Sam Miller

Driving Ambition

Seattle International Comedy Competition finalist performs in Eugene

Comedian Sam Miller is on his way to pick up another comic in Federal Way, Washington, taxiing the stand-up a few hundred miles back to Miller’s hometown, Olympia, for a show later that evening. 

The constant driving is what Miller dislikes most about his new full-time gig as a working stand-up comic — that, and the constant emailing and navigating different producers and agents, booking DIY comedy tours all around Washington state and up and down the West Coast. One of those shows will be Dec. 30 at The Big Dirty in Eugene.

The stage time, of course, is what Miller loves.  

“I respect the art form of stand-up comedy,” he says, speaking on a hands-free device while in the car. “I love stand-up so much because it’s the most approachable form of performing art there is. I love the idea that it’s so fucking simple, but so fucking hard at the same time. You’re essentially by yourself up there alone. Any victory is your victory; any failure is your failure.”

Married and a father of two, Miller’s been doing comedy for about eight years —  though, as a livelihood, only since July of this year. He was recently a finalist in the Seattle International Comedy Competition, a prestigious month-long event where big names have performed and won in the past, including Mitch Hedberg, Christopher Titus and Ron Funches. Miller’s respectable second place finish stands to greatly boost his profile in the comedy scene.

Miller came to comedy from rehab, having spent some time living unhoused and with a criminal record.

“People said I should try to do comedy. I was like, that’s stupid,” he remembers. “Then I did it, and I wound up loving it. I’m impulsive. The minute I did it, I thought, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life. I was worried I was going to get a divorce. That was my first thought when I got off stage,” he says.

“I believe that for a lot of folks, myself included, humor is a survival strategy. When I was incarcerated or in rehab, or when I was on the streets, I could lose large chunks of my life at any time, pieces of myself, but I could always talk shit — I could always run my mouth. I did it so much, I got good at it.”

Besides listening to podcasts, Miller works and reworks material on those long, late-night drives after shows, drawing mostly from his personal life and history of substance abuse. He brings loose concepts to the stage, where he finishes them off, letting things flow, and without much of a setlist. 

Making it as a full-time comic is tough, Miller says, but it’s nothing compared to parenthood. 

“Being a dad is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “When people hear that I used to smoke meth and fight cops and that I’ve been to jail, they’re like — that was hard. No, I’m good at that. It’s hard when I get a call from a teacher at my kid’s school and I don’t know what to do. Smoking meth and being wild — they’re things I regret, but I was pretty good at it.”

Debuting new material, Miller’s Eugene show is the first stop on a short tour. “My new stuff is great,” he says. “I go hard. It’s going to be wild. I got some new shit that’s pretty dark but kind of beautiful, too.” And if dark and beautiful is your favorite kind of stand-up comedy, Miller says, “I got you, bro.”

Hosted by Eugene comic Jamie Colson with local comedians Rudy Tyburczy, Seth Milstein and Chadhurst Sharpe supporting, Sam Miller performs 8 pm Thursday, Dec. 30, at The Big Dirty; $10, 21+, masks required.