Sam Morril is a great writer of jokes. His comedy often comes from a place of uncomfortable honesty.
“I look exactly like my biological father so I showed my friend a picture, and he said, ‘wow, it’s like you guys were separated at birth.’ I said, ‘we were.’”
“My girlfriend always got mad at me because of my ADD. She’d say, ‘Sam, you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder.’ I’d say, ‘if you see me suffering, why don’t you tell shorter stories?’
Sam is currently working on his new album and will be touring a lot this fall – he’s been on Conan, Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central, and has a weekly podcast, Moonlighting.
I sat down with Morril at a diner next to Standup NY in between a night of four sets around NYC, a typical night for this hard-working comedian.
Do you take any days off or are you working almost every night?
I feel like the days off choose me rather than me choosing the days off. I don’t plan any, I would work every night if I was offered every night, and a lot of weeks that’s how it is.
What do you think about the state of standup comedy in New York City right now?
I think it’s great, I think it’s so competitive, and there are so many great comics, that it keeps you on your game. It can be scary, you can drown in all the comedians, but at the same time, there are so many opportunities here to become better, and that’s why this is the ultimate gym for a comic.
What do you do with your days off?
I read, I watch TV, I’ll go to a movie or something, I’ll just take walks. Or I’ll go on a date or something, I don’t know.
I know a lot of comics get weird about taking too much time off. Can you relate?
Why, cause it’s too tempting to take more time off? That might be it. I kind of enjoy my time off. But you don’t want to be too comfortable, you want to constantly be feeling something. I feel if I have a bad writing day I feel bad about myself, I feel not good. But there are some days where I just take walks and some stuff will pop in your head and there’s some days when I sit in front of the computer all day and I get nothing so, sometimes a person may be meant to not have a good writing day.
Do you write every day?
I try to, but I didn’t write today, and then some days… On paper I want to be writing every day, I’ve got the ideas to be writing every day, cause that’s what New York does to you, I’ve got friends who write every day, so I’d better be writing every day.
It is definitely a discipline.
Are most of your friends comedians? And are you guys supportive of each other?
Mhm. I think to be good at this you’ve gotta be a little obsessed, and you just kind of gravitate towards the other guys who are obsessed, cause you’ve gotta make this, I mean it’s crazy, I got into this because I was like a fuckin’ dumb kid. It’s a cool job, and now I’m like “oh you’ve gotta really work. It’s funny how many fuckups fall into standup, and then you’re like “oh I gotta be,” like you said, “disciplined.” So now I guess I gravitate towards these guys who are really funny, and I’m just surrounded by them and then you’re like “oh we should write together too, we should bounce bits’ y’know call each other out if it’s hacky.” It keeps you on your game if you hang with funny people. I’m not saying don’t hang out with regular civilians, cause then you’re in a bubble. Hang with regular people too, hang with different types of people, but yeah your friends become comics cause you’re out.
What about your love life? Is it hard for a comedian to date?
Women love dinner, it’s very important to a relationship to have dinner with someone. I think it’s a sign of stability, the dinner table, it’s like a family thing, “we’re gonna have dinner.” I can’t do dinner. My life is at night. But I will breakfast and lunch the shit out of you. But I can’t do dinner. Let’s do a great breakfast, we’ll go somewhere fun, we’ll do a fun lunch.
I also get anxiety when I’m not working a lot of the time, or we’re not doing something comedy related, we’ll be out during the day and I’m like “I should be writing.” Even if I’m not I should be trying. I guess there’s a part of me thinks I don’t deserve another part of my life, like I haven’t earned it comedically, or something. Like I haven’t been on vacation, really ever, since I was a kid, so I’m like “well I don’t deserve vacation.”
When did you feel like you could call yourself a comedian?
If you’ve done an open mic you can call yourself a comic, but I didn’t feel like a comic when I was handing out flyers. I felt like a comic when I started and I was doing bringer shows because I’d do well, but then those friends go away, and then I’m handing out flyers for stage time.
Now I’m working, and I’m paying my bills with it, and it’s just…feels like it’s a real thing, for sure.
So you’d say in the past, what two years?
Past three or four years, I think. I started to do well in competitions and stuff, and I would beat people with my jokes I was like “Oh, if I’m doing well enough to win these things, then I can be a comic, I think.” That was the logic.
Why did you want to be a comedian, or did it just happen?
I wanted to be a Bill Murray type when I started, I wanted to be a comedic actor, and then I just started to become obsessed with standup, and I loved Carlin and Dangerfield and all those kinds of comics, I love just like setup punch old school jokes, and I just started writing jokes. I did a thing at my school, I did a presentation we had to do volunteer work and then do a summary for the whole school on the volunteer work, and I turned it into a routine, I just did standup. And it killed cause they all knew me, so then I was like “oh I’m gonna start doing open mics.” That’s what you’ve gotta do.
I think I met Patton Oswalt after a show in New York, and I was like “what do I do” and he was like “do open mics, just go to every open mic. And if you email me I’ll respond to your email.” And he responded to the email, and he was like do this. Gotta do mics, and I did mics and they were awful, they were humiliating and awful but I just kept doing them.
When is it too soon and when is it too late to make a joke about a tragedy?
The crowd lets you know. I think once you get laughs you know if it’s too soon or not. I don’t think it’s a specific time frame, it’s when people are comfortable laughing. It also depends on where the joke is coming from, like what are you making fun of? Must have been like a week after the Boston bombing when I was at the cellar and I made a joke, I was like “That made me so sad, y’know, when that happened, those Boston bombers, my first thought was ‘me and my brother we don’t do anything together anymore.’” I said that, it killed.
I love it.
So, I think the whole thing, I think that the Boston thing, it was, they knew where the joke was coming from. I wasn’t being like “ha ha, those victims.” I made it about me, I mentioned the tragedy, so I don’t think it’s ever ‘too soon’ if you find the right angle, I guess I’ll say. I mean the Daily Show would do it the night of a lot of the time. If you make fun of the right people, people were talking about Ferguson immediately, but like y’know, John Oliver did that great thing on Ferguson, so like, just find the right angle and I think you can make it.
You have a joke about your birth father – being separated at birth. Did yo have a rough childhood?
I think, on a personal note, there’s definitely some part of me that wanted to say fuck you to my birth father. He’s seen me perform, and he’s seen me like shit on him, a lot, I’ve done a lot of jokes about him. And he’ll like play it off, like “oh boy you sure gave me a good roasting there” y’know? And there’s a part of me that’s like “yeah, I did.” And I’ll only invite him to really good shows so I know I’ll do really well. So he’s like “fuck, I shouldn’t have abandoned him,” y’know? So, yeah I think there’s an I’ll-show-you aspect and there’s also a wanting to get love from the strangers in the spots where it’s missing from my life. And I had a great childhood, but there was parts of it that were missing, like every person has, and I think that’s part of it too. As a performer, you find where the love that’s missing and you get it elsewhere, and that’s not the healthiest place to look for it.
And you felt you could sometimes get that through comedy.
Of course, yeah I get off a hot show and I’m like “ah, people like me, that was great.” And then also the exact opposite. But some nights you’re like “It all clicked.” I mean last night I featured and killed, it felt great, bar show. And then I go uptown, Stand-Up New York, a club, and it was really up and down, and it’s amazing how it can shift. It’s amazing that one room can be like “you’re for us.” And the next room’s like “who the fuck told you you were funny. Where did you get that idea?”
Photo by Mindy Tucker.