Courtesy of Pickwick and Frolic
Touring comedians often stay up late performing, get up early for cringey morning show promos and then strap in on a plane and take off to the next city where they do it all over again.
Comedian Sam Morril knows it’s a hard knock life, but he loves it.
Morril’s been showcasing his latest material on his current tour; he’ll record his newest special at the Village Underground in New York next week. He performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Hilarities
If you’re not already a fan, you probably recognize Morril from Comedy Central (his debut album on Comedy Central records sailed to No. 1 on iTunes) or from his slew of late-night appearances.
In a recent phone interview, Morril explains how he manages to pull off his signature controversial style during a sensitive time for comedy.
This isn’t your first time performing in Cleveland is it?
No, I’ve done it a couple of times before. Actually, my closer in this hour is a story about Cleveland from many years ago. [I’ve done] Hilarities a couple of times. It’s a great club. [It’s] pretty cool to be back.
You mentioned recently that your new material mentions “me too” and “gun stuff.” Your brand doesn’t stray from controversial subjects, but did you find yourself hesitating this time around?
No, not really. I think it was just finding a way to make ’em funny because I don’t wanna be up there going to those areas if it’s not going to make people crack up because then it’s just not worth it.
Has the reaction been pretty good so far?
Yeah. Every once and a while you’ll get someone who gets annoyed or offended by one joke. I also find that sometimes they’re not even really offended; they’re just drunk. So last night, someone gave me a big thumbs down during an abortion joke; and it’s a pretty well-structured joke — a pretty well-thought-out joke. I was just kind of like, "Yeah? Where were you on the school shooting joke?" You can’t just show up whenever you feel like being offended. You gotta be prepared to have a really good reason for why it’s not OK, because I don’t think anything’s malicious, you know?
Do you mention Trump at all?
I mention his name once in the whole hour, and it’s not even really a Trump joke; it’s a joke about people being outraged. I did a bunch of Trump jokes this week at the Comedy Cellar, and I’m shocked when people want me to talk about Trump. I’m always shocked when they’re like, “You didn’t talk about Trump,” and I’m like, “You didn’t get enough of it from all seven late-night shows that do the exact same Trump jokes from the same angle?” I feel like people kind of like a break from that.
So, you’re bored with Trump jokes? Is it just low-hanging fruit at this point?
I wouldn’t say that any topic is low-hanging fruit, I think it’s the way you go about it. But because Trump is almost a joke in itself, it’s hard to find that many great angles. If you’re just doing the most obvious stuff… I’d like to hear what Jon Stewart has to say about it, but when you hear like every late-night host [do it] it feels like it’s the same angle. It’s also hard to make super original takes on Trump when the setup is so absurd, you know? Usually, the turn is the surprise, not the setup. I think the more unbelievable the setup, the more you’ve already lost people.
What do you think about cancel culture? Do you think it’s kind of dangerous for comedy?
Of course. I also think that there’s nothing that makes you sound more old and boring than asking people if they’ve been triggered. I think that’s such an annoying angle to take and makes you sound out of touch. But yeah, I think coming for people’s jobs is always dangerous because it’s everything they have. It’s strange to me. It’s almost like you’re trying to take away their identity. It’s almost like a social death penalty. [When someone is canceled] you’re doing something pretty permanent and unforgiveable, and I think forgiveness is good. It’s also good to take risks in forms of entertainment. [When comedians are] talking about Trump, it feels like there’s almost no risk because it’s a pretty easy topic. I always like comics that push the boundaries a little bit just because it gets my attention. The people that do it recklessly are usually exposed at some point and the people who do it well, you hope that people get what they’re doing.
Do you ever feel like you’re walking on a tight rope in that regard?
Yeah, I think so. I think you are sometimes, but I also think that’s what makes joke-writing challenging. You’re walking on a tight rope with a joke about trail mix. So of course, when you go to a more risqué topic or even a more vulnerable topic, if you’re exposing yourself as bad in some way, I think there’s slightly more risk there. [But] if there wasn’t a risk, it would mean anyone could do it.
Do you feel like it’s a good or bad time to be a comedian? On one hand, the climate is sensitive, on the other, everyone has a platform with social media. It also seems like so many have a Netflix special.
I don’t think it’s easy to get a Netflix special at all. I think a lot of people say there’s a broad landscape of comedy but if you look at who’s getting the specials on Netflix, it’s mostly only famous people. Look at who even gets the awards; even Grammy nominations, it’s just all popular artists. It’s like Ellen DeGeneres…I’ve never seen Ellen in a club before in my life. I don’t think Netflix is just handing stuff out to people unless they fit what they think is going to be like an explosive hit. I think there’s little risk in what Netflix does and what the [other] platforms do because it’s a business — why would they take risks? I don’t think they take risks at all. I mean, is putting $70 million on Eddie Murphy a risk? Or is it a risk to put $500,000 on an unknown comic?
With all that being said, do you think it’s a good or a bad era to be a comedian?
You know, I go back and forth on that. I think it’s great that you can make your own way and social media’s great for that. I also think it’s harmful. I think the way we communicate is harmful and not healthy. I would have loved to be a comic in the ‘80s and just done Carson and been famous off late-night sets instead of having to write a new bit every two days that’s like, really killer. So, I think that we have to work way harder and I think that makes us better at standup, but I also think the output — it runs me into the ground sometimes. I feel like I have to be on the road so much just to stay in shape. So, I think the demand is hard right now.
I imagine you feel a lot of pressure to constantly pump out content.
Yeah, I do. It’s a lot.
Shifting gears, who were your comedy heroes growing up?
I liked a lot of comics growing up. When I was young, I liked Rodney Dangerfield movies because he was just so funny. He couldn’t not be funny. I remember Chris Rock albums had a pretty big influence on me and Dave Attell always made me laugh so hard. Anyone who could just write a good joke. I loved people like Rock and Bill Hicks because they were so kind of edgy with their takes but also so smart and thoughtful; it felt like they earned it. Then someone like Attell was so witty. He felt like so comedically sophisticated; where every take didn’t have a whiff of act in it, it was just so good.
What’s next for you? Any bucket list venues or projects?
I just want to keep doing standup for bigger crowds — I want the crowd size to keep increasing. I like doing standup a lot, so I just hope that the schedule on the road gets a little more tolerable. Every once in a while, I’m like, "Man, the late nights, the early mornings, the flights…if I could just cut out one of those things, I would feel sick less of the time and probably be better." But I also don’t know how to be good without doing long sets. There’re some people that just do sets in New York — I never trust their acts as much. I think if you’re not on the road… [but] some people can get away with that, but I’m just not one of 'em."
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