Interview: Daniel Sloss is future–proofing the funny

Daniel Sloss wants to be remembered like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Louis CK. Picture: Jill FurmanovskyDaniel Sloss wants to be remembered like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Louis CK. Picture: Jill Furmanovsky
Daniel Sloss wants to be remembered like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Louis CK. Picture: Jill Furmanovsky
Daniel Sloss is working on material he won’t be ashamed to look back on, he tells Jay Richardson

‘I’VE been really busy,” Daniel Sloss nods, before checking himself. “Of course, for comedians, being really busy means a whole bunch of days in a row where I’ve worked an hour.”

Chatting animatedly in the Royal Dick pub in Edinburgh’s Summerhall arts venue, where he hosts a show for trying out new material, Sloss is at a crucial stage in his career, striving to cement the kind of comedian he wants to be after seven years performing, even as he’s starting to break through in America.

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The forthcoming Fifer can’t abide the jokes he delivered at 17, or even those that introduced him to a television audience in 2010 on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. Looking back, at 24, he has no inkling where his initial confidence came from, beyond “the arrogance and ignorance of youth”.

Yet although he remains dismissive of critics – to whom he doesn’t issue press tickets and, frankly, doesn’t have to, after selling out successive Fringe runs at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre since 2012 – and is contemptuous of anyone who takes unwarranted offence at his gags, he acknowledges that his aversion to reviews is largely borne from insecurity, and that by progressing beyond the established comedy club circuit to gigs mostly of his own choosing, he’s been blessedly cosseted from having to compromise his act.

He nurtures an instinctive distrust of authority, attributing the failure of his 2010 BBC Three pilot, The Adventures of Daniel, to executives “sitting in an office, who’ve never been on stage”.

“A 60-year-old shouldn’t get to tell me what 18-year-olds find funny. I was so eager to please everyone,” he sighs.

His current stand-up show, Really…?!, is touring Scotland ahead of a series of European dates, and recreates the moment when he was told not to perform an atheism routine in Indianapolis but did so anyway, because, “well, f*** ‘em!” He greatly admires comics like Jim Jefferies, pictured below, wilfully splitting US audiences with his arguments for gun control.

Sloss has chosen not to play Russia this time around because he’s too enamoured of a pro-gay routine. “I’m just too cowardly at the moment,” he shrugs.

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This desire to be honest but right-on, distancing himself from the unintended misogyny and homophobia of some of his earlier material, struggling for a way to frame his feminist ideas without appearing to pander or to be condescending, ensures that he now runs anything that he suspects might cause upset to the wrong targets by his mother, his female, psychology student flatmate, or the gay comic Craig Hill.

No-one’s opinion is more important to Sloss than that of his peers. He credits Edinburgh-based Canadian stand-up and near-neighbour Tom Stade, pictured right, with fundamentally changing his “voice”, introducing him to a more expansive, less clinical style of writing and a more direct delivery. He talks delightedly of the camaraderie of being “the butt of jokes in the green room” and treasures the compliments he attracts from more seasoned acts.

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Rigorously developing new routines then dumping them to begin afresh each year, the George Carlin-patented process of self-revelation is something he fully subscribes to.“I want to be remembered like Carlin,” he says. “Like Richard Pryor, like Louis CK. Why would you get into something if you don’t want to be the best?”

Disclosed at mid-afternoon, this actually sounds an appropriate goal rather than the “smug arrogance” he defines as his persona. Sloss is clearly enjoying the freedom that accompanies sustained self-criticism and sharing (supposedly) unpalatable details of his character. He speaks fondly of his ex-girlfriend onstage but loves revealing the moment he fantasised about life if she died. Meeting a date after our interview, set up through Tinder, he muses that a benefit of fame is that she can be fairly certain he’s not a serial killer.

In recalling his adolescence, Sloss more or less paints himself as a floppy-haired proto-fascist, angry and “Hitleresque”, terrifying his liberal parents. Smoking marijuana remedied all that, affording him much-needed empathy, he suggests. Although he uses it to open up his creative imagination on occasion, and it’s another rebellion against authority – “if I can’t logically see why something’s wrong or illegal, I’m going to f***ing do it, the government can’t tell me what to put into my body if I’m in my own house” – the main benefit is that it’s “stopped me shouting at people and getting angry”, he deadpans.

“The paranoia makes me question myself much more,” he goes on. “My comedy is much less ‘this is what I think’ now. It’s more ‘this is what I think, but why?’”

He’s conscious that his nocturnal, worked-for-but-privileged existence could cause him to lose touch. He cheerfully admits that producers on ITV’s revived Sunday Night at the Palladium, which aired last night, needed to be “endlessly patient” with him, explaining that he couldn’t do jokes about drug use at 7:30pm.

Contrast that with the licence he’s been afforded on US television, especially on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, on which he’s appeared three times in rapid succession. Tales abound of comics being carefully coached and censored for such prestigious five minute slots.

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Yet when Sloss submitted his “aunty abortion” routine for scrutiny, the one he sends producers “so they can take something out and feel like they’ve done their job”, it was waved through. “If you watch that set, you can see me laugh out loud when I get away with it,” he marvels.

After signing a deal with O’Brien’s production company Conaco to develop a sitcom, he’s remarkably level-headed about whether anything will ultimately come of it.

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With his telegenic features and devotion to the US archetype of the hard-gigging, philosophical comic peeling back endless layers of their psyche, you can appreciate him contemplating spending half a year there.

Nevertheless, he wants to remain living in Edinburgh, close to friends and family, and because he believes the Fringe still offers the best opportunity for him to hone his craft.

“I know how lucky I am at the moment not to have a wife, not have kids. I can be selfish as f*** and just focus on being the best comic I can be,” he ventures.

“I want to be that comic that other comics talk about. I’m at that wanky stage in my career where I’ve started considering comedy an art.”

• Daniel Sloss – Really…?! is at the Howden Park Centre, Livingston, on 23 October, the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, on 24 October. He plays Aberdeen, Inverness, Thurso and Glasgow in November