Sam Morril Takes Stand-Up To New Highs With ‘You’ve Changed,’ Talks Parallels Between The Comedian & The Private Eye & His Ambitions In Film And TV

In the parlance of stand-up comedy, Sam Morril is a killer, and with You’ve Changed, his new special unveiled today on Prime Video today, he’s hit on some his best work yet.

One of the great New York up-and-comers known for his sharp, dark, deadpan sensibility, Morril’s work is unapologetically honest and sometimes provocative, as reflected in his quartet of past specials. Most recently debuting Same Time Tomorrow on Netflix, his new hour sees him riff on topics like the worst person he’s ever dated, the complications of getting older, and his perspective on everything from cable news to the perils of social media. He taped it at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, MA, which he sold out nine times last year.

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Possessing a distate for podcasting, despite the huge success of his liquor-soaked pod We Might Be Drunk, co-hosted with fellow comic and longtime friend Mark Normand, Morril is among the many comics today who have extended their brand in unexpected ways — in his case, teaming with Normand to launch the whiskey brand Bodega Cat.

Working at building his comedy career since age 18, he’s a lover of film noir who romanticizes nights gone awry out in the city, á la Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and has major aspirations in film and TV, with a number of projects already in the works. Speaking with Deadline ahead of his new special’s debut, Morril reflected on all of the above, also touching on the dangerous “policing” of language across social media platforms, parallels he sees between the comedian and the private eye, and more.

DEADLINE: How are you feeling, with your new hour about to premiere?

SAM MORRIL: I feel pretty good. You never know until it’s out how people feel about it, but I feel better about this special than my last one by a pretty good amount.

DEADLINE: What makes you feel that way?

MORRIL: I had way more time to tour with this one. Last time, I rushed it a little bit; also, it was just a weird time. I went from putting out an airtight special, “I Got This,” on YouTube, and then Covid hit and I was rusty and didn’t want to lose my mind, so I ended up doing a special on rooftops and I was still pretty rusty. I toured a bit after that, but it took a while to get your mojo back, and then I put one out on Netflix so I could tour with a new hour in the fall, and that’s what became this. That was 2022, so I put out three specials in three years, which I think is a little too much.

DEADLINE: Is there an underlying theme to You’ve Changed? What were you thinking about with this one?

MORRIL: I unfortunately never have a theme, really, or at least I don’t start with the theme. Sometimes one emerges. I always admire someone like Colin Quinn who’s like, “This one’s the constitution, and this one’s the history of the world.” I think it’s awesome, but it’s just not how I write. I’m learning to write in chunks a little more; I’ve become a little more obsessive. I think it’s because of my ADD; I think most comics have ADD. It’s like your mind has to wander a lot, but then you become weirdly obsessive on certain topics. At least that’s how I am. So I’ll find something that I’m hooked on, and that’ll get me a few minutes of material.

In this Amazon special, I don’t know if it’s themes as much as structure. I will start with usually either relationship jokes or something that’s kind of unifying. I once saw Dave Attell do a late-night set, on Conan back in the day, and he did a joke up top, it killed. He goes, “I’ve proven I’m funny,” and then did his stuff, and I kind of think every comic is thinking, “Just prove you’re funny.” I did a few dating jokes, a quick travel story, and then I was off to the races. You kind of do whatever you want, once you prove it. But I think any social commentary, I want to be usually at least 10 minutes in. I want to earn it.

DEADLINE: Do you have a favorite joke from this special?

MORRIL: There’s a long story about my friend Chase that I think is just fun. I love stories that emerge from weird nights. I love the movie After Hours and how you’re almost at the mercy of the city sometimes, and it’s almost like out of your hands, and that was a night that was out of my hands. I love stories that are a bit reckless and that my stupidity led to something positive. I kind of romanticize nocturnal, questionable choices.

DEADLINE: Remarkably, at age 37, you’re nearly two decades into your comedy career. What inspired you to get into stand-up?

MORRIL: I was a fan. I remember I went to Comic Strip, which was the club I started at. I remember seeing Bill Burr and Kevin Brennan there, and they crushed. Then, I saw Patton Oswalt and Dave Attell at Carolines. Those were big ones for me. I talked to them after and they were both really nice. [Dave] autographed my playbill; he doesn’t know that, but I was such a big fan of Dave, I still have it. He’s still at the top of his game, but he really was also in the zone then. I think he was doing the album that became Skanks For The Memories, so it was just rapid-fire brilliance. To see that live was like, wow. It blew my mind that someone could do it this way. There were different types of comedy, but I’d never seen someone be silly, dirty, clever, witty. To me, it was everything I loved about comedy.

DEADLINE: He’s been one of your biggest influences?

MORRIL: And supporters later in life. He’s so supportive of me and has been such a good friend of me. I love him.

DEADLINE: How did you get your start on stage?

MORRIL: My first set was at 18 years old. I didn’t go hard my first couple years because I didn’t understand what it took. There was some immaturity there, but I’m 37. I don’t say it’s a real 20 years because I don’t think I really figured it out until later in college when I was like, “Sh*t, I’ve got to bark every night. I’ve got to hand out the flyers, I’ve got to get on stage.” So I think I understood later what it took, and then I was mad I didn’t do it earlier.

DEADLINE: What went into finding your voice as a performer?

MORRIL: There’s no blueprint, really. If there was a class to teach it, man, that person would probably be doing pretty well. But I think with any form of entertainment, it’s usually through trial and error. For comics, at least, it’s being funny on stage the way you’re funny with your friends at the bar. I think that’s big.

DEADLINE: You’ve come up in the age of the podcast boom, taking part with your own podcast, We Might Be Drunk, co-hosted with Mark Normand. What has podcasting done for your career?

MORRIL: It’s helped my reach and audience, but it’s hurt my stand-up. I really would love to never do a podcast again if I could. I do feel pressure to do them because everyone’s doing them, and I’ve had people tell me I’m crazy to feel this way, but I do feel that people will forget me and move on. And maybe that’s the case, maybe not. But I didn’t get into comedy to be a radio-type guy. I don’t like that. I want to write screenplays and act — not be an actor, but act in my stuff. And I want to make movies and TV shows.

Stand-up is number one, but those are two and three, and I’m going to do it one way or another. It’s going to happen. It might take me another couple of years, but I have stuff in the works. I wrote a movie with Mark; we’re shopping that, and I think it’s really funny. It’s a kind of a throwback ’90s buddy comedy, two good friends who can’t catch a break, two liquor salesmen. Then, there’s a sitcom I was developing, and that, [I’m] working on the pilot for now.

DEADLINE: Unlike many comics, you’ve had the backing of major distributors for most of your specials — first, with Comedy Central, and now Netflix and Amazon…

MORRIL: Well, God bless Comedy Central for having interest in me, but I may as well have flushed my special down the toilet with how many people saw it. You do feel pretty discouraged when you work that hard on your first hour, and it’s just like nowhere. People couldn’t even watch it, so that drove me crazy. The first half hour, I thought it was really good, so I thought it was about time, in my mind. I wasn’t like, “Wow.” They gave out a bunch, and I thought I should have gotten one. Then, for the second hour, I only got it because Amy Schumer produced it. I don’t think they would’ve given me an hour otherwise, and same goes from Mark Normand. I don’t think they were particularly interested in us until we had that. Then, the next one, I put on their YouTube, so I don’t feel like I had support.

As for Netflix, I was pretty damn late on Netflix, too. I don’t think I was on any of them early. With Amazon, they actually gave me a respectable money offer, and for me, I had made enough specials on a budget. I was like, “I want this to look awesome.” These things live forever, and I put so much work into them that I want the set design and the crew to really reflect that, and I thought they did a great job.

DEADLINE: What is the biggest asset to debuting your special on a streamer, at a time when so many comics — yourself included — are able to go straight to the masses on YouTube with their work and build a major following?

MORRIL: I couldn’t spend what I spent on this on YouTube. It would’ve been too much money. My YouTube one is very minimalist and simplistic, and I think it works for it. But also, I think now YouTube is oversaturated. I think there’s always going to be problems. Joe List got demonetized on YouTube; so did Fahim Anwar. I mean, it’s pretty f**ked up that [social media platforms] just have this playbook that they keep changing. I can’t say the word c**t? I’m not saying I want to, but I’m writing for the algorithm. You’re now policing language, and I think it’s really dangerous for comedy and comedy specials. That upsets me, that that’s the way we’re going with social media. They are policing more and more language because that’s where the ad sale dollars are, and before you know it, it’s going to be worse than f**king Fallon.

DEADLINE: What are the other biggest challenges of building a career as a comic today?

MORRIL: I think the challenges are really just adapting, seeing the next move on the chessboard, and also writing. Writing is really, am I getting better? I always look ahead. Am I getting better at comedy? Is this hour better than the last one? I think this one is, and I think my pace is better.

My friend is very critical of me, and I like it that way. I like that he’s honest with me and he’s like, “There was more of a sense of urgency with your pace in I Got This, and now you’re relaxed and know they’re going to laugh. You have confidence in the bits.” I think that comes with writing a certain way, but also believing and trusting your audience. And I do. I trust that they’re going to get what I’m doing. I do feel like there is a relationship with the audience, and when you trust them, they reward you, and when you pander to them, they’re too smart.

DEADLINE: Part of what’s most exciting about the stand-up arena today is all of the entrepreneurial opportunities comics have been able to create for themselves, after building a distinct brand with their work. You and Mark Normand, for instance, have launched your own whiskey, Bodega Cat. Has it been exciting to find areas like that to expand your reach?

MORRIL: It’s been a rude awakening in terms of the liquor business, but Mark and I were just talking on our podcast one day. We had a few in us and Mark goes, “Man, it’d be so cool to have a whiskey. But we could never do that.” And then I was like, “Why?” We have a lot of drunk listeners, a lot of people in the service industry and the liquor business who listen to our podcast. Because I think it reminds them of their friends; it’s two friends just having a few drinks together. It was originally called One More Drink, based on the idea of when you’re trying to leave the bar, but you and your friend are having such a good time, you’re like, “F**k it, one more drink.” We want you to feel that we enjoy each other’s company — we really do — and I think people felt that.

Then, when we said that, it just turned into people hitting us up saying, “We run a distillery, we do this,” and we went with who we thought was the most legit. It didn’t work out; we ended up buying him out, but he’s a great guy and we learned a lot from him. Now, we’re with a new guy, and he’s hustling for us. I mean, we’re at the Comedy Cellar. How crazy is that? We were drinking Bodega Cat Old Fashioned at the Comedy Cellar last night, and I was like, “This is f**king funny. This is pretty cool.”

DEADLINE: Tell us more about your ambitions looking ahead. What are the next rungs on the creative ladder for you to climb?

MORRIL: It’s hard to say. I could see myself doing this the rest of my life, just burning hours and building an audience, but I do have other ambitions. I love movies so much. I grew up really just obsessed with movies, and all kinds of movies — film noir through now even, but ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s were my favorites. I mean, the ’60s and ’70s in Hollywood was such a cool era for me.

DEADLINE: I could see you in a noir.

MORRIL: Thank you, man. I mean, that’s the special. Literally, the note was, “Make me look like Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye.” I just think he was so cool in that movie. Great book, too. All the Chandler books are great, but there’s something about the private eye that’s very similar to the comedian.

I always find a joke is almost like justice. You’ve found a way to put a thing into words that makes sense. It’s like solving something, and the favorite private eyes are always the ones with the witty comeback, the clever ones. There’s a lot of humility. I always loved Columbo because he solved cases, but he kind of played dumb, and then you felt like an idiot for underestimating him. I always thought that great comics would kind of play down their intelligence.

So, I always love movies. I do want to make some. It’s gotten much harder to make, and you talked about this entrepreneur era for comics — I really like the fact that I can control my career, and I think once you go into that world, you lose a lot of control. And that worries me. Like, I don’t like getting notes for my act. That’s why I don’t do late-night anymore. I’ll do it, but I don’t like doing late-night sets because they give you too many notes.

I love comedy, so I don’t want to sacrifice what I think funny. It’s literally all I have, is comedy and a whiskey company. Those are the two things.

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