May 27, 2018

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Daniel Sloss lives, breathes and eats comedy

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No sacred cows: “I think it’s very pathetic to be upset by something someone says especially by comedy.” Photo: Gavin Evans

Daniel Sloss is very excited about stand-up comedy, so excited that he talks increasingly quickly over the course of an hour so that by the end of our time he’s only saying half-words; what with that and his Scots accent, when it comes time to listen to the interview again I have to replay a lot of it twice.
There is the torrent of names: comedians he admires, only some of whom are familiar to me although I do spot a couple of Australians, Tim Minchin and Jim Jefferies. As far as I can tell, Sloss watches comedy pretty much all the time he is not on stage himself.

“How else do you learn?” he asks rhetorically. “It would be so f—ing arrogant of me to be in this job and be like ‘oh I know how to just be the best comic!’ You have to watch, see other people think, how they do what they do. Every joke can be told a thousand different ways: there’s the set-up and the punchline but they don’t have to be in that order. I find it amazing when I talk to comics who aren’t obsessed with stand-up. Do you not love this job? I love every second.”
Daniel Sloss is 25. He’s a regular face on British television, made multiple appearances on Conan in the US and run the gauntlet as a performer at Edinburgh Fringe eight years in a row. He started doing gigs in comedy clubs when he was 16, but you could say his life in comedy goes back much further even than that.
Did it start, as he suggests, with the Phil Jupitus VHS tape he remembers watching with his parents when he was six? Or perhaps it was a few years later during the summer holidays, when his father would drop him in the morning in the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe on his way to work, then take him to a show as soon as he finished.
There was at least one victorious argument with a bouncer. “The guy’s like ‘oh sir, there is a lot of swearing during the show’ and my dad jut turned to me and went ‘f—, shit, bugger, c—, bastard – right he’s heard them all, can we come in now?'”

He giggles triumphantly. And there were the rides home, riffing with his dad. “We’d be not just repeating bits but coming up with bits of our own. Both my parents are hysterically funny people. My mum has a real job as a scientist, but if she ever wanted to do stand-up she’s a really good writer, and my dad’s very funny but he’s not confident as a public speaker. They managed to create a sort of hybrid in me.”

Sloss is a great believer in the comedian’s right to talk about anything as long as it’s funny; not for nothing is his show called Dark. “I think it’s very pathetic to be upset by something someone says especially by comedy. To be offended by that is to take this series of generalisations – which is what comedy is – and this one-sided conversation and to turn it on yourself. It’s just so arrogant.”

There are politicians who offend him, but comedy isn’t coming from the same place. “Because regardless of what you think of it, the intent is to make you laugh. I have a line about pregnant women going to classes to learn how to overreact. Now, obviously I have a mother who has given birth to four f—heads. Am I saying childbirth doesn’t hurt? No, the joke isn’t that. The joke is that I’m an idiot.”

Even so, he asked his parents’ permission to talk on stage about his sister, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. “I didn’t ever intend to do that as material. What happened was there was a show in LA called RISK! and I’d done a bunch of gigs for the guy there, he was like ‘we do a show where we ask a comedians on stage to tell a story they have never told before’.”
Sloss suggested a few embarrassing sex stories but, he was told, everyone does those. “And then I said, well, I’ve never spoken about my sister.”
It was actually his mother who remembered, in one of their several daily text exchanges, the most disquieting of his anecdotes. “She’s like ‘f—, here’s a good one’!”
And how was it? “It was thrilling.”

Perhaps he didn’t tell it so well from a technical point of view that first time, but he worked on some of those comic tricks he studies so intensively. And sure enough, as he kept telling his story, he managed to offend people.

“I really enjoyed it, just talking honestly about disability and going ‘f— you telling me I don’t get to laugh or I don’t get to use the word spastic because it offends you? I get to say what I want to say, because I know it’s not coming from a place of hate but from love. And I love that.”

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