Young Daniel Sloss is making a career out of being a joker, but it was tragedy that put him on the path to a life of comedy
COMEDIAN Daniel Sloss is the ultimate wise child. Just 20 years old – he'll "come of age" on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 – his conversational references still hark back to school, and his show My Generation riffs on the difficulties of having little brothers of ten and eight. He also has the absolute certainty of the young, imparting information to this much older interviewer with a marvellous certitude that most of us lose with the passing years.
Self-aware, he cheerfully acknowledges his callowness, yet impresses me with his introspective intelligence even as he insists that anyone who thinks he's smart has to be dumb. It's easy to respect his finding a personal philosophy in a comic book – excuse me, graphic novel – once you've heard his explanation.
"I'm totally obsessed with The Joker," he says, pulling a stack of comic compilations from an overnight bag. "The name of my new Fringe show this year, at The Assembly Rooms, is The Joker. He's the ultimate bad guy. He's so insane that he's actually sane in his insanity. He knows he's insane, but he's incredibly philosophical as well. One of the great lines in my favourite story, The Killing Joke, is, 'Who we are and what we do is defined by how we react to one bad day.' It's so true. Batman became Batman because of one bad day – his parents got killed. The Joker, we don't know what his one bad day was. You can tell what kind of character and person you are if you have that one bad day, and how you react to it."
Has Sloss had that one bad day? Unfortunately, yes. When he was nine, his seven year old sister, who had cerebral palsy, died.
"The only way I could react to seeing my family so upset was by thinking, 'I have to make everyone laugh.' I couldn't deal with seeing everyone so sad and started acting stupid and trying to cheer everyone up. That was how I reacted to my one bad day and in a way, that's when I started performing."
Sloss comes from a brainy background. His father, Martin, is a computer programmer, and, he says, "one of the smartest people you'll ever meet.
Incredibly smart. He's good at maths and physics. My mum, Lesley, has a PhD in chemistry, and works for a company called IEA (International Energy Agency], which is subcontracted through the UN to give talks around the world about energy. She's been travelling to two countries a month, giving presentations, since I was four."
He still lives at home with his brothers, Matthew and Jack, and his parents. Comedy aficionados, they're the most sarcastic couple he's ever met. They're his best friends, he says, and in common with cheeky peers, have "been ripping the shit out of me since I was about seven. All we do is insult each other constantly and make each other laugh. At home it was a battle of egos: 'I'm funnier than you!' 'I had the best comeback!'" He gives as good as he gets. When they tease him about being 'English' because he was born down south, he retorts, "Both my parents are Scottish all the way back. The way I see it, I'm Scottish because my mum's an alcoholic and my dad's clinically obese." Surely not, I gasp. Well, he laughs, "My dad's a bit fat and my mum does drink, but not clinically obese, and she's not an alcoholic per se. Not in Scottish terms! She'll kill me for saying that."
When he was three the family returned to Edinburgh, and then Fife, and he grew up in East Wemyss. As far as he's concerned, he's lived in Scotland his whole life. "I'm very proud of being Scottish. I would always say I am a Scottish comedian, but not that I do Scottish comedy."
One of Sloss's early breaks came after his mum ran into Frankie Boyle and winkled his e-mail address out of him. Her teenage son wrote to the older comic, asking for career advice and mentoring, in the form of writing assignments. Boyle bought some of those early jokes for use in Mock the Week, a fact that's mentioned in every bit of Press about this boy wonder, whose short career has had a pretty astonishing trajectory, thanks to hard graft and a strategy of seizing every opportunity that comes along.
But has Sloss suffered any backlash from having his name so closely linked to Boyle's, especially in the wake of the controversy that saw him resign from Mock the Week in a storm of invective about his take-no- prisoners' brand of humour?
"No, not at all. I find it so astonishing that people are offended by Frankie. I think some people watch a show specifically to be offended.
Stop that! If it offends you stay away from it. Obviously other people find it funny. Stop trying to get rid of it just because you don't enjoy it. It's the first thing we're taught at school. If you don't like someone, stay away from them. You don't kill them. You don't get them banned from the school. You just stay away."
Like many of his fellow comics, Sloss insists there's no such thing as an offensive joke, no joke that comes "too soon" after a tragedy. That's one reason why he believes his parents understood his reaction to his sister's death.
"That's what people need. It's such a clich that laughter is the best medicine, but it's the only medicine. I think everything should be funny. When I die, I want a roast, not a funeral. I think if you are offended by comedy, you shouldn't be allowed to watch comedy, because you're ruining it for everyone else. If I die in a car crash, I want 50 car crash jokes at my roast."
When I ask why laughter's so soothing, I get an education in primitive sociology. "Because it's one of the few reactions we can't control. The first form of laughter, a basic one, is from being tickled, from when we were cavemen. It's hysteria and panic from things like ants crawling on us, so we jump up and shake them off. It wasn't originally a funny thing.
"Then the next form of laughter was when cavemen would trip over stuff. They'd hoot, like monkeys would. It's always been the one reaction you can't really control. That's why I am not ashamed of loving dark comedy. The phrase offensive comedy is an oxymoron. Offensive jokes aren't actually offensive. They're jokes. They're trying to make you think about the context of the thought. I swear a lot but words aren't offensive at all. They can't be. If the intent behind them is offensive, that's when it's problematic."
When he was ten, Sloss started taking drama lessons, but quickly discovered that he didn't really like playing roles. He just wanted to go on stage and be himself. "Every character I played, I'd bring it back to me. I'd play Captain Hook as Daniel Hook. I loved being me on stage and making people laugh. The thing about acting is you don't know if you've done a good job until the review comes out. But with stand-up you know instantly and I love that risk.
"All comics have mental problems of varying degrees, that's a fact. And all comics are egotistical. Any comic who says they're not is lying. It's not ego as in I'm a better comic than so and so. It's that I'm on stage and I'm making 200 people laugh – how awesome am I? You'd never say that out loud, though!
"Laughing feels so good. When you make someone laugh, you laugh, so you've essentially doubled the joy. Laughter is acceptance. That's why it's an ego thing. When they laugh, that's 200 people liking you. It's the most euphoric experience in the world, which is why all comedians are drug addicts. They're not taking narcotics, they're addicted to adrenaline. Basically I'm just saying, 'Love me, love me.'"
Judging by ticket sales these past three years, and the regular mob of fans engulfing him after each gig, everyone does love Daniel Sloss.
His show earlier this month at The Garage sold out so fast that they scheduled this Friday's gig then and there, to accommodate audience demand. And he'll be one of the stars helping the Assembly Rooms christen their new 400 seat Speigeltent venue this summer, with a premire of a brand new show during the run of the Fringe.
Yes, everybody loves Daniel. But then he makes it so easy.
• My Generation is at The Garage, at 490 Sauchiehall Street, on 1 April. Tel 0141 -3321120 or visit www.garageglasgow.co.uk. Daniel Sloss – The Joker is at the Assembly in George Square from Wednesday 3 August through to Sunday 28 August. For tickets, visit www.assemblyfestival.com.