Interview: Daniel Sloss
REFLECTING back upon his 18 years, Daniel Sloss believes destiny led him to being a comedian. Made by his dad to watch Jack Dee videos when he was five and blessed with a set of parents who introduced him early to the revelatory world of sarcasm, this London-born, Fife-bred rising star of Scottish stand-up, left, has been writing jokes all his life.
Even if you haven't seen him on stage, you may have heard one of his gags on telly, coming from the mouth of his idol and mentor, Frankie Boyle, far right. In 2007, Sloss's mum Lesley, ("An environmental-consultant-type woman who travels around the world like an international spy and goes, 'Stop using your cars so much, stop being stupid.'") contacted Boyle, who performed at a conference she was attending, to ask if her boy could e-mail him with some questions on the art of stand-up.
One of those questions was "any chance of work experience?" and much to Sloss's amazement, he ended up being coached by Boyle during the comic's subsequent sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe. They got on so well that Boyle and Sloss collaborated on material for BBC2's satirical panel show, Mock The Week.
"I never told my mates that I was doing stand-up comedy," recalls Sloss in Edinburgh's Hub while taking sips of coffee in between poking fun at today's tabloid headlines. "Because at that age your mates are bastards, 'But you've never made me laugh ever; everything you ever say makes me die inside.' But the East Fife Mail found out about it and they did a piece on me which was all over the school the next day."
Boyle's single-minded working methods have rubbed off on Sloss, who treats stand-up comedy like a full-time job and will sit from nine till five simply writing jokes, often with Lesley sitting opposite keeping a mumly/managerly eye on him.
His stage debut was in October 2007 at The Stand's Red Raw, an experience that he now considers with horror. "Looking back, it was five minutes of pure w**k material. Stick to what you know, I suppose.
"I did get laughs but I was shaking and wouldn't move, just went monotonously through the material. But at the end I did what all comics do when they have their first good gig, and thought, 'Well, of course I'm the greatest comic ever, why don't I have my own TV show? Where are my fans? Why am I not getting laid right now?'
"But really, it was awful. If I could go back in time I would punch myself square in the face." Going further back, Sloss pinpoints moments when it was clear that trying to make people laugh was in his blood. Having acted in drama classes and productions at Kirkcaldy's Adam Smith Theatre since he was eight years old, he recalls his own interpretation of Shakespeare. "Me and my friend Craig would always cock it up. We'd be doing Macbeth and give each other the look which would go 'do you want to take this down a different road?' And then we'd just make stuff up. The director hated it, but the audience loved it, 'Is that a dagger I see before me?' 'Aye, so gies yer wallet.'"
Though Sloss was keeping mum on his dirty little stand-up secret, trying to make pals laugh was a permanent fixture in his school life. When teachers got wind of those extracurricular activities, that was a somewhat different story. They would either be a mixture of paranoid concern that they would crop up in his routine or they would attempt to upstage him in class. "If I got a question wrong, the teacher would go, 'So, is that one of your jokes Mr Sloss?' 'Well, no, why would one of my jokes be a wrong answer? How shit a comedian do you think I am?'"
With one eye firmly on the comedy game (he celebrated leaving school last summer with a place in the final of So You Think You're Funny?), the other tried to stay focused on his academic responsibilities and he did enough to get himself accepted into Dundee University to study history, though that place is being deferred for now. "It was the only subject in school I passed. Sixth year was about the Romans and the Greeks and the Celts, which I had a passion about. I couldn't really give a toss about modern studies and maths and English, but I got so involved in history to the point where I'd go home and watch Troy and 300 repeatedly. But when you go to university to do history there's only one job you can get out of it: history teacher. And I hate kids, so…"
Looks of envy bordering on loathing tend to be directed at anyone who appears to have overachieved at such a tender age. He is fully aware that much will be expected of him in the near future. "I think it's a massive advantage being young because having started so early, people think I'm unique. But I've now got two years left to make the most of being The Teenage Comedian before I'm just A Comedian. Though I'll probably still use it till I'm 23 as I've got such a baby face."
Daniel Sloss is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, 12 March, as part of the Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival.
For more on the Comedy Festival, read Critique magazine in The Scotsman this Saturday.