he throws crowd work in there so he’s not the same pace all night.
The Interrobang: That’s what Dave Attell does.
Sam Morril: Right? Attell is so good at being a joke guy and not tiring you out, even though you’re laughing the whole time.
The Interrobang: That’s also his way of connecting to the audience. He makes you laugh all night with his jokes but he connects with the audience through his crowd work. He is exactly himself in those moments and that is why his fans love him so much.
Sam Morril: That’s a good point. You know exactly who Dave is. Even if he says something that is completely made up, you know who he is because there is such an honesty to what he does. I like to include a story. On my first album, “Class Act,” there’s a pretty messed up story that’s true, that I like a lot and then there’s a story on my hour special, “Positive Influence” and on the special I just taped last month, “I Got This” there’s a story at the end that closes the special out. I think it’s good to give the audience something else. If I were talking to someone in a bar, we’re not going to have a one rhythm conversation but I remember as an early comic that story telling was so foreign to me; I was used to those short sets in New York.
The Interrobang: You started out in New York. I’m interested to hear your take on this. We’re in Chicago right now and this city has always been that classic nest for comedians to hone their skills, figure out who they are and then take their training wheels off and make the move to a coast but that wasn’t your experience. You started out in New York City right out of the gates.
Sam Morril: I left for about a year and a half to go to college in New Orleans and part of the reason it killed me there was there was only one open mic. It was right after Katrina and the city was pretty devastated and I was always looking to do comedy.
The Interrobang: Where was the first stage you went up on?
Sam Morril: It was an open mic in New York called “Collective Unconscious.” My next show after that was a graduation show at The Comic Strip. I took a class there and Joe Machi was in it too. I had just graduated high school and I met him day one of comedy. He’s still one of my best friends. He may be the best writer of topical jokes. It’s pretty insane how good he is at it.
The Interrobang: Joe Machi is a walking redirect. He is a redirect personified.
Sam Morril: You never know where he’s going. You make a judgement about him before you hear the material and then you feel foolish for having made it.
The Interrobang: And you laugh even harder because of it.
Sam Morril: Because he’s so smart…. But enough complementing Joe! I don’t even like him that much! LOL!
The Interrobang: LOL! Ok! So, New York, your first time on stage…. You’re starting out in the open mic scene in New York City. I can’t imagine that you were surrounded by a ton of comedians at the same level as you. There had to be a bunch of comics who were there from different cities who were already years into their career trying to get the same stage time as you, wasn’t there?
Sam Morril: Yes, but there were also a lot of comics who were just starting out and some of them are still around today. There were good comics in the New York open mics but there were also horrible comics. You definitely didn’t want to be known as one of the bad comics. You wanted to be known as the comedian who had a good joke last week, so the comics were looking to see what you came up with this week. But actually, my favorite thing to do for stage time, and it sounds insane, but I used to like to flyer. I’d hand out flyers for stage time.
The Interrobang: Like bark?
Sam Morril: Yes. At least then you’d have an audience that would listen to you. I didn’t like performing for comedians at the open mics because the comedians weren’t great at paying attention. That’s why I always say new comics need an open mic buddy. Someone to bounce jokes off of and to have pay attention to your material when you go up. Joe Machi and I would also do this thing at The Comic Strip called “Late Night” where we went on after the regular show. We’d have to hang out for like three hours to get those few minutes of stage time and you’d usually end up with a tired crowd but that’s what we had to do. Machi and I always felt like we were crushing there, even with new stuff and we were like, “Hey, pay attention to us. Why aren’t we on the lineups? We’re funnier than most of these guys”… but they didn’t pass us and they’d just let these garbage comics cut us in line and it would make us furious.
The Interrobang: A positive side to starting out in New York and having so many established comedians around you is that they were there and to bear witness to your act, recognize your talent and help you out once you were ready.
Sam Morril: That’s how I got into The Comedy Cellar. It was back in 2011. My friend Ryan Hamilton introduced me to Gary Gulman and I was going to be featuring for him on the road. I was nervous to be working with him and going on before him because I was such a fan of his work but then I got off stage and the first thing Gary said to me was that he loved my jokes and by the end of the weekend he told me that I was going to be the first comic he ever recommended to The Comedy Cellar. He was so generous in so many ways.
The Interrobang: Oh, my goodness! That’s a huge complement, Sam! From working with you for the weekend to vouching for your talent and recommending you to The Cellar! That’s awesome!
Sam Morril: It was huge! He also got me my first manager but him just saying that I was funny was enough for me. Gary is such a cerebral, great joke writer. It really meant a lot to me and I was not expecting it.
The Interrobang: Do you feel like it’s upon you now to pass the torch and help some of the new crop of comedians? You’re totally ready to be that guy for someone else.
Sam Morril: I try. I always ask who’s funny when I’m on the road and I recommended Dina Hashem at The Cellar. She killed it.
The Interrobang: I saw Dina on Joe List and Jason Kanter’s apartment show and thought she was hilarious. Good recommendation, Sam!
Sam Morril: That’s a great show. Dina’s such a good joke writer. She’s doing a great job over there and everyone likes her, so that’s cool. I’m going to try and get one other guy in there now, Raanan Hershberg. He was just on James Corden a few nights ago, look up his set, he killed it!
The Interrobang: I will. I have to tell you what a great joke writer I find you to be and you definitely have a reputation for being one of the best joke writers amongst other comedians. Louis C.K. writes an hour of material a year, Woody Alan writes a movie a year, do you set writing goals for yourself?
Sam Morril: My goal right now is to have a new hour, that’s funny, as quickly as possible. I’d like to have a new 45 by the time my new hour drops next month. It doesn’t have to be ready to be recorded but I’d like to have it ready to be worked out. This crowd tonight was so giving, they were perfect to experiment with so that was good.
The Interrobang: You’re such a good writer! Think about all of the movies you loved when you were a kid. Think about all of the movies you think are well written. What movie would you want to be the next big Hollywood reboot and what role would you want to play in it?
Sam Morril: The Long Goodbye with Elliot Gould. I think a lot of comics want to be detectives. I’d like to be a badass detective.
The Interrobang: Woody Alan writes a lot of detective movies.
Sam Morril: Yeah, I love Manhattan Murder Mystery. I love Woody Alan’s work. That’s probably a reckless thing to say for my career but that was my childhood.
The Interrobang: I’d like to get a little personal with you for a second. I’m a counselor, a school counselor so I’m not therapeutic but things people say still sometimes stick out to me because of it.
Sam Morril: That’s ok, I have the maturity of a 6th grader so that works perfectly for me.
The Interrobang: I’ve noticed that you come down on yourself a lot for laughing at inappropriate times and places. Has that gotten you into a lot of trouble?
Sam Morril: Oh sure, as a kid… Always! But I wasn’t doing it maliciously. Some people think that just because you’re laughing at something it means you agree with it. I’ve laughed at a lot of horrible things and just because I thought the joke was funny, that doesn’t mean that I agree with it. Just like a retweet is not an endorsement, my laughter is not saying “Yes, I’m down with this.” Laughing is a reaction. It is a release of tension.
The Interrobang: Exactly and as a counselor I see it a lot. Students laughing at inappropriate times and there is absolutely nothing “malicious” or “bad” about it. Laughing in those moments is simply a defense mechanism and is usually just a sign that your body is taking care of you and protecting you against anxiety or unwelcome stress. Your brain is literally put in a tense situation and has to make the decision between releasing the tension through a coping mechanism that works for you OR going face to face with anxiety and quite often, laughing is the healthier option.
Sam Morril: I still have anxiety but I feel like it goes down easier with a laugh. My mom always was a very proper woman so saying something horrible and seeing her reaction would always make me laugh because she would be like, “SAM!” and that was always so funny to me because they’re just words. Comics are like serial killers because you can always trace who we are back to our childhoods.
The Interrobang: I had a theory that in order to truly know comedy you must also be acquainted with tragedy in some way because once you can see the comedy within a tragedy it’s kind of like the veil is lifted and you can start to see the comedy in everything. What do you think it is that connects people to comedy?
Sam Morril: I think I had a really good childhood and I love my parents. When I look at my life I feel very lucky. No one’s life is perfect, everyone has something, but for me I think It’s always been my love of jokes more than anything that does it for me.
The Interrobang: That’s awesome. I talked to Judd Apatow about this once and he said he thought the key to comedy was empathy.
Sam Morril: Huh, that’s weird… because one night at The Cellar I was crying and Judd told me to go fuck myself! LOL!
The Interrobang: LOL!!! I’m dying!!! LOL!!!
Sam Morril: No, Judd definitely has a ton of empathy. I remember one time I was going through a breakup and he talked to me about it for like an hour. There was no reason for him to take that kind of interest in me but he did. He told me funny break up stories and was really cool.
The Interrobang: Awww! That is so sweet! He was passing the torch of kindness and compassion that he got from Garry Shandling.
Sam Morril: Garry Shandling is one of the comedians I really wish I had the chance to know because Larry Sanders was amazing and Rip Torn’s delivery was so good. I just don’t see how anyone could get funnier than that.
The Interrobang: Well, I think you’re hilarious and I’m really looking forward to watching your hour special when it comes out next month! Thank you so much for your openness and your time!
Sam Morril’s comedy special, “I Got This” is streaming for free on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel now! You don’t want to miss it.