By STEVE PFARRER
Edgy. Sardonic and deadpan. Willing to joke about difficult subjects. Willing to joke about himself.
As Sam Morril sees it, pretty much anything is fair game for comedy, at least as an antidote to the news and to life in general.
“It’s a crazy world and a crazy time,” Morril said during a recent phone call from his home in New York City. “You have to be able to laugh about things.”
A lifelong New Yorker, Morril, who’s 36, has been riding a hot streak the last five years or so, with a 2022 Netflix film, “Same Time Tomorrow”; a standup special for Comedy Central’s YouTube channel that got 1.5 millions hits in two weeks; and appearances with Stephen Colbert, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien.
He also self-released his own standup special, “Up On The Roof,” in 2021 that chronicled the rooftop shows he and his crew staged in New York during the worst of the pandemic, when comedy clubs, like every other place, had to shut down.
In addition, he co-hosts the podcast “We Might Be Drunk” with fellow comedian Mark Normand.
On Aug. 18, Morril will bring his Class Act tour to Northampton’s Academy of Music at 7 p.m., a tour that’s seen him crisscross the country all year. It’s his first visit to the area, he said.
“I work all the time — I’m on the road a lot,” he said. “I’m a comedian, I have to keep busy. And there’s a certain amount of catching up I’ve had to do over the last few years” following the pandemic.
With his wiseguy smile, raised left eyebrow, and gravely voice, you can see how the school-age Morril might have enjoyed being the class clown.
“I liked being able to make people laugh, and when I got to the point where I could get the teachers to laugh, too, it was a way to get through the day,” he said. “I wasn’t the greatest student.” (He later attended Tulane University before transferring to New York University.)
Comedy also beckoned as a possible career, he says, because he had two older step-siblings “who went to Ivy League schools and became lawyers, and that was not going to be the route I took.”
In his routine, Morril moves smoothly between numerous topics: #MeToo, dating mishaps, mass shootings, snarky customer service representatives, problem drinking, bombing on stage in Naples, Florida, and encounters with odd people.
There was the guy he met in Cleveland, for instance, who told Morril that he had his back after Morril had been threatened outside a bar by the boyfriend of a woman he was talking to.
As Morril tells the story, the man, dressed all in white, introduced himself as The White Knight and assured Morril he was there to keep that part of the city safe: “I protect downtown Cleveland.”
Some of Morril’s best riffs are on the never-ending debate about guns and the clichés that dominate the discussion.
“Every mass shooting, they say ‘He was a quiet man,’” he says in his routine. “That should be part of the background check — ‘You want this gun, you better be … chatty. Do my podcast, then we’ll see.’”
Another take: “Every gun debate, they bring up the Founding Fathers, you know, ‘The Founding Fathers had guns!’ Yeah, they did, but they also had wigs … They thought a powdered wig was a good look.”
“So that’s my stance on guns,” he says. “You can have a gun, but you have to wear the wig. At least then I can tell who’s dangerous from afar.”
In his call from New York, Morril said he watches the news mostly to get fresh material for jokes, because between “these immaculate anchors” on TV and “career politicians,” nothing much seems to change, especially concerning gun violence.
“I make jokes about it as a way of offering some other solutions, something different, because we’re sure not getting much from the Senate floor,” he said, sounding a little weary.
Equal opportunity provocateur
Morril generally doesn’t wade too far into politics, and though he says his own beliefs are mostly on the left, he’s also an equal opportunist when it comes to poking fun at liberals and conservatives.
These days, he notes, “Liberals just seem so emotional about a lot of things that really need more perspective.”
As he wrote on Twitter in 2020, “I’m a liberal from Manhattan and I will never vote for Trump, but I have to say there is no more horrible comedy audience than far left extremists. I’ve never seen so many talentless drones in my life who while contributing nothing to society think they’re better than you.”
From the stage, he’s addressed the issue from a more sarcastic standpoint, such as a bit in which he relates how a liberal friend had exclaimed to him “Trump is Hitler!”
Morril’s response: “Look, we don’t know how hilarious Hitler would have been on social media — that’s not fair.”
“Hitler might have had a strong Twitter presence,” he adds, then puts on an exaggerated scowl as he imitates someone tapping at a cell phone. “Trapped in bunker — sad!”
Morril says the fact that he’s Jewish gives him permission to joke about Der Führer, or about various stereotypes about Jews.
He can get raunchy when it comes to talking about sex. In his Comedy Central special, “I Got This,” he looks at the weirdness of dating younger women, saying a lot of young people today are into “negging” — issuing “negatives,” backhanded compliments disguised as flirtation.
“I have to be meaner to you to escape this conversation?” he describes asking a young woman who lobbed some insults at him after a show as her means of flirting. “And she says, ‘Hit me with your best shot, Mr. Comedian.’”
Even given today’s polarized politics, Morril says he doesn’t tailor his routine for where he’s performing. Jokes about America’s abundance of firearms, for instance, are just as viable in Red states like, say, Kentucky as they are in Blue state New York.
“Your material should stand on its own,” he said. “You really should just be yourself. Otherwise you’re pandering.”
That said, he added, there are some things he might not joke about “if my mom’s in the audience.”
Still, each show gives him an opportunity to read the room and see what kind of jokes are resonating. “I don’t have a specific game plan each night. I trust muscle memory.”
The subject of Naples, Florida pops up in some of his routines, in which he relates how he bombed in the city for five straight nights and got into an argument with an elderly man in the audience one evening.
“It was years ago, though it wasn’t just in Naples,” Morril said. “That whole part of South Florida was not great for me — not many people with a sense of humor.”
But here it is, years later, and Morril is riding much higher these days, so much so that he’s thinking of taking a fresh crack at some of those clubs, especially in Naples.
“I’m calling it the Revenge Tour,” he said.
Tickets for Sam Morril’s show at the Academy of Music are available at aomtheatre.com.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.