Sam Morril Wants to Have a Good, Dark Time With His Comedy | Westword
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Sam Morril Wants to Have a Good, Dark Time With His Standup

Before Sam Morril performs in Denver this Thursday, we talked about his popular (and uncomfortable) interviews with local TV stations, magic mushrooms and the "900 fuckin' podcasts you have to do to sell tickets these days."
Sam Morril revels in discomfort, and it's all for your entertainment.
Sam Morril revels in discomfort, and it's all for your entertainment. Matt Salacuse

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Sam Morril doesn't mind a sticky interview. The 36-year-old comedian's interviews with local TV stations in the South are legendary on social media for his ability to revel in the hosts' discomfort.

Take a recent morning show interview he did in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example.

"I was there years ago. I think you could still get an abortion back then, in Tennessee. These days it's tougher, so I will wear protection this trip," he told a news anchor, who was trying her best to smile through the roast. "There might be a mass shooting joke, but I'm going to make it light."

Whether he's shoving a state's human-rights failures down its own throat or sarcastically waxing poetic about the days of gangster rap — "Sure, people ended up dead, but it was fun" — Morril is proud of his ability to make people laugh about painful subjects. He wants us to confront ourselves through dark jokes, "but in a light way."

"No one watching...this type of programming will want to come to the show," Morril says of his local news roasts. "So why not do something outrageous so viewers will see how funny I am?"

But watching a straight-faced Morril tell an unwitting morning-show host in Tennessee, where a law limiting public drag performances was recently passed, that he wants "all the kids" at his upcoming performance and that he "will be doing the show in drag, only for Tennessee," isn't just funny. It's hilarious.

The East Coast comic will perform two separate shows at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, June 22, and he'll likely have a few Mile High barbs up his sleeve when he takes the stage. To learn more about his TV interview tactics, his thoughts on podcasting and his childhood sitcom dreams, we caught up with Morril while he was on the road.

Westword: You talk about and navigate the topic of "cancel culture" pretty well for someone who jokes about abortion and mass shootings. Are comedians who complain about cancel culture sort of like an old-school big-man in basketball who can't shoot a jump shot? Do comedians need to adapt to fit today's game?

Sam Morril: You've always got to adapt, but it's not people who worry me — it's companies like TikTok or Facebook, the big tech companies. I wouldn't say it's censorship, but they find ways to suppress speech, block keywords and eliminate nuance. That's where I get worried.

A person getting offended by a joke? Who gives a shit about that? But when I make a Nazi joke about condemning Nazis and the joke gets banned because I say the word "Nazi," that's dangerous to me.

A lot of my jokes are touchy subjects. The plan is to make them light and fun. Say I'm touching on abortion or a mass shooting and the joke gets buried because of that — it's annoying. I've been very lucky in being able to circumvent most of the big streamers. Getting a YouTube special was a big bump for me, but if they start censoring that stuff, it's going to be a lot harder to reach people and fans. That's where I'm worried. Not the random one dude on Twitter who says I suck. I could give a shit about that.

How long does it take to craft these jokes around serious topics?

Every once in a while you get a gift, but sometimes it takes forever. And sometimes, something that works forever will stop working. It's always a challenge. I don't know how good my batting average is, or if it's better or worse than it used to be. I definitely have less time to write than I used to.

What's taking away from all of your writing time?

The 900 fuckin' podcasts you have to do to sell tickets these days. I like doing them, but literally every one of my friends has a podcast. If you told me I could sell the same amount of tickets and never have to do the podcasts again, I would walk away in a second. I don't need to be talking this much. I like writing and putting more thought into what I'm doing. Every once in a while podcasts are fun, but that amount I do — I didn't get into comedy to be Don Imus. I wanted to make a sitcom when I was younger.

Is the sitcom dream still attainable? Sitcoms and the way we consume TV has changed a lot in the last five, ten years.

Not in the classic sense, but there are absolutely ways to make a show — if they ever settle this writers' strike, that is. When I got into this, my mom was terrified. She wanted me to take a "safe route' and be a screenwriter, which sounds hilarious as a safe route right nowadays with this strike. I just looked at being a TV writer as having to way for someone to hire me, someone who might not know comedy. But with standup, I figured if I can get to a place where I sell a room out, I'm good. I can always work.

I was kind of in the process of developing a show, but this writers' strike happened, and you can't even meet with people right now. You have to respect that and not put someone in a position to be a scab.

You were a pretty successful comedian at a young age. Did you have any moments that made you wonder if entertainment or standup was the wrong decision?

Yeah, of course. I'm going to Chattanooga this week. The last time I was there was around 2011, and I was bombing. You have these moments where you wonder, "Is this good? Is this a smart thing I should be doing with my life?" But I think you get just enough to keep you in it. You get just enough validation to get going, and then you get to a point where you go, "Well, what else can I even do?" And then you're kinda stuck. So thank God it's working.

You start getting gifts eventually. For me, it was opening for bigger comics, and then you get your show. That's pretty nice, to get your own show, even if it's in a smaller club. From there, you start building your audience. Now I'm in theaters. It's pretty nice.

How much do you tailor your jokes to the particular city or region you're performing in at the moment?

I'm working on a new album that is going to be for everybody, so I don't tailor it to anything. If it's one show, then sure, I'll have a few local jokes. But the actual hour I'm building isn't tailored to any city. This is one of the only forms of entertainment that you really still focus-group, and the audience is part of the editing process for me.

Comedians love to throw in a few cannabis jokes when they come through Colorado, and now we have legal mushrooms, too. Any shot we'll be hearing about those at your shows?

I don't do it, so I don't really care about it. Occasionally I'll do jokes about it because you guys are such fuckin' potheads, but I like alcohol, not hallucinogens or psychedelic drugs. I like to suppress my thoughts. I'm in my head too much already, so when I'm relaxing, I like to shut up every voice in my head.

Watching your local TV interviews probably made my editor glad this one is written. Do these TV anchors know what they're getting into when you come on to make abortion and drag show jokes?

Sometimes. It really works either way. If it's going badly, then it's funny because they hate me. If it's going well, that's good because they're laughing. I don't think it really matters.

My thought process about it is this: No one watching this who sees me give a straight interview on this type of programming will want to come to the show. So why not do something outrageous, so viewers will see how funny I am?

Let's say you're doing one right now in Colorado. Off the top of your head, what would you roast us for?

It would probably be weed-related, but I'd have to think about it. Who knows what's all happening in Colorado right now. The funny part is when people know who I am and they roll with it. That is fun. They can also get in trouble, though. It's probably not worth losing their job to let some dude make an abortion joke at 9 a.m.

You've got a nice smokey voice there. Have you tried doing more voice work?

Yeah. I'm a little annoyed I don't do more, to be honest. I'm on a bunch of episodes of Ten Year Old Tom on Max, the second season. I don't know when it comes out, but it's a very good show from Steve Dildarian, who did Life & Times of Tim. I play a bunch of random characters, and they kept bringing me back to do more, so I think it went well. I hope there's more of that out there. But yeah, I'm a little annoyed I'm not getting more. I think I'm good at it.

Yeah. I mean, Will Arnett is getting to voice every commercial under the sun right now. What gives?

Exactly!

Sam Morril's The Class Act Tour, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22, Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place. Tickets are $35.
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