Q&A with Sam Morril: Building a career in comedy, bit by bit

No funny business — unless it is your business to be funny. Photo courtesy of Sam Morril.

MAE-MAE HAN | MANAGING EDITOR | mhan@butler.edu

Over the course of more than a decade, stand-up comedian Sam Morril has collected a wide range of experiences under his comedy belt: a 2022 Netflix special, an interview with David Letterman — even a cameo in Joaquin Phoenix’s 2019 “Joker”. Morril’s three YouTube specials — “I Got This” self-produced for Comedy Central, “Up on the Roof” self-produced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and “Positive Influence” presented by Amy Schumer — have over 15 million views combined. 

Based in NYC, Morril is known for his dry, deadpan delivery while cleverly tackling taboo topics. His international Class Act Tour will be taking a stop at the Old National Centre in Indianapolis on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.

Ahead of the show, Morril talked with The Butler Collegian about his early years in the comedy scene, a surprising appreciation for Indianapolis, past works and future plans. 

THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: How did you get started with comedy? 

SAM MORRIL: To graduate high school, we were required to do community service. I was a coach to little kids in sports, and I did a stand-up routine about that at my school. Everyone else was doing presentations. I was like, “Well, this is a safe environment” — safe as in I’ll never see these people again if this is bad, seeing as it’s the end of high school. 

I feel like they wanted me to be good when I went up there, which is very rare for a young comic. It went really well, and it shouldn’t have. I was like, “Maybe I could do this.” 

Then I went to an open mic — and people just don’t pay attention. You just bomb. The silence is loud. You’re like, “Wow! It feels like you guys are trying not to laugh at these jokes.” I remember calling my dad after, and he was like, “How was it?” And I was like, “Terrible. But I’m gonna keep doing it.” 

But you find your rooms where you do well, and slowly, you progress. For me, that was a comedy club called the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side, and it’s where a lot of famous comedians got their start. Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld feature that club in their Netflix specials because that’s where they started. It had history, and I did late nights there for years. 

TBC: What did you study in college? 

SM: I went to Tulane, and I didn’t really have a major there. I was ready to drop out, but I ended up transferring to NYU. I was in this artsy department there where they’re like, “You can come up with your own major,” and I was like, “Alright, comedy,” and they’re like, “Well, it can’t be comedy.” 

And man, I had this adviser who just hated me. She was like, “Have you ever seen the film ‘Easy Rider’?” I was 19 or 20, maybe, and I was like, “Oh, I haven’t.” She was like, “Egh!” And I was like, “Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t seen [it]. You’re f*cking 40 years older than me. What do you want from me?” 

So she was then like, “You can do comedy as a major if it’s ancient Greek comedy.” So it was 4,000 B.C. plays I was reading, like Aristophanes. Some of the plays are actually kind of funny, which sounds crazy, but they’re all the same jokes [as today]. 

TBC: Would you have considered college a wise investment for you? 

SM: No, no, definitely not. I don’t recommend it. But I had parents who were like, “You can’t not go.” I also had the unfortunate thing where I had two older siblings who’re just absurd overachievers, so that put me in a terrible position. You’d think [my parents] were playing with house money with me where they were like, “Well, he can be a f*ck up. These two are crushing it.” But that made them be like, “No, you’ve gotta bring it. They’re doing well.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sam Morril (@sammorril)

TBC: What specific year did you start trying to make comedy your career? 

SM: I was starting to get a couple of paid gigs very young, but not enough to make a living, so I was doing weird side things that were just helping me to go on the road. I was a full-time stand-up when I won a festival in Atlanta called Laughing Skull. I was probably 23 or 24. 

The main prize [of the festival] was a year of road work so you could be a [full-time] working comic, so that was incredible. Some of the more feature dates paid terrible money, but I sold shirts and CDs after the shows. I’d make more on the shirts sometimes than the money from the gig. 

They’d also give me headline dates where I was making more money, but if a room was willing to headline me at that point in my career, it was a f*cking bad club. 

I remember the first headline weekend I ever did, I thought the owner was f*cking with me — I think he was to this day. I had 43 minutes of jokes [in my set], and you have to do at least 45, so I’d have to weave in crowd work here and there, and I’d have to throw in a current events joke to try to add to it. I got off stage [the first night], and he goes, “What the f*ck is wrong with you?” And I was like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “We’re a family club!” And I said, “What? Just tell me what I said wrong! I don’t know what I said!” And he just shook his head and walked away, and I was like, well, I only have 43 minutes of jokes. I have to do the same set. I can’t cut anything. 

So I just kept doing it, and at the end of the weekend, he was like, “Man, I had my doubts about you, but you really pulled it together,” and I was like, “Every show was the same.”

I don’t know what he was talking about to this day. 

TBC: What advice would you give to young comedians? 

SM: The world of comedy is so different than when I started. When I started, there was no social media, right? 

The weird thing with social media is you can make a living at [comedy], probably at a much younger age than when I started. But at the same time … you could fill seats, but will people come back to see you again? There’s some people who pop up and stay up, and there’s some people who pop up and just come right back down. 

So there are advantages and disadvantages to blowing up on social media, but I think if you can be creative, there are a lot of ways to be creative now. 

TBC: You are currently on a worldwide tour. Tell me about that

SM: Just going everywhere — it’s great. I love the road. 

It was very hard to write new hours when the rooms were papered [and audience members got] free tickets and no one really gave a sh*t. I was playing the Syracuse Funny Bone [back in the day]. I remember half the crowd [walked out], and my agent called me like, “What the f*ck is wrong with you? What did you say?” And I was like, “I just did my act. They just hated my act.” I wasn’t, like, cursing them out in a mall — I’m not a psycho. I was telling jokes, and when the tickets are free, you have no investment in the show, so you just walk in, and you’re like, “Oh, he sucks. I’m leaving.” 

But now, the tickets [for my tour] are not crazy expensive, but expensive enough that it’s really gonna only be my fans who come out, so the crowds are great. I’m spoiled with an amazing audience in every city, and even if we don’t sell it out, it’s packed with my people. So the tour has been great. I’d say almost every city has been killer. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sam Morril (@sammorril)

TBC: You’re gonna be in Indianapolis on Sunday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. at the Old National Centre. Why would you choose to come to Indianapolis? 

SM: That’s a good question. I’ve been coming there for years, and honestly, Indy is a good comedy crowd. 

I actually wrote one of my favorite jokes in Indy; it was in my last Netflix special [“Same Time Tomorrow”]. It was when everyone was saying Dave Chappelle was getting canceled, and I was like, “He’s playing arenas. He’s making 25 million a special.” The joke was if he was canceled, he’d be performing here at Helium in Indy where I am. 

Man, another one of my favorite moments was Indy, too, where I was throwing back glasses of sh*tty comedy club wine, and there was a guy who — 23 years old — told me he had three kids, and he was out with a new woman. I was like, “Dude. What the f*ck is wrong with you? Like, you’re 23 … Didn’t you have dreams or something?” 

There was something about Indy. The crowds allow you to be creative, and they allow you to have fun. And yeah, I’ll go anywhere where people will pay to see me that isn’t, you know, a war zone, I guess. 

TBC: I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about Indianapolis … And speaking of your Netflix special, you have a Netflix special called “Same Time Tomorrow”, you also co-host a podcast called “We Might Be Drunk”, you have the Bodega Cat Whiskey, which is distilled in Indiana, and you were in the “Joker” movie

SM: Yeah. 

TBC: With the Netflix special, what was the process of getting that together and getting that out the door? 

SM: Usually, when you’ve been doing this long enough, you don’t really jump for joy at anything you get. [I was grateful, but] by the time [you get it] you’re like, “Yeah, motherf*cker, it’s about time. I’ve proven it.”

It was a good experience. Obviously, you wanna be on Netflix as a comedian. I’ve always felt like kind of a loner in this [industry] because it’s hard to feel secure.

I’ll put it this way. The [WGA] strike just happened. SAG is still on strike. You see how long it takes for people to even come to the table. Well, that’s how the whole business works. You’re really waiting for people to set a meeting, then the meeting gets pushed, then they’re like, “Okay, we’ll get back to you.”

Before you know it, six months of your life are gone. I found that process to be pretty frustrating. I really wanted to just make stuff, and doing a YouTube special gave me the freedom to do everything on my terms.

But then Netflix opened me to a new audience. Maybe the next [special] will be on Netflix. Maybe it’ll be on Amazon. Maybe it’ll be on Hulu. You never know where things end up. They all offer different things. 

TBC: And are there any specific plans that you have upcoming, other projects you want to speak on? 

SM: I’m trying to make a TV show. I’m trying to make a movie. I’m trying to make a lot of stuff, and it’s all a process. I’m trying to get my whiskey [Bodega Cat Whiskey] distribution in New York. I have a lot of things I’m working on. I have terrible ADD, so I like to work on a lot of things at once. I’ve always been that way. 

TBC: Have you ever considered ASMR? People talk about your voice all the time in the comments section

SM: I mean, sure. I wouldn’t know how to do it. I remember when I did America’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell’s like, “Your voice is putting me to sleep,” and I was like, “Well, that’s not what you want to hear after doing [stand-up comedy].” I don’t think he even meant it in a mean way … or maybe he did. It was Simon Cowell. 

TBC: Anything else that you want to say? 

SM: I’m looking forward to Indy. I think it’s going to be a good show. This is probably my favorite hour of material since [my YouTube special] “I Got This”. I think this hour is getting really good and tight, and that’s what touring will do; it forces you to adapt and hone material, and it’s getting there. It’s just a process … You keep adding and cutting, and it feels never-ending — but that just means you’re doing the work. 

Sam Morril will be performing the Class Act Tour in Indianapolis on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Old National Centre. Tickets can be purchased online at LiveNation.com. Check out his Instagram @sammorril for clips from shows, Netflix and YouTube for his comedy specials and his podcast with fellow comedian Mark Normand on YouTube

Responses have been edited for length and clarity


Related posts