Sam Morril Finds the "Fun in Making Fun of Everyone"
The stand-up comedian doesn't want to be political — unless it's really, really funny
Published Sep 20, 2023Like other comics before him, Sam Morril entered comedy curiously, on a whim, only to discover that he signed up for something all-consuming: the life of an insatiable stand-up.
"We were joking about this the other day," Morril says. "We had lunch, my parents and I, and I said, 'You know, I really got into stand-up because I think I was kind of a fuck-up and I thought it was a way to drink for free and I like jokes.' And then I realized how hard I had to work if I wanted to be a successful comic, and that really made it difficult — I didn't want to fail at this because I really love it."
Morril is a gifted stand-up comedian, writer, and actor based in his hometown of New York City. Through a dedicated tour schedule, hard work and sheer force of will, over the past 20 years Morril has developed a following for his quick wit, faculty for clever misdirection, and bold jokes, which led to him appearing on late night TV talk shows like Conan and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You also may have seen or heard him acting on TV shows like Inside Amy Schumer and the animated series Ten Year Old Tom, or Oscar-winning films like Joker.
He has hosted podcasts and shows like We Might Be Drunk, Games with Names and People Talking Sports, and was a one-on-one guest on the Netflix show That's My Time with David Letterman. Morril has released four excellent stand-up specials to date, including 2020's unique pandemic-era time capsule Up on the Roof, and his 2022 Netflix special Same Time Tomorrow.
His always-busy tour schedule brings him to the 2023 Just for Laughs Toronto festival for a show at Meridian Hall on September 21, ahead of many other American and Australian fall dates. Despite travelling for gigs more than most of his contemporaries, Morril has slightly handcuffed himself, because he doesn't drive.
"You'd think [it'd be a problem], but not really," Morill explains. "I can get anywhere flying, by train, and by car. Especially at this point, I can bring someone to drive. I mean, the only time you feel it is when you're in some small town and they're like, 'Oh, we don't have Uber.' And you're like, 'You don't have Uber? Ah, shit.'
He continues, "I remember I was leaving a gig in Appleton, WI, and I leave reasonably early for flights. I thought, 'This is a small town, this will be easy.' I call, there's like one Uber in the whole town, 31 minutes away. He's completing a drive, but he's just doing it for everyone. So, I was panicking. And the guy at the front desk at the hotel — he kind of looked like Kenneth from 30 Rock. He saw me panicking, and said, 'What can I do to help you?' And I said, 'Oh, you know, I just, I'm panicking because I don't wanna miss my flight.' And he said, 'I'll drive you!' And I was like, 'You don't have to worry about the hotel?' He said, 'Nah, there's another guy.' And I thought, 'If this is how I get murdered, I kind of deserve it.'"
To hear Morril tell it, he has always relied on the kindness of strangers — but also some heroes, too. After immersing himself in comedy clubs during college, seeing stand-ups like Dave Attell, Bill Burr and the late Greg Giraldo made alt- and club comic trajectories seem viable for someone who was willing to put the hours in.
"Obviously, a guy I looked at was John Mulaney," Morril says. "He was doing the road, you would see him going up at some clubs, but he could also be an alternative room guy. He just had the chops to work anywhere — he was so young and honed and articulate and funny. He just felt like a pro, so that to me was a cool look."
Because he was (and still is) a fixture at clubs, hungry for stage time, Morril frequently encountered some of the comics he most admired, including Mulaney, whom he describes as a super nice guy.
"I saw him at the [Comedy] Cellar one night, right after I bombed a corporate event, and he's like [affecting a slight Mulaney impression], 'Sam, how you been?' And I said, 'Oh, I just ate it at this event.' And he goes, 'Oh, I hate that! Let's get a booth!' And it's just such a comic instinct — he saw that I was a little rattled and was just trying to make me laugh and be nice. And he's just, yeah, genuinely nice."
When asked about how the perception of Mulaney has changed for some of his fans, since he offered surprise guest slots to Dave Chappelle on tour and publicly addressed his substance abuse relapse and divorce, Morril returns the favour, figuratively offering Mulaney the warmth of a booth.
"Well, I just thought, 'Get a life,'" Morril says of such critics. "What are you doing? I mean, they don't realize that our bond as comedians just runs deep. So, my instinct is to side with a comedian. Of course, there're cases like — look, I'm not going to have Cosby drop in. But you don't understand that this bond runs deep. It's complicated. But also, Chappelle's a great comedian. I don't understand. He may touch on topics that you don't like, but this guy is a comedy legend, whether you like it or not."
In his own work, Morril is something of an equal opportunity satirist. There's a bit that opens his latest Netflix special, where one might assume he's about to make a pro-police statement, until he pulls the rug out to slyly refer to the perils that schoolteachers face due to gun violence.
"I look at it as social commentary; I don't think it's political," Morril says. "I'm not condemning either side, really. When I think of a political comic, I think they're leaning hard into one side. And I don't like that. I like that people from both sides can come to my show.
"I don't think it's my job to tell people how to think, but then, inevitably, certain bits will have an angle and a stance. But I don't like to hammer people with it. I think that feels more political, and I don't like partisan comedy. So yeah, that joke is, I'm making fun of cops essentially, and the misdirect is basically saying teachers get shot more than cops. But I think that's a joke that should hopefully be funny to cops and teachers.
He adds, "Look, I dabble. And occasionally you have one and you're like, 'This is going to piss someone off, but I just think it's really funny, so fuck it.' I think there's fun in making fun of everyone. And I think I'm not doing it in such a harsh way that the person getting hit shouldn't laugh at it, because that's kind of the type of comedy that got me into comedy."
In fact, one of Morril's earliest and most impactful vocational awakenings came after an interaction involving comedy in his family home.
He remembers, "When I was a kid, my mom saw me laughing on my Discman, and she was like, 'What is he listening to?' I was so young, she grabbed my headphones and put it on, and it was Chris Rock's album, Roll with the New, and I just saw this look of horror come over my mom's face, followed by her laughing. And I was like, 'Wow, that's fucking beautiful that Chris Rock has that ability to push you there,' you know what I mean?
"That's why I fell in love with Rock's comedy at such a young age — he was so good at pissing you off in the setup and then making you fucking howl with laughter at the end of the joke. I mean, it's my favourite type of joke."
Below, listen to this entire interview with Sam Morril on the Kreative Kontrol podcast.