Sly Stand-Up Sam Morril Brings Unpredictability to House of Blues

Sam Morrill has much on his mind, and is making time to share it in specific detail
Sam Morrill has much on his mind, and is making time to share it in specific detail Photo by Matt Salacuse

The sarcastic stand-up Sam Morril is building a new hour of comedy, this time through the theater circuit, playing a one night only show at Houston’s House of Blues on Sunday, June 25 at 7 p.m.

“It takes time,” the New York comedian admits, “and it also harder to build an hour in theaters than in clubs just because of the reps. When you are just about to break in to theaters, you are selling out clubs and adding shows, so there are times when you might be doing seven shows in a weekend and my stuff just gets air tight. When you are doing theaters, you are just not adding shows in the same way because these are huge venues. So I’m a big believer in reps... it’s also nice to get paid more. It’s also just nice to play theaters, it’s a different experience. Chris Rock once said that people just behave better in theaters. I asked him why that was and he said: ‘I think it’s the velvet seats.’”

His previous special Same Time Tomorrow just dropped on Netflix in September, but the comic seems eager to share he newest hour full of what he describes as “the same themes.” He continues, highlighting: “Dating stuff, single guy stories. Relationship stories, social commentary but always silly and light the way I do it. If a topic is dark, I’m not gonna just go dark – I try to make it fun. I think it’s a fun new hour that’s coming together. You’ll be seeing it at a good time.”

Part of the challenge is honing the new act, but the other element is keeping himself present from show to show. Morill shares proudly that despite the larger venue size, keeping the audience engaged personally is priority number one. “I even find ways to do crowd work,” he says. “I came up watching comics I looked up to and see how they put on a show for their fans, I try to take little things on how you’d like to do a show. An important thing to do in theaters is no matter how big the venue is make it unique. Two ways you can do that is: one, make jokes about the city you are in and two, find ways to do crowd work. Even if I’m in an 1,800 seater, I think it mixes up the rhythm of the show and I think even the rhythm of jokes becomes less predictable. So I think everything hits a little harder. For that night, it's different than it was the night before.”

As he’s matured as a comic, Sam finds his writing time evolving as well. “I definitely write, I don’t just go on stage and riff. But I will do more writing on stage than I used to. I think it’s a confidence thing: let me just tell this like I would tell a friend at the bar, and then edit. So sometimes I write onstage and edit off stage. But you are still writing onstage, you know what I mean? If you tell it without writing, it can be more conversational. But you can always edit, like if there’s a better word. The little details that hit are hilarious. I have a bit where I’m making fun of a homophobe and I’m miming sucking a man’s penis, and when I did it too fast it didn’t hit – but when I slowed it down, it killed. It’s little dumb details like that. You really have to experiment.”

The conversational element of stand-up can serve the material as well, the comic notes. “The more you listen to yourself, the more you hate yourself. I’m not listening back and thinking I’m great! You listen and think, fuck, I’m an idiot. But I do think being in your own head, you get really sick of your shit. I think that’s probably where the crowd work came from.”

For those who have been following Morill for a while, he’s made many a rounds on the late nigh circuit: performing sets on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Late Show with James Corden, Last Call with Carson Daly, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and most frequently, on Conan. Talking about the difference between performing a stand-up set and performing panel, where you sit on the couch by the host and chat, Morill cites a conversation with departed comedy genius, Norm MacDonald.

“I remember meeting Norm MacDonald once and him saying that he hated doing panel, but liked doing stand-up sets. Which is funny, because he is like one of the best panel guests maybe ever? He’s probably like, I’m going through my head, who is as good as Norm? Maybe Louis [CK]? [Rodney] Dangerfield? Bill Burr is great. But the list is short, right? I was shocked to hear that. But he [argued] that’s when no one is interrupting you. But I also think with panel, the bar is lower. With the microphone, every sentence has to be killer. Otherwise, they ask, why does he have a microphone? But if you are on panel and talking to a guy, you say something and it’s hilarious, it’s an oh my God moment. This guy is so funny, so natural.”

One opportunity to move beyond simply stand-up and into an extended panel conversation came about thanks to none other than David Letterman. The late night legend continues to creep quietly out of retirement, this time with his new Netflix series That’s My Time where Morril was a featured guest. “The Letterman thing came at a cool time, it wasn’t when he was doing four or five of these a week,” the comic recalls. “It was a rare thing. I read an article that Judd Apatow did with David Letterman where he said, ‘I’m so bored, I miss talking to people.’ He would just talk to strangers sometimes. Can you imagine being at a rest stop, and David Letterman just starts asking you about yourself? That’s insane. So I think Dave was really hungry to talk to people and I think he researched all of us.

"When I sat down to chat before the show, he would talk about my work, which is surreal. He thought it was really cool to do a special on rooftops, because there were no clubs in New York. That’s so resourceful and creative. I’m just like: this is David Letterman talking to me! This was so stupid this was my life, I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive. Told me to do what I needed to do, don’t feel bad if you need to cut me off, make your jokes and be funny. If you see something, go for it. So encouraging. Not only is he a legend and takes it so seriously, he wants you to shine. Man, I couldn’t ask anything more out of Letterman. Such a classy guy. An icon.”

As Morril has also gotten into the interviewing business with his new podcast Games with Names, which he co-hosts with former NFL wide receiver Julian Edelman, the podcaster was eager to pick up tricks of the trade from professional chatterbox like Letterman. “I think he knows how to ask questions without being insulting. People say he can be mean sometimes, but you watch and he’s only mean when the person he’s interviewing is giving him nothing. If you think about it that way, then THEY are being mean because they are giving him nothing and he’s trying to save the interview. There’s a lot you can learn: his preparation, the way he asks questions, the way he is engaged and really is curious."

"I used to make a joke about comedians: the only time they ask a question about you is during crowd work. They are the most self involved people I’ve ever met. Dave is so so curious and I don’t know for sure, but I think when he did stand up, he was more a crowd work guy. Obviously one of the funniest people, so witty, and doesn’t waste words. There is a reason people felt connected to Dave for so long. His warmth, and he wasn’t always warm, but he didn’t waste it. When he did it, it felt real. He’s a real person.”

Sam Morril’s performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. on June 25 at 1204 Caroline. For more information, call 888-402-5837 or visit $27.50-47.50.

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Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, doing some funny make-em-ups or preaching the good word of supporting education in the arts.
Contact: Vic Shuttee