Daniel Sloss: Sometimes They’re More Than Just Jokes

Daniel Sloss is backstage at The Largo nursing a bruised foot. He feels like the foot’s broken but can’t remember how or why. Then he leans back in his chair and gleefully admits he’d had a few beverages the night before in Studio City. While the reason behind the pain doesn’t matter, he’d love to be free of podiatry issues, having just kicked off a massive world tour across the US, UK, Europe and Asia. And while it’s not required, telling jokes on two healthy feet is certainly easier.

Growing up in Scotland, what inspired you to get into comedy?

Fuck, I’m not smart enough to do anything else. I’d always enjoyed comedy and my mom and dad are huge stand-up fans. When they lived in London after university, they used to go to a comedy club nearby where all the great British stand-ups legends were starting out. They would watch comedy all the time in the house, so I would watch comedy all the time in the house. And I loved making my family laugh because they would make me laugh. I remember being young and being in my bed and listening to my parents laughing downstairs and just being like, “I have to fucking know what makes my parents laugh so that I can make them laugh.” And I’d go downstairs and my mom and dad were watching Bill Hicks. I wasn’t even listening to what he was saying, I just liked the fact he was swearing and shouting. 

It took me until I was 16 to realize [comedy is] an actual fucking job. I mean, it’s not a real job, but you know, it’s the way some people make a living.

Did that realization coincide with writing for Frankie Boyle?

When I started off, Frankie was kind enough to let me backstage at a few of his gigs and introduce me to people and eventually brought me into The Stand, which is my local sort of comedy club. I think at the start, I was just so happy to be doing it, and then eventually started making money. I still have the first tenner I ever made. Framed. It fucking blew my mind that I made money out of telling dick jokes.

Every time somebody laughs at one of your jokes you go, “Oh good, I’m not alone.” You suddenly go, “I’m not alone in this horrific thought or this insecurity.”

Well, yeah. You’ve sold out shows throughout the world. 

Fucking ridiculous, man. It blows my mind. Anywhere from 400 to 500 seaters to a thousand seaters. It’s the coolest thing in the world. I’m really excited about this current tour because I’m going to a bunch of places I’ve never fucking been to.

In a 2016 New York Times piece, you talked about transitioning your material and “abandoning” your earlier audience. Has that switch made your material more universal?

The set that I do in the UK is very similar to the set I do in America. The only thing that changes is I talk a bit slower because of my accent and I make sure references aren’t so localized that they don’t make sense.

My answer to the “is comedy universal” question is it depends what kind of comedy it is. Fortunately, my comedy is about how much of a cunt I am everywhere I go. So it doesn’t matter.

A cunt in Ethiopia is a cunt in America–

Is cunt is a cunt is a cunt. I never expected to have this fucking reach. I love the fact that I get to do the exact same show I do in Lithuania that I do in Australia, that I do in Sweden, that I do in the UK, that I do in fucking Indianapolis or Texas or Los Angeles or New York or fucking Russia at some point this year. I don’t know why [my material] translates, but it does. I’m glad it does.

But do you think any of the current universality has to do with you switching up your material?

Oh, yeah. Yes, absolutely. Instead of doing what I thought people found funny, instead of just guessing and being like “I think people will find this funny, I think people will find that funny” and then trying to convince them, I started going “no, I know what’s fucking funny, it’s my job to be funny, I’ll tell you what’s funny.” It was nice to be able to start talking about the things that made me laugh, the things I found funny.

I used to go out and be like “okay, what are people talking about now?” They’re talking about this tv show? I’m gonna make fun of this fucking tv show. I would talk about my opinions on it and try and force myself into other people’s worlds. Now, I much prefer to talk about my view on things. Either you agree with what I’m saying, or I hope on the other side of things, you’re sitting there laughing “this is such a stupid opinion to have, only an idiot would believe this.” I like to make sure whenever I sound intelligent on stage, to remind my audience I didn’t go to university and that all of this is rehearsed, I just sound smart.

So you initially were doing jokes for others, but then leaned into yourself and your truth?

Man, when you’re able to do that as a stand-up it really stops you caring when people hate [your material]. Because if people go, “I don’t like your stand-up,” I go, “Cool, that makes sense, I would hate if what I did was universally loved.” I don’t think that’s fucking art. If people are like, “I think your comedy’s shit,” I’m like, “Good, comedy is subjective. You’re absolutely entitled to that opinion.” Sometimes I think my comedy is shit, but these fucking morons still come along and laugh at my jokes. I like [the audience] and they make me laugh as well.

Love or hate, at least your evoking a genuine response.

Yeah, man. Sometimes I forget how powerful comedy can be. Because most of the time, at least what I do, it’s just stupid dick jokes. It’s a man on stage having a fucking laugh. And then sometimes – especially with the success of “Dark” and “Jigsaw” on Netflix – you see how much it has resonated with people, on a profound level sometimes. This [current] level of fame is weird for me, man. I’ve been less famous for most of my career, which has really fucking suit me well. It’s been nice and [people are like] “hey, I love what you do.” Whereas now, with “Jigsaw,” people like to break up with their partners.

I saw you reposting those stats on Instagram.

It’s at like 105 divorces now, 40,000 something break-ups. People meet me after shows and they thank me. To me, it was originally just a joke. It was my truth and it came from an honest place. But just to see it resonate with other people so much that they make positive changes to their lives, it makes me occasionally go “I don’t think you can call them just jokes anymore.”

Sometimes they’re just jokes and sometimes they’re not. You don’t really get to dictate how somebody takes a joke. You can disagree with how they take a joke. If they get offended by it, you can stand by it and say, “I don’t care that you’re offended.” But I think you should just have a little bit of empathy sometimes, and when somebody goes, “I am upset with that,” and work out “why.” See if you care. 

Sometimes I’ve said some things and a fan has said to me, “I didn’t appreciate how you said this.” I’ll think about it and I’ll be like, “You know, actually. I get that.” I don’t care if I intentionally offend people. If I accidentally offend someone, that’s a bit like “Ah, fuck. That wasn’t what I meant to do.” I was attacking this thing and you got caught in the crossfire. I’ll check myself to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But then again, I’ll also sometimes be like, “Yeah, you jumped in front of that fucking bullet. You went out of your way to get offended there. And at this point, I don’t give a shit.” As a comedian, I think you can say and joke about anything.

Do you think you have a “home field advantage” when it comes to the enormous success you’ve enjoyed at the Edinburgh Festival year after year?

Yeah, the Scots are disgustingly supportive of their own. Abso-fucking-lutely. It doesn’t matter what part of Scotland I’m from, I’m Scottish. If you’re a New York comic, you’re popular in New York. If you’re a Los Angeles comic, you’re a Los Angeles comic. There’s no “American” comic. It’s the same [in England] – you’re a London comic or a Liverpool comic. I’m just a Scottish comic. It’s the whole fucking country. Cause we’re small and that’s our identity. But truly, at the festival, it absolutely helps because there’s all these international artists coming from around the world and people want to come out and see one of their own boys.

How did talking about being a self-professed “cunt” blossom into a great body of work?

That’s a Scottish thing. Self-deprecation. We have that sense of humor in Scotland where you make fun of everything and everyone regardless. That’s what our version of equality is. Don’t go around thinking you’re the tits. There’s nothing Scottish people hate more. Like, “Reign it in, cunt. Lose the attitude.” If you get too big for your boots, the Scottish people will bring you back down to your level. While some say it can be toxic, I think a lot of time it’s a great equalizer. I like the fact in Scotland, they still take the fucking piss out of me after shows.

Over here [in the US], people scream and they’re so excited to see you and they’re like, “Oh my god, I love you.” You meet them and you hug them and they shake. Whereas, I walk off stage in Scotland, and they go, “What’s up, cunt.” That’s more real.

In terms of my material, rage fuels me. I know some people have a very bad relationship with anger, in that they’ll let it out in bad ways. I’m filled with rage and things but I just channel it into stand-up. Things that annoy me, things I get annoyed by. And I know me being angry tends to be funny to people. Whatever pisses me off, I can rant for hours. I learned when I was very young I’ve got very firm opinions on things and people don’t like listening to your opinions when you’re yelling. But they will listen to your opinions if you put jokes in them. It was such a great way for people to pay attention to me. If I make you laugh, you’ll listen. There are certain things I’m passionate about and I want to talk about on stage. But the only way to do that is to stick a bunch of jokes in there and make myself look like an idiot.

How is cannabis involved in your creative process?

Weed is illegal in Scotland. There’s not really “pot culture” in the UK. I think I was one of the first ever comedians – one of the first ever people – to openly talk on the BBC about using marijuana. They were like, “We don’t normally do this.” I’m like, “It’s fucking weed, man.” It’s way more common…but in the UK, people aren’t as open about smoking weed and stuff, so it’s not really had the chance to thrive like it has in America, where people have for years been talking about how much weed they smoke.

I’m still giddy when I come to places where it’s legal. I can’t not do it. Sometimes it’s good for writing. Like I’ll write something completely sober and then come back to it stoned and re-write and see what works in different places. But over here [in America], to be able to go into a store like an adult and legally buy marijuana over the counter and not be forced to smoke in a back alley…I’m like a kid in a Willy Wonka chocolate factory.

The way you get drugs in Scotland is you text a guy, “Can I get some weed?” And then an hour later he arrives outside your house and goes, “I’m outside.” You go outside, you get in the back of his fucking car and his six year old son’s there. And you’re like, “Well this is fucking weird.” You go, “Can I have some weed?” He goes, “Yeah, sure. 20 quid.” And you go, “What type of weed is it?” And he goes, “It’s weed, get out of the fucking car.” There’s none of this sativa, indica, hybrid shit. No one knows the names of stuff. But it’s getting better. I have a really good dealer in the UK who makes edibles and vape pens, which are great.

I probably need to smoke a bit less. One of the main reasons I do it is because I do think it’s cool. It’s this illegal thing that you’re not meant to do but everyone does it. There’s absolutely a part of me that’s like, “Cool people smoke weed.” Weed also made me a better person. It made me more introspective. I used to be an angry and shitty teenager and I think smoking weed gave me a healthy level of paranoia. Like, I thought I was the best thing in the world. And then I’d get high and my brain would be like, “Maybe you’re not the best thing in the world.” And I thought, “This is actually a really good paranoia.”

Smoking weed taught me empathy as well. Instead of having visceral, instant reactions to things, I slowed down and processed them. Weed made me genuinely less angry. It allowed me to put myself in other people’s shoes. Even if I disagreed with what they’re saying, it allowed me to understand how they arrived at their conclusions. Before, I would say “This person is stupid and fucking wrong.” But instead, I would ask, “Why are they stupid and why are they wrong?”

I know I’ve arrived at this conclusion because of the experiences I’ve got, so that’s why I think the way I do. Other people think differently because they’ve lived different lives than me, what are their experiences? When you think about other people’s experiences – even if you still disagree with their opinions – you understand how they arrived at them. It makes them less fucking stupid.

The second you understand why someone believes something, it makes it so much easier to have a dialogue with them. It allows you to be like, “Hey. I know why you think this way. I get it. But here are some facts that you might not know, or here’s my experience. I understand where you’re coming from, can you try and understand where I’m coming from?” We’ll not necessarily fucking meet halfway, but we’ll have some level of empathetic communication.

Follow @danielsloss and check out https://danielsloss.com/ for tickets and tour dates

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