Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Perfecting his ‘crass’: Comedian Sam Morril to hit Northampton in Class Act tour

The stand-up comic discusses everything from his first gig in the Berkshires to hanging out with Chris Rock
Courtesy of Sam Morril

Sam Morril’s first road gig as a stand-up comic was in Pittsfield, Mass. He opened for veterans Cory Kahaney and Dan Naturman about 17 years ago and cited his inaugural road set as the moment he second-guessed his career choice, but not for the reasons you might think. The gig went well.

His first on-the-road experience wasn’t as glamorous as hopping on a tour bus to be whisked away to the next show. During the tour, Morril mostly hung out with Naturman who was the one doing the driving in the scenic, but rather rural, Berkshires.

“[Naturman] just had like a meltdown on his GPS system,” Morril recalled on a recent phone call. “He was just like, ‘you piece of shit. F**k you!’ And I was just like, ‘is this what comedians are like?’ I remember being like, ‘did I pick the wrong career?’”

Like any industry, comedy looked a lot different in the early 2000s than it does today. But Morril’s slow and steady rise to comic fame grew as he continued to navigate the industry’s evolving landscape. As the business transformed, Morril adjusted, whether it was moving from recording sets on VHS to the quick-and-instant video link, or a switch to marketing primarily through streaming services and constant podcast production.

The world of comedy was modernizing itself with new norms and expectations, but Morril was able to roll with the punches and stay afloat by doing one thing and continuing to do one thing only: sticking to his authentic self. His unapologetic style is the one constant that never moves or shifts, even when the industry does, driving his invariable success.

Years later, Morril is set to return to western Massachusetts for his Class Act tour via the more well-traveled Northampton. And, of course, to a larger audience.

The 36-year-old New Yorker has made an impression with top comedians like David Letterman, Amy Schumer and Chris Rock. His 2020 Comedy Central “I Got This” special skyrocketed to 12 million views – with 1.5 million in just two weeks after its release – before he self-released his “Up On The Roof” special on YouTube. He also has a 2022 Netflix special “Same Time Tomorrow.”

Streaming services in the comedy industry have become a point of contention in recent years; many comedians are choosing to independently release shows. Morril self-released his 2020 Comedy Central “I Got This” special, which he says was a risk at the time.

“A lot of people told me that was pretty dumb. And it was probably my favorite hour I ever released,” he said. “It was just such a hungry hour. I was just so I had such a chip on my shoulder. And sometimes it’s good for your comedy.”

At first encounter, his humor may reflect a chip-on-your-shoulder brazenness; he dives headfirst into divisive topics like mass shootings and abortion, inherently political and maybe even dangerous minefields. Although his jokes touch upon the uncomfortable, Morril sees it differently. “Isn’t that weird that we’re describing those two things as political, though?” Morril asked.

“I like going to those topics that might be polarizing, and then getting a laugh out of them, because I do feel like people genuinely feel better about that stuff when both sides can laugh at that,” he said. “There is this big release of tension, there’s a bigger release on those jokes.”

His jokes are bold, dry, crass and pointed. Morril is not one to tailor his humor to a certain demographic. He isn’t fearful of the response, but is always tuned into how his audiences react to the set-ups, jokes and crowd work. His persona on stage is deceivingly nonchalant and smug, but his method for perfecting the craft is quite calculated.

“You want to see where the jokes land in red states and blue states and everything, and they have to work – in my mind if a joke’s not working everywhere then I don’t think it’s saying the right thing,” he said.

When discussing polarizing topics in his routines, Morril understands the risk of furthering the ideological divide. That possibility, however, is not scary to him. “I see these guys doing these dangerous skate moves on the way when I walk to the [Comedy] Cellar,” he said.  “Is that daunting to them? No, it’s what they do, right?…They get a rush. And that’s how I feel if I can just stick the landing on this.”

After gaining a greater following in recent years, the club-focused comic has moved from shorter sets where he works to command the room’s attention, to beautifully-designed theaters filled with audiences eager to see his act. Although he loves clubs, there’s no denying that the audience is better behaved in a theater. His Class Act tour is slated to hit an array of theaters this August and coming fall across the nation.

Morril casually quipped that Chris Rock said it best when the two hung out at a St. Louis hotel and talked venues: “‘It’s velvet seats,’” Morril recalls Rock saying. “And I was like, ‘Man, that’s f***ing perfect.’ I think that might be it. You’re in a classier place.”

When performing in clubs “you just do not at all feel like an artist of any kind. Which is probably why comedians, most comedians have so much humility,” Morril said.

Many comedians have also started to move towards podcasting when they are not actively touring, as a way to stay relevant and keep their material above the overflowing content landfill on social media.

Morril has joined the club with his “We Might Be Drunk” podcast, co-hosted with fellow comedian Mark Normand. Now, Morril is a comedian-turned-booker-and-radio-host, something he didn’t quite picture himself doing as an aspiring comic who loved comedy giants like Jerry Seinfeld and Larry Sanders.

But the jokes remain true to Morril’s comedic essence, no matter the recent changes within the industry.

The comedian has weathered “ups and downs,” as he described, to reach his level of success. As he navigates the differences in venues and audiences, marketing choices and political division, both Morril’s versatility and authenticity keeps him on top of his game – proof that embracing the uncomfortable, in any capacity, can pay off.

Sam Morril’s Class Act tour will hit the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton on Friday, Aug. 18. Tickets can be found here.

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