Daniel Sloss and the Art of Telling Critics to Piss Off
At only 23, Daniel Sloss has become one of the biggest draws at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Scottish comic played to packed houses during his fun in a 400-seat lecture hall in Edinburgh, and he’s about to take his show “Really?!” on tour throughout the UK. He’s also got his eye on the US, having appeared three times on Conan in the last year. I caught up with him in Edinburgh to talk about being famous in his hometown, not letting reviewers into his show, and his first attempt at pilot season in the US.
I feel like a lot of Americans don’t quite understand Edinburgh. What’s the appeal of the Fringe to you?
People go, “But isn’t it just you guys getting drunk?” You go, “Yeah. Like, why is that not cool?” Yeah, but also, the reason I do it so much is how much you improve as a comic, consistently. I think doing a show here for a month is the equivalent of doing two years on the circuit, because you don’t have anyone before you, you don’t have anyone after you. It’s just you doing an hour and you learn so much about just everything. I’ll do it every year just for the C.K. reason — a new hour every year. When C.K. came out and said, “I’m gonna write a new hour every year because Carlin did,” I think every comedian just kind of went, “Oh, well I guess we all have to do that now, because if any of us want to be that good, that’s clearly how it’s done.”
I wish there were more Americans who came over and took advantage of the festival.
I was talking to [Anthony] Jeselnik last week, we were at the Vodafone Comedy Festival in Dublin — I’m a big, big fan of his — and he was saying how he wanted to do it, but his agents were like, “It’s not worth the money. You don’t really make much.” For a lot of comics, it’s flushing six grand down the drain, but if you want to be the best that you can be, you kind of have to. I’m lucky enough that I’m Scottish so people come out and see me. It’s the support-their-own sort of thing. And my agent’s amazing, and my flyers and marketing team, so I have quite an easy run of the festival, which I’m very grateful for.
And you live in Edinburgh, so you don’t have to make the trip.
Yeah! All my friends from all over the world come and visit me. I always describe it like, you know when you were a kid and it was your birthday, and your birthday was at like, 2, and you just sit and look out the window from 1 o’clock onwards just going, “Oh my God, it’s almost here, it’s almost here!” That was me for the past two weeks, just looking out, watching my friends slowly come up and then the festival being built. It’s just like, “Ahhh!” Me and my flatmates, we fucking love the festival every year. I mean, you hemorrhage money and you kill yourself with alcohol poisoning, but it’s totally worth it.
So this is your sixth solo show? You must have been a baby when you started.
18. 18 when I did my first hour, 17 when I started. My first one, seven years ago, I did a half hour show, me doing 15 minutes and my friend doing 15 minutes on at the Free Fringe. Flyering and stuff, it was on at fucking 2 in the afternoon, and we managed to sell it out. It was the first time I flyered, the only time I flyered. We managed to get people in every day, and it was great. And then the next year, my agent was like, “You need to do an hour.” And I’m like, “I don’t have an hour.” And she’s like, “That’s why you need to do one.” Flyering killed me the year before, so I was like, if I don’t flyer and people don’t come, I don’t mind. I’d rather play to no one than flyer because it was just, I couldn’t do it. But she was so good at marketing and everything that I just managed to sell out, and then it just kept getting bigger venues every year. Every year she proved me wrong.
It’s weird, because I’m quite big in Edinburgh, I do really well, but on the circuit, I’m just another…so it’s really fun for me. People come up, like very good mates come up and they’re like, “Did I just fucking see you on a bus?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m a dick. I’m sorry.” My flatmate Jean gets very excited when it comes because this is the only month where I’m famous. It’s really weird, because the face is everywhere, and because a lot of people in Edinburgh are comedy fans now, everyone here knows. So even if they’re not a fan everyone knows who you are, so you get recognized a lot more, and then literally the day after the festival ends, you walk around and people go, “We don’t know who you are. None of us give a shit anymore.” It’s really, really fun to just experience the highs and then the lows the next day. It’s great.
You don’t have any press in this year? No reviews at all?
No, no. Fuck no. I have not done that for three years. I really, really hate reviewers. It wasn’t so much the reviews for me, because I was selling out, so the reviews were just kind of pot shots and that sort of thing. When I started getting annoyed was reading my friends’ reviews, and they go, “Aw, three stars.” I’m like, “I fucking know this act, I’ve seen that show and I know it’s so much better than you flippantly gave it.” There are some very good reviewers, but most of them are terrible. Most of them have no idea what they’re talking about, and they don’t realize the damage they’re doing as well. I mean, comedy is an art form and art is for everyone and I totally understand that and I’m not trying to stop reviewers being reviewers, but when you fucking hire an 18-year-old who’s writing for a portfolio, they’re not reviewing a show, they’re writing something to show that they’re capable of writing. If you’ve got a portfolio of all your reviews you’ve done, they can’t all be five stars. It won’t prove that you can critique anything. So they go in with the agenda — I want to be able to prove that I can critique a show. But you don’t realize that this person on stage invested so much of their time, so much of their money, and so much of their fucking sanity, and even though you just went, “Meh.” That 3-star review or 4-star review can be the difference between them doing the show the next day or breaking down and going, “Fuck there’s no point in me doing this anymore.”
I just stop letting them in. Press is to sell tickets and I’m selling out. And it would go to my head, it was a safety thing as well for me personally. I would read the reviews and then I would get in my own head and I would change the material, and then I realized, “Oh fuck you, you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.” That’s why my past three years have just been amazing because I’ve had great shows and I feel so confident, because the people who paid for a ticket enjoyed it, as opposed to the one prick who asked for a free one, saw ten shows that day, and then went “Ehh.”
That’s really interesting, because people here seem so obsessed with reviews.
And I really don’t respect them a lot. Well, some of them I do. The real ones, because I’m friends with some of them. But fucking 20 review websites pop up and exist only for this month, and they’re so many shows on, that they just go “Oh, you wrote an essay once, come review this.” You’re sending people who aren’t comedy fans out to review things, and people who don’t get comedy. People who fucking laugh at Peter Kay, you’re sending to watch real comedy, of course they’re not gonna like it.
And I just got very upset reading my friends’ reviews, and I still do. Like my mates in the Noise Next Door, they’re an improv group, and one review, in fucking Fest Magazine, was like, “Could have been tighter.” And you’re like, “It’s fucking improv, you are soo dumb.” I’ve seen people review character acts as if the character was an actual person, going, “Well, he’s a very racist comic.” And I personally don’t think reviews help sell tickets that much. I refuse to believe that someone picks up 3 Weeks and goes, “Oh, this respected thing.” I don’t want to give them the power, and I love it so much. It’s so nice to just to not have — this sounds quite horrible — to not have to pretend to be nice to them. I do have some friends who are reviewers who are good guys, but I love hanging out with comics. I love hanging out with industry, talking shop. But you always notice when you’re in artist bars and there’s a reviewer there, he’s reviewed someone you’re standing beside, and they’re going, “Oh that fucking prick gave me 2 stars,” or “He gave me 5 stars, I’m a God.” And they pander to them and that sort of thing. I don’t have to fake it.
So how did you end up on Conan?
I have no idea. [Laughs] The wonderful, J.P. Buck — I love the man with all of my heart — I did my show here last year, and J.P. came to see it, and went, “Oh you want to do Conan?” And I’ve been offered sort of spots before on those TV shows, and you go, “Yeah, OK sure, your people will talk to my people.” and it won’t happen. And he goes no, in three months. Alright. And he really helped me along with my set. I managed to do a great, great first set. He let me do my anti-abortion gag, which made me laugh my ass off. It’s a joke I always put when I’m sending through TV sets, because a lot of the time, TV producers and stuff, they want to feel like they’ve edited the set, so they want to change it, so I always put in a really offensive joke so they take it out and then they feel like… and I always do it. It’s one of my favorite jokes, just a stupid little one, I put it in, and he went “Yep. Cool, good set.” And I went, “You saw the gag, right?” and he went, “Great, yeah, love it.” I was like, “I can do that?” He was like, “Sure, why the fuck not?” And then I was like, “Aw, I love you so much.”
Did it, and then it just went so well, and then they invited me back, and then they invited me back again, and it was just like, “Holy fucking shit, this is happening.” It was insane, and nothing I ever expected in my career, like never ever. It was great.
Conan seems like he’s really investing in comics. You can see him putting the time in to find good people.
Yeah. It’s amazing. And like the TV I’ve done here can be quite nerve-racking and scary because a lot of the time, a lot of TV shows over here are run by agencies, and they produce the shows, and so you always feel out of place cause if you’re not with them. You’re like, “Aww, you’re not looking out for me, you’re looking out for your clients.” But literally everyone there from ground staff to receptionists to the lighting guy, every single one was like, “We want you to do well, of course we do.” It was the most supportive place I’ve ever been in my fucking life. And then when I went back for the second time, they were all like, “Hey, you’re back!” and I was like “How has this become a home already, this is amazing!” It really, really blew my mind. Cause you know, you hear things about LA, you expect it to be this fucking cutthroat sort of thing, and maybe it is. That’s what I was expecting, but my experience so far has just been the sweetest people.
My impression is that the comedy community out there really protects each other.
Yeah, I totally think it does. And also, anyone can say I’m an actor and no one can really check, but if you say I’m a comic…it’s really hard to pretend to be a comedian, because we’re such a close knit community that even if we don’t know each other, we know of each other. I love it out there. I don’t want to move. I might move to New York for a couple months, though.
This is gonna sound so wanky. [Adopts a fake pretentious voice.] “Just for my comedy.” But yeah. I only really got into American comedy like four years ago. My mate introduced me to Bill Burr, and then I watched C.K. and then I saw Maria Bamford and I just went, “What the fuck!? This is amazing.” It was so different than British comedy; maybe that’s why I liked it, because it was something new. And now I’m just fucking obsessed with it. And the reason American comics are so good is because the circuit’s so big, and you can get up and do two, three shows a night, even if it’s not to a big audience, and the work ethic over there is just amazing. They just turn over and turn over and turn over, and I see people doing new material in big clubs, which I’d never do. But they just go to the Improv and they go, “Eh, fuck it, let’s see if this works.” The work ethic blows my mind. That’s why I want to move over there for a couple months, just to bin all my material that I currently have and then do it every night and see if by doing that, I can be as good as them. Because that must be why they’re so good. It must be because of that. I think if you admire people, you should absolutely be doing everything they’re doing.
It’s still such a little fantasy. I want to do it right; the last thing I want to do is go over for six months and do like seven gigs. I think I’ll do it in about a year or two. I love Scotland, I love the UK, this is where I started, this is my home, and the last thing I want to do is fucking drop the plates and run over there, and be like “I’m going to America!” [Gives the middle finger.] Be that dick. I want to do them both. I want to do the world, I enjoy doing comedy everywhere, but I’m not going to drop everything for something else. I want to make sure that I can just do everything the way I want to do it. So maybe in like a year or two when I don’t have a tour booked.
And I heard you went to LA for pilot season? How was that?
It was good. Well, it was weird. Jim Gaffigan had a great line — it’s the petting zoo. You go in and they’re like, “You’re amazing. You’re gonna be the next best thing, you’re the greatest thing in the world,” and then you leave and then someone else comes in and they go, “You’re amazing, you’re the next big thing.” But I really enjoyed it. My agents over there got kind of, not annoyed at me, but I didn’t know what I was doing. She’d take me to these meetings and they’d be like, “So do you have any ideas?” and I’d go, “No. I don’t really have any…” And they’re like, “Why are you over here?” I’m like, “I dunno, just fucking see what it’s like.” And I’d come out, and she’d go, “Did you tell them that you have no ideas?” And I was like, “Yeah, I didn’t want to brag.” And she’s like, “You’re a fucking idiot. You tell them you have an idea, you tell them you want to do this.” And they’d be like, “Do you want to be an actor?” And I’d go, “No, not really. I really just like standup comedy.” And she’d go, “Yes! You want to — what the fuck are you doing, you moron?” So I learned how to do that.