Today’s subject has a strange delivery on stage—his jokes take on the classic set-up, punchline structure, yet his wry, knowing smile and disgruntled voice belie the depths of his humor. He is able to subvert even the most well-trodden comedic subjects like dating blunders, self-deprecating Jewish humor, and daddy issues. However, with each joke, he uniquely spins the premise into a darkly humorous commentary with a deadpan, effortless cadence that brings to mind the Steven Wright. And like many comics, this ability to joke around obviously comes from a place of alienation and sadness; abandonment issues, personal failures, and a sense of ennui are present throughout his set. The young comic, who will release a Comedy Central half hour this year, brings a unique sense of honesty with oneself to the stage, while still couching his deep insights in tight one-liners and quotidian observations. But that is what makes Sam Morril a perfect comic to sit on our proverbial couch and reveal the inner depths of his mind.
Was it clear from your childhood that you would be a comedian? Were you class clown or a practical joker?
I was definitely the class clown. I think it was out of insecurity because for a while I wasn’t a very good student, but I still wanted to make my mark. I went to a small all-boys high school in Manhattan so I had to wear a jacket and a tie to school. Looking back, there’s something amusing about a 9th grader dressed like a banker disrupting class with fart jokes.
When did you first start doing stand up comedy? Why did you choose stand up, and not something in the realm of sketch or improv?
In sketch groups, you have to rely on other people. I didn’t want my development as a comedian to be hindered because someone in my sketch group overslept. Also, I really like jokes.
Some people say trauma begets comedy, do you think your family issues, your issues with your dad, are what triggered you to become a comedian?
I wouldn’t call that traumatic. I’d call it unfortunate. Who knows? I look back at being part of a blended family growing up, and that probably played a significant role. Making people laugh was important to how I connected to people, and my step-brother and step-sister were not always easy laughs. There’s a lot of discomfort when two different families are instantly one family. I was too young to see how difficult it was so I was always breaking the tension with jokes. Laughs made me feel closer to them.
Speaking of family, what does your family think of your comedy? Have they seen your stand up? Are there jokes you aren’t allowed to say in front of them?
Yeah, I’ve seen my mom in the crowd put her head down on certain jokes. I don’t blame her. I’m definitely the crude one in the family. Everyone is so well-mannered in my family that at a Sunday dinner, I sometimes feel like Rodney Dangerfield at the country club in Caddyshack. I do bounce jokes off my mom all the time because I want my bits to be funny for people of all ages. Also, she has a great laugh. It’s booming. My parents have been supportive, and they think it’s cool. A couple years back, I opened for Jim Jefferies in the Best Buy Theater in NYC, a huge venue, and they came to that show. I think that was the moment they thought, “okay, this is for real.” They also love the Comedy Cellar.
A lot of your jokes are about failed relationships with women, has talking about those experiences on stage made you better at handling relationships in real life?
I’m more aware of my shortcomings, but I’m still a dummy when it comes to my relationships. If a friend asks for relationship advice, I’m usually pretty good at that, but where I struggle is applying that same advice to my own life. I actually do a podcast with Phil Hanley and Anya Marina about relationships called We Know Nothing—the title is our disclaimer—where people sometimes call in about their relationship.
Has your stand up changed at all in style or content since you first started? How so?
Absolutely. I used to be even jokier—is that a word?—than I am now. These days, at the core of my jokes, there is usually an opinion. Also, I write longer bits now, and if the setup doesn’t get a huge pop, I don’t panic like I used to. I still write silly jokes, but now I tell stories too. I have a more versatile set than when I first started. Whoa, that makes me sound pretentious. Don’t worry. I still don’t like myself.
That makes me sound pretentious. Don’t worry. I still don’t like myself.
Have you ever bombed on stage? How did that make you feel?
Of course. It depends on the bomb, I guess. If I’m bombing for an hour, it sucks. It stings for a good 10-15 minutes now if it’s a bad one, then I’m over it. Once I get the first big laugh on my next set I’m like, “yeah, that’s more like it.”
I had a bomb at Eastville Comedy Club (a club I usually like) on a Sunday recently that was so bad, I took my phone out during the set and video taped them. I said, “I’m sorry. I need proof of how shitty this is because my friends won’t believe me.”
How do you handle criticism of your comedy? Do you change your jokes to fit those critiques?
It all depends on how you come at me. If it’s a drunk frat boy, I’m guessing his note for my set isn’t going to make this joke a masterpiece. Recently though, I had a woman approach me after a set and say she really enjoyed my show, but she is the mother of a transgendered child and one joke rubbed her the wrong way. We had a good talk about it, and I actually changed the wording of the joke per her request. I think if the critique is reasonable, listening is a good idea. It can make the joke more accessible. You don’t always have to agree, but I want to know what people are thinking. That being said, most punch-ups I get after a show are dumb.
You’re a New York-based comic, but you’ve toured to other cities and done stand up there. Do you think NY has a better comedy scene than LA, Chicago, the other big comedy cities?
Yes. NY is the best comedy scene. No question. There are other good scenes, but stop kidding yourself. You come here if you want to get great, and you come here if you want to see great comedy.
How has comedy affected your mental health?
It’s helped and it’s hurt. It’s helped that I can make my frustrations funny and get laughs from them onstage. That feels great. I also have the friends that I wish I had my entire life. We are connected through something we love, and we’re all passionate about. Riffing with my friends, I feel like I’m a part of something I always wanted to be a part of. It’s also helped because the attention people need from throwing themselves parties, I don’t need that. I get it every night onstage.
It’s hurt because I’m on the road a lot, which definitely makes you feel isolated at times. The goal of a comic is to connect to people, and there are days when I’m not around any people all day, then some bar-back picks me up for my show and I entertain these strangers who are the first people I’ve seen since last night. It’s also hurt because I feel like I’d be a shitty boyfriend since I travel so much and that’s probably sabotaged some relationships. Also, my hours are that of a prostitute and I feel like a zombie most days. What an upbeat ending!