After a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic shut down clubs and forced comedians off of the stage, Sam Morril somehow managed to become the hardest-working man in comedy, releasing not one but two new specials in 2020.
The up-and-coming New York City native shot the first one, called I Got This, in late 2019 at his hometown club the Comedy Cellar—and when he watches it now all he notices is how tightly packed the crowd is. “It’s like watching a sci-fi movie,” he jokes on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast.
Just as Morril’s career was really starting to finally take off early last year, all of his upcoming tour dates got canceled. He was “going completely insane” without the stand-up stage as an outlet so he decided to start performing small shows on NYC rooftops and filmed it for a whole new hour, appropriately titled Up on the Roof, which he released for free on his own YouTube channel in late November.
Morril has a unique facility with the “dark joke,” mining his own past to make audiences laugh despite their reluctance. One early bit that exemplifies this sensibility was about his “biological father.” The jokes goes, “I look exactly like him. I showed my friend a picture and he went, ‘Oh my God, it’s like you guys were separated at birth!’” The punchline is just two words: “We were.”
“I think people like dark jokes,” Morril says now. “Some people find an offensive joke to be cathartic and others are just like, ‘That’s not for me.’ And others are like, ‘Fuck you, you don’t deserve to have a career.’ Everyone reacts differently.” But personally, he adds, “Dark jokes make me laugh. They make me feel good.”
Despite about a decade on the road, with half a dozen appearances on Conan as well as sets on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, Morril has had some trouble getting recognized by streaming platforms like Netflix, where so much of the stand-up world’s attention is centered right now.
“I mean, we all have egos,” he tells me. “And the rejection, you can’t act like it doesn’t hurt it. It is what it is.” Morril finds “doing that little tap dance for the industry” a bit “demoralizing” to the point where he says, “I don’t know if I want to ever do it again. I like having creative control. I like being able to choose how things go and when they come out.”
Over the summer, he was doing an outdoor stand-up show in Los Angeles and the host introduced him by saying, “This guy’s got a new YouTube special.” The audience laughed as if it was a joke, even though I Got This, which went up exclusively on Comedy Central’s channel, recently surpassed five million views—likely more than it ever would have gotten had it only run on that TV network.
“It takes the public a while to catch up to how we’re doing things,” Morril says. “I’ve had specials on TV and it didn’t do anything for my career until I started illegally posting the clips myself. So you kind of have to break the rules a little bit or take a shot to your ego if you want it to be seen.”
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Why he changed the wording of a joke after talking to the mother of a trans kid
“It was an old joke. I don’t think it’s even that good of a joke. It was about a Life Alert commercial where the woman was like, ‘Help! Help!’ And I was like, not every ad can just show the worst-case scenario. Like you wake up next to a chick, she's got an Adam's apple and you’re just like, ‘Fuck! LensCrafters.’ And I might’ve said ‘tranny’ in the joke. It was like 2014 or something and I didn’t know it was a slur at the time. Honestly, it wasn't me trying to be malicious. And she told me in a very respectful way. And I said, thanks for telling me, I won’t say it anymore. I think when you have a constructive conversation, I’m always open to it. I’m never trying to just troll. That’s not my style. I’m ashamed of a lot of jokes I’ve told. But I also think if you don’t look back with regret, you’re not moving forward.”
On who gets to make the ‘woke’ rules for comedians
“A lot of these people that are making the ‘woke’ rules are in an Apple Store-looking office in the fucking [Hollywood] Hills. And the only minorities they know are their fucking maids. And they’re like, ‘Actually, that [joke] didn’t work.’ It’s like, well fuck you! I tour the country, I know what works. I know what people like. Our job is to push the boundaries. I just watched a 30 Rock episode where Alec Baldwin said ‘retard.’ That was on NBC. So let’s not act like there weren’t a different set of rules a few years ago. We condemn people without acting like it wasn’t different a few years ago. Acknowledge it was different. Not everyone’s going to catch up at the same speed.”
On Fox News’ late-night ‘comedy’ show
“I used to go on Fox News’ Red Eye all the time. It would be on super late and it was a great training ground for me to just fuck around on TV and write jokes. They would get huge guests. That was the funniest part. It aired at 3 a.m. but you’d be sitting there next to like Karl Rove or some shit. I remember I was on with John Bolton and I was fucking with him. I’m sitting there next to the architect of the Iraq War saying, ‘Hey man, did you ever get mustache rides from interns?’ But I don’t want to go onto any political platform now. At the time it felt a little more innocent. I’ve been asked to go back on shows like that and it’s just not really for me anymore.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian and co-host of ‘House Hunters: Comedians on Couches,’ Natasha Leggero.