Sam Morril has been doing stand-up comedy for at least half of his 36 years. He’s been a headliner since he was in his early 20s. Oddly, though, it was the pandemic that pushed his career to new heights.
Literally: To get around the mandates against indoor gathering, Morril staged a series of private, not particularly legal comedy shows on the rooftops of apartment buildings around New York City. “Up on the Roof,” his 2020 YouTube special, made him one of the first comedians to reappear onstage after the shutdown began.
“It’s a thing I’m glad I did, and I hope to God I never have to do it again,” says Morril, whose leveling-up brings him to the Wilbur for five shows this weekend.
The last time he played Boston, he was still working a comedy club. The upgrade to theaters is part of a growing portfolio, including his latest stand-up special (“Same Time Tomorrow” on Netflix), two podcasts (including one with Julian Edelman), and a recent appearance on “That’s My Time with David Letterman.”
On that show, Letterman remarked how impressed he was with Morril’s resourcefulness during a disorienting time, offering his art to people starving for connection.
“Or your craft, rather,” Letterman says. “Is it arts or crafts?”
After a laugh, Morril replies that he has a hard time seeing comedy as an art form. Especially when someone in the audience at a nightclub gets up to go to the bathroom, and the host shouts out, “Number one or number two?”
“We’re not artists,” he concludes. Letterman doubles over laughing.
On the phone, Morril is matter-of-fact about his devotion to writing and delivering jokes.
“You gotta just hammer it,” he says in his gruff, New York-native voice. (He does a spot-on Rodney Dangerfield impersonation.)
He has to grab every opportunity that comes along, he says, because the days of comedy careers launching on the basis of one killer set on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” are long gone.
“No one thing is gonna change your life, and if there is, it’s probably not great,” Morril explains. “Like, you made a messed-up joke and it went viral, and everyone’s like, ‘Get him.’”
He says those last two words without emotion, zombified.
A comedian who delights in testing the outer limits, Morril takes pride in the fact that he will occasionally still “walk” a few people — when an audience member walks out of a show in a huff.
“Look, not everyone knows what they’re in for,” he says. On New Year’s Eve, he addressed a group of eight young women in the front row who “hated” him, he says. The one fan who insisted her friends come to the show raised her hand, and the rest nodded when Morril asked if they were disappointed.
“I got it,” he says. “Not everyone’s got the same comedic sensibility, and that’s all right.” If no one walks out of his shows, he says, “that would mean my act was probably a little boring.”
Onstage, he’s not demonstrative. That’s by design.
“I remember seeing Leonard Cohen perform at Madison Square Garden,” he says. “For a guy with that [subdued] energy to control a room that big, you were hanging on his every word. It was just complete control.
“The way you use silence in comedy is similar, I think. When you go to them on their terms, you’ve already lost. It’s showing weakness. You need to find a way for them to come to you.”
Morril played himself in a cameo appearance in “Joker,” the much-discussed 2019 thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix. He’s the comedian onstage before the title character makes his mortifying stand-up debut. Heard from backstage, the real-life comic riffs about how women compare sex to buying a car: “Can I see myself in this long term? Is it safe? Is it reliable? Could it kill me?”
Yes, he’s kind of dark. Morril can’t help but telegraph his sense of humor: Paired with his smirk, his thick, downturned eyebrows are his most striking feature, giving him a look of perpetual mischief.
“If you say so,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve hated them my whole life, but as I get older, it’s like Owen Wilson’s nose — it’s nice to have a distinct feature.
“It’s a villainous feature for sure. I kind of look like my jokes.”
On one of his podcasts, “Games With Names,” he cohosts alongside Edelman, the former Patriots wide receiver. They discuss memorable sports showdowns with athletes who made history; guests have included Peyton and Eli Manning and Brandi Chastain. They’ve had episodes with Zdeno Chara on the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup victory and Paul Pierce on his infamous “wheelchair” game during the 2008 NBA Finals. David Ortiz joined the hosts for a recent episode about the unforgettable 2004 American League Championship Series.
Morril is a dyed-in-the-wool New York sports fan: Yankees, Giants, and especially the Knicks. His partnership with Edelman (they’re the same age) makes the most of the Boston-New York rivalry.
Asked how the two were paired for the podcast, Morril answers with a straight face: “The Jewish Illuminati.”
The two cities’ sports rivalry “is just such a great beef,” he continues. “If you’re a Boston sports fan, you’ll love that we have this New York-Boston beef, and it’s playful. Given how divided the country is on real stuff, it’s nice to have two people argue about something as silly as this.”
Edelman “doesn’t take himself seriously,” Morril says, “and he doesn’t have an ego. Those are two important qualities to riff with someone comedically.
“He’s just got a great story. Scrappy dude. He’s a Jewish Super Bowl MVP, which is not a sentence you hear every day.”
Edelman sees similarities between the locker room and the green room at a comedy club.
“I think they’re both safe spaces, know what I mean?” he says. “You definitely get a locker-room vibe around [comedians]. Guys are ragging on each other. It’s very similar, honestly.”
“Sam will say something, and I think he wants to see how you react to it. For the first few episodes he’d jump off with a Harvey Weinstein joke or something, and I wouldn’t know how to react. You definitely get some of that un-comfort, but that’s why we love it.”
While Morril jokes that it’s embarrassing for him to have to change clothes in the same room with a former NFL player, Edelman says he sometimes feels like he’s not smart enough to keep up with his cohost.
“Hey, everyone’s a little insecure in some way,” he says. “I think the insecurities in comedy are actually like the firewood to make the fire go. We’re both comfortable enough with ourselves to make fun of each other and make fun of ourselves. That’s the dynamic, and it’s been very fun.”
Now that his career is well-established, Morril is embracing the chance to give other comics a boost. About his regular opening act, Gary Vider, he says, “Everyone who sees him loves him instantly. Talk about fun energy — he’s a self-loathing Jew with ‘my wife-hates-me’ jokes.”
For a while during the pandemic, Morril dated another fellow comedian, Taylor Tomlinson. They entertained each other by posting funny videos about quarantining together.
What made them think a celebrity relationship between two irritable comedians could work? On paper, that sounds . . . problematic.
“That’s not really how I approach life — ‘on paper,’” Morril responds. “That felt good at the time. It was fun while it lasted.”
As a professional comedian, he jokes, there’s one thing he rarely finds himself saying: “This is a smart decision.”
At the Wilbur, 246 Tremont St. March 10 at 7:30 and 10 p.m., March 11 at 7 and 9:45 p.m., March 12 at 7 p.m. $33-$40. 617-248-9700, the wilbur.com
James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.