Sam Morril's Comedy Special Got a Million Views Without Netflix's Help

Most stand-ups need to lock down a streaming partner to achieve success—but the New York comedian found a way around that.
March 3, 2020, 1:41pm
Sam Morril standup comedy special
Screenshot via YouTube

Shot in the iconic Village Underground in the West Village, Sam Morril’s latest special feels representative of New York club comedy: offensive, and tightly written. The special’s title, for one, references an abortion joke. In an aside for a bit about school shootings, Morril gives his own succinct review. "Some of these jokes, the content you're not going to like, but structurally they're going to be really solid." You may have heard Morril in Joker, where he performed as himself at the comedy club, before the Joker’s set.

Unable to strike a deal with a streaming service, the 33-year-old comedian bankrolled the special himself, hiring a camera crew that he’d known through a mutual friend and an editor he’d gone to college with. None of the streaming platforms were interested, Morril said, so he ended up putting the special out on YouTube, for free. After shooting the special, Comedy Central bought exclusive rights to host it on their YouTube channel, allowing Morril to benefit from the channel’s million-plus subscribers.

“Places like Netflix are like, ‘Are you a star? Are you going to be a star?’ They don't care about putting out good comedy for the most part,” Morril told VICE. “There are exceptions, obviously. But they want something shiny.” (Morril followed up via email to credit the word "shiny" to his friend and fellow comedian Mark Normand.)

Morril is not the only established comedian who's gone the DIY route by putting a full special on YouTube. The practice has become more common as a method to drum up demand for ticket sales. Standup comedian Andrew Schulz built an audience relying heavily on YouTube, and he's often considered the pioneer of this model. Schulz’s The Crowd Work Special exceeded 2 million views in six months. Morril also pointed to Yannis Pappas who put out his Blowing the Light special on YouTube in 2019, and Mike Cannon, who released Life Begins in January 2020. But in part due to high-profile bumps from the likes of Bill Burr and Judd Apatow, Morril’s special has performed particularly well, grabbing over a million views in less than a month.

Morril has worked with Comedy Central in the past, recording his first hour-length special in 2018, titled Amy Schumer Presents: Sam Morril: Positive Influence. In releasing that special, Morril made it a point to ensure his special would be available online, in full. However, there was one issue. “You look at it online, there was an ad every three minutes, so who the hell was watching that?” Morril said. “That's if you have cable. So that really hurt, you know it hurts for two years to do your work and not be seen by as many people as you hope.” Morril noted the futility of having a special air on TV instead of being available to stream.

“You almost feel foolish going on shows and promoting, like, 'watch it Friday at 11 p.m.!' Because no one does that anymore.” Morril said. “That's not the times we're living in.”

While having a special air on cable TV was not ideal, Morril also faced difficulty in trying to get his work onto the streaming platforms.

“For me, I'm just a club comic who's just doing the work and there's nothing sexy about that to them.” There is a clear bitterness that Morril has regarding the industry, which aligns with his dark and sarcastic voice on stage.

“I'm easy to like right now because I'm a comic who's paid my dues whose special's on fucking YouTube. So you know, maybe if I was a young guy who had a Netflix special, people wouldn't like me as much.” Morril said.

Though YouTube has earned Morril some new fans, there is also a misconception of Morril just being some guy putting his jokes online, since the platform is available for anyone to use.

“I've almost been a comedian longer than I've been alive,” he said. “So it's funny when they're like, ‘it's like you've been doing this for a long time!’"

“I think it's a lot harder to get in the door, if you just want to be a stand up. It's a lot harder to get your name out there. It's forced me to do the work, it's forced me to have a chip on my shoulder a little bit and, it's forced me to stay hungry and to really care about the jokes in the hour because this is all I have,” he said.

When Morril spoke to VICE, he was in between road gigs. He’d only done two shows in Spokane, Washington since releasing the special, but was already noticing that people at the shows had seen it. Morril has multiple jokes about Naples, Florida and his hatred for the city, seeming to stem from a time he was heckled there. (There is also a very negative TripAdvisor review of one of his Naples shows, to solidify the lore.)

“I have a new bit about Naples, Florida. And when I go into it, if it gets applause, I know they've seen the special.”

This article originally appeared on VICE US.