When Sam Morril released his special I Got This on YouTube earlier this year, it didn’t take very long for it to catch on. To date, the special has almost 5 million views, and it probably didn’t hurt that it served as a good distraction for comedy fans in the earliest days of quarantine and the pandemic.
His latest special, Up On The Roof, feels as DIY as a stand-up special possibly could. The premise is Morril and his crew going around New York and performing stand-up on roofs this summer. It manages to capture what we’ve all been going through, as well as hope for the future and everything getting back to normal. And you also get to see just how much work goes into keeping comedy alive, via all the rooftop shows. There’s a moment where he’s either wondering how many people will show up or he’s calling out for a roof to perform on or even having issues with the mic. The overall struggle, though, is where the special gets added charm.
Aside from the novelty of performing on rooftops in an unconventional fashion, as an overall special, Morril manages to stay in top form. He’s quickly become a comedian to watch over the past handful of years, and this special only further solidifies that. Topics here include celebrities getting naked to encourage you to vote, friends speaking to you in cliches after a breakup, IRS scam calls, people telling him their conspiracy theories, and more gold from Naples, Florida.
We recently spoke with Sam about the trickiness of getting the word out about the special, how the rooftop shows and the special came together, moments he wished he had filmed, why New York is like “dirty Paris”, and why it makes the most sense to release this special himself.
Hey Sam. Nice to get to talk to you. How are you doing today?
Hey, how’s it going?
It’s going well. How about yourself?
You know, just trying to get the word out about this thing. It’s weird. Some of the podcasts are like “We only do in person.” It’s like “Cool. Do you guys know what’s going on right now?” So we’re figuring out how to get the word out.
I totally get that. And I imagine it must make things even more complicated that you were just out promoting something back in February and on the circuit then.
Yeah. I guess it’s a good problem to have. But also, it’s stressful. It’s stressful to promote. I feel like comics, we’re good at the fun part, which is writing and telling jokes. But the other part it’s like “Ah sh*t. This is like homework.”
Well I’ll try to make it as painless as possible for you then. First thing I wanna talk about is the time between your last special and now. The first thing most comics wanna go do after a new hour is rush out and start touring to work on a new hour. What was that process like, where you physically were unable to do it that way?
Well yeah. It’s kind of uncharted territory, right? Because usually you tour and build up a new hour. You don’t usually take months off, that you didn’t want to take off. It was kind of like a forced break. And then after that work out your new hour on random rooftops. So if you told me this was going to happen, I’d be like “That’s not… There’s no way!” This has been an unpredictable year, to say the least.
It’s a good experience, but it’s also… I’ll say this. There were nights on the roof where I was like “This is pretty incredible. There’s Netflix, there’s Amazon. All these things that you could watch on TV or stream.“ And they still had a hunger to see a live show. That’s kind of cool to me. Live entertainment will never be dead. You could say “Oh, this will never be back.” It will be back. When there’s a vaccine, it will be fully back. I think that piece of mind will be valuable. And I think we are all just dying for that piece of mind.
Definitely. And right away, were you surprised by the reaction after you did the first rooftop show? Or did it take a bit?
Yeah, you know, it was weird because we talk about this a lot, me and other comics. Outdoor gigs were considered hell gigs. They were considered gigs that you never wanted to do. Even at a festival, they put us in a tent and set it up so we were able to succeed. But an outdoor gig is something that I would never have done. So to do a roof and then the people on the roof would be great. They’d be hungry, because they really wanted it.
We’re just used to the laughter bouncing off the walls. So even in the special, I hear certain jokes and the reaction it just really depresses me. Because I’m like “Aw. I’m just used to that joke crushing.” Or maybe a couple jokes ahead before the pandemic. I was like “Man, I know what that sounds like when it hits right.” So when you hear it on a roof, even best case, it’s like “I guess that’s as good as it’s going to get. I’ve got to lower my expectations.” The crowd is laughing, but there’s no walls or ceilings. You’re outdoors.
So you really have to accept that’s what it is. And once you accept that, it’s actually pretty good.
It is. As an audience member, you still get the feeling of all the right ingredients that make a good special, even on a roof. And there’s a moment in the special where you’re going “I hope people show up”. I think that’s a very real thing that people don’t think about with these pseudo-impromptu shows.
It was a real fear. That wasn’t fake. It wasn’t like “Hey, say this line, Sam.” That was me really panicking, because I think the part you’re referring to was a show in Bushwick. My director, Matt Salacuse, is all about how it looks, all about the aesthetic. And he said “We need to start the show exactly as the sun is setting.” And I said “Hey man. There’s 6 people here.” So we’re arguing. And people showed up when they showed up. There’s another line where I say “These aren’t Hamilton tickets. People don’t show up to some of these roofs.” So we had to start the show an hour early, just to make sure that people would be there as the sun was setting, so we’d get the shots that Matt wanted. Because I didn’t want to perform for 6 people just so he could get a sunset, ya know?
That makes sense. And how far into the rooftop shows did you know “I’m going to film these and turn it into a special”?
I think it kind of started… I had a guy follow me around, Josh, and he would just follow me around and film all my sets. Because originally what happened was I did a backyard. It was like a hell gig. It couldn’t have been more of the pandemic. I get to the gig, and I get there late because they told me Bleaker Street, but they didn’t tell me it was in Brooklyn. So, of course, I go to Bleaker in Manhattan. That’s like an iconic Manhattan street. And then they’re like “Oh no. It’s in Brooklyn.” It’s like “Oh. Okay. I’m gonna need like 30 minutes to hop in a cab. And it was supposed to be on this roof, but now we’re in a backyard next door because some DJ kid threw a party, and they kicked us off the roof. And I was like “Of course. Everything about this makes sense.”
So I get there. And there’s a woman, I guess it’s her backyard. But she’s pissed drunk and she’s heckling every comic. It’s a nightmare. And I finally get back there, and I’m bombing. It’s a bad crowd. They’re not really with me. Then the woman starts heckling me, nonstop. And I’m hurrying her. Every line she has, I have a pretty good comeback. And it was one of those things where I was so mad I didn’t tape it, because it was such a good interaction. She rushes the stage, grabs the mic from me. People videotaped that and that got a lot of attention. And I was like “Man, if I had the whole interaction, that would’ve gone viral. It was such a great clip.”
So that’s when I decided I needed to start filming stuff. And then we started filming stuff and I realized “Man, I didn’t think I had enough for a special. But we could probably do 40-45 minutes of material and then 4-5 minutes of behind-the-scenes type stuff.” And we realized slowly “Yeah, that’s enough for a special”. I don’t really want to do hour specials anymore, because all the data suggests that people aren’t really watching the full hour a lot of the time. Unless it’s like a diehard fan, I guess. But the purpose of doing this is getting new fans on YouTube. To make it easily accessible. I think we started with the idea of “Let’s film some cool stuff.” And then the more we filmed it, we thought “This could be pretty cool.” And then I thought “A theme of roofs could be pretty cool.” Because that’s so New York.
And then we brought in Matt and Dominick Mull. And Dominick had a drone cam. And to me, it was like “What’s more New York?” I mean, it made me think of the opening of Manhattan with all those beautiful shots. You almost have to be cautious of that, because you don’t want that to overtake the joke. I can’t tell a butthole joke that can compete with the New York City skyline. We had to be frugal.
The fact that you literally have the skyline behind you makes this such a New York special in itself. Like, in a way that may not have been achieved as much if you were traditionally indoors.
It’s funny you say that. The vibe in the last one was also very New York. And the last two I did were both for Comedy Central and they both had a backdrop of the New York City skyline. One was a painting, and one was this design that Tom Lenz, who was the art designer, did and it was beautiful. So it’s funny that the last two specials happened to be the New York City skyline, because I just always feel like a New York comic. And then this is actually New York. I wouldn’t have anticipated that.
Definitely. It adds something to it. And also, I think you keeping in certain moments, like when the mic cuts out, really helps drive home the DIY nature of what you’re doing. It adds to its charm.
Oh yeah. It’s an ugly year, so I felt that we had to embrace the ugliness. A lot of specials just show you at your best. Like I think about my first hour for Comedy Central, I was in a big theater. I wasn’t performing in theaters regularly. It felt like an amazing night, but it didn’t feel representative of the in and out fight of being a stand-up is all about.
And this was like really a fight. There were nights where I was performing at the East River Amphitheater and a drunk rushed the stage and just started pissing ten feet away from me. So I was like “Oh, so this is what New York is. Let’s keep the ugliness, because this is funny.” Like the mic going out multiple shows. There’s problems every show. Like we get to a rooftop and they’re like “Oh, we don’t have outlets.” “But we need lights because it gets dark.” So there would be problems that we didn’t realize til the show started. Some of the shows, the crowds were not good. We had to film a lot of them. When you’re bombing indoors, you’re bombing indoors. When you’re bombing outdoors, you go through like 50 minutes of jokes in like 30 minutes. Because those laughs are just not there.
So you learn a lot. And I kind of like the ugliness of it. I love the highs and the lows. In the moment, I’m an anxious person. So my director is like “I wanna go with these moments of you panicking because you don’t realize how much you panic.” And look, you work hard on jokes. You want the jokes to be properly serviced. You want them to get the laugh that you feel they deserve, which is a frickin’ fight when you’re doing outdoors. One of the reasons we did so many shows was to make sure the jokes got what they deserved. And I’m rusty. I’m used to touring every weekend for months before I film a special. And I’m literally doing roofs that I’m booking every night. I’m kind of vetting the roofs myself by looking at pictures to see if they’re going to look good enough. I’m on some shows vetting the people to make sure I think they’ll be good audiences. I mean, it was a process unlike one I’ve ever done and probably won’t ever do again.
And I can imagine, what’s at the core of driving you to go through all these hurdles, must be just your need of doing stand-up again. Is that fair to say?
Yeah, that was really a big part of it. I had been in L.A. for about 5 months, and I hadn’t really done stand-up. I had done a couple shows, but it felt rusty obviously. And my first night back in New York, I found a couple shows, and one of them I did was just on a sidewalk and it wasn’t great, but it felt cool. It felt good to be back. And then you’d find a couple of roofs that felt pretty good. And little by little, you start finding ways to recreate some semblance of what you used to. And I think after a while, I got into the routine. I’m thinking “Wow. I’m performing every night again somehow.”
And then I just started going through Instagram saying “If you have a roof…” All those clips are real. There’s one clip of me going “If you’ve got a roof, if you’ve got cool friends, if you’ve got White Claw, we will be there.” And I kept saying “If you build it, we will come.” (Laughs). It really became this guerrilla style project. It became scary and exciting and pretty cool. And the more enthusiasm I felt from Josh and Matt and Dom, the more confident I started to feel. They’d get really excited every time we filmed something. And their excitement was contagious.
And have you noticed a massive change in the city and culture post-Covid? What is that shift like?
Well yeah. First off, the amount of outdoor seating at restaurants. We’ve turned into like dirty Paris. It’s hilarious. We’re like a European city, but we still have the grungieness of New York, which is kind of like hilarious. And now, by the way, it keeps getting colder. And so they’re doing enclosures in the outdoor seating. So it’s like “It’s just indoors!” So it’s hilarious what they’re trying to figure out.
As far as has New York changed… Ya know, yeah of course it’s changed. You see so many restaurants, and it breaks your heart, that they’ve closed down. Because this is someone’s life. So that is brutal to see. Brutal that the government did not help those people at all, minus some ppp loans or whatever. But that’s not enough to keep a restaurant open. And then small businesses are crumbling, so that’s tough to see. There’s like a frantic energy. New York is already a fast place, but the thing I noticed most is there’s some tension, but it’s a little bit more quiet at the same time, if that makes sense. Stores close much earlier. I’ll walk around like “Man, I’m used to this bodega being open all night. Now it closes at like 8 PM.” And it’s feels almost suburban. So that’s a bummer.
I get there here in Chicago as well. And the last thing about this special itself is I love that you’re keeping the Naples, Florida feud going strong, which carried over from your last special.
Well, more stuff just keeps getting uncovered. Like, my mom will let me know when she sees like a bad review. So I ended up finding this Naples review. And it’s pretty funny. It’s funny when someone hates you. And it’s also funny when they’re mad at you for ruining their night. Like you’re not a human who didn’t also have an awful night. It’s not fun for me to bomb for an hour, either. Like that’s your home. I’m bombing away from home, and then I have to stay in the place I bombed for five nights.
The Naples thing, people seemed to like it. I was trashing it so much on Twitter when I was there, to the point where my agent was like “Hey, maybe wait for the check to clear before you keep trashing it.” And I was like “You know what? I’m going to risk it. It’s more important to me to act like an immature child.” So Naples kind of happened, that whole thing. And then it made this special and people kept writing like “F*ck Naples” to me. And I was like “Alright, I’m gonna keep this going,” and I found the review and it kind of worked with the closing bit. So that all just kind of worked out.
I wonder if they’re ever going to attempt to invite you back.
I don’t think so. I should do a Naples revenge tour, though. I think that would actually be a great next special. Like Live From Naples: The Revenge Tour.
God, I hope that happens. And jumping around, your last special seemed to hit pretty quickly after it was released earlier this year. How much of that do you think was people staying at home?
I don’t know, because actually it did pretty well out of the gate. And that was before the pandemic. So I think maybe people being at home helped. I think comics sharing really was huge, the amount of comics that posted about it. And the fact that it was so easy to watch. That’s something that we’ve seen with other specials is if you’re on third apps, no one’s ever going to see it. You might make some money, but it kind of hurts you long term, because you’re losing ticket sales on the road. It’s not really giving your career the momentum that you want to see. The Naples thing caught on because my special was on YouTube. If my special was on a lesser known streaming service, maybe no one makes that joke. And maybe that joke dies out.
So I think it’s the impact of the special being easily accessible. It’s just a link that you click on. If you think about it, it was just in 2018 when I was like “Watch my Comedy Central special at 11 PM.” Like who’s doing that? Even at the time, I felt like it was out of place in time. I think that was really big. When you work on hour material, you want it to be seen.
And this year, we’ve seen a lot of big comics taking to YouTube with their specials. And you sort of kicked it all off back in February.
Well it starts with rejection. It comes with people saying “no”. That’s really what it comes to. The one to watch is Netflix, right? So if you’re not on Netflix, you kind of need to take it into your own hands. And we pitched to Netflix, they had their own agenda and for whatever reason, it wasn’t right for them. And I thought instead of getting disgruntled and pissed off… You can’t wait on people to tell you you’re ready. Because it’s not for them to say. You know when you’re ready as a comic. And I think to sit on material and to overcook is doing a disservice to this material that you work on.
A lot of my jokes are timely. We cut a lot of extra election jokes. And I thought “This is, to me, the right time for this special to come out.” I even put it out early, because my thinking was Thanksgiving is going to be a tough week for people. They might want a feel good special, especially if they’re a fan of my comedy. So let’s put it out. Some people are going to be with their families, some people are going to be alone. It might be nice for them to watch something that’s upbeat. So I think part of the frustration of working with other services is they have their plan. Even with Comedy Central, I remember I shot Positive Influence with them in December of one year, and it came out in September of the next year. And it’s like 9 months, man. I try to write somewhat evergreen. But waiting 9 months for a special to come out is pretty frustrating. So at least when you put it out your way, you kind of get to make the rules.
It’s not just about prestige to me. If I hear the words prestige or optics again in my f*cking lifetime, I’m going to lodge a bullet into my head. I don’t care about any of that. I care about fans. I care about selling tickets on the road when we open back up. And I care about eyeballs. You could say “Oh my God. You got a billboard with a Hulu logo.” But what I care about is people seeing it and people liking it.
I think this could bring on an even bigger wave going forward of people doing more stuff themselves, without the guards or the gates.
It’s also funny because with YouTube, we’re in the comedy circle so we kind of know that YouTube makes sense. But it is funny. I did a show at the beginning of the pandemic in Los Angeles and someone brought me onstage like “This guy’s got a great new special on YouTube,” and it got a laugh. That used to be a punchline. People used to say “He’s got a special on YouTube.” Like as a joke. And people don’t get that that’s actually a smart move if you promote it right. (Laughs). And then it’s like you get to that moment like “Well, I guess I’m not where I want to be if that’s the reaction I get.” But I still am happy with the decision.
And I think some people were worried for me that it was a step backward, like getting the money of an hour special on TV and then putting it on YouTube. So you have to check your ego a little bit and go “Alright. Well this may look weird to some people, but to me, I think it’s the right move.” And luckily, my reps have been very supportive of those moves that have not been short term financial payoffs, because they see the big picture.