Daniel Sloss Takes America
Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss has earned his place as a wildly successful performer in the UK, selling out all seven of his Edinburgh Festival Fringe solo shows and making numerous television appearances over the years. Those are impressive feats especially considering that Sloss is only 25 and started standup at the age of 16. While yet to break big in the US, Sloss has made five appearances on Conan, as well as doing spots on The Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Pete Holmes Show, and @midnight. February marks Sloss’s first sizable push to win over American comedy crowds, as he performs a string of dates at New York’s Soho Playhouse and two more shows at Westside Comedy Theater in Los Angeles. I talked to the comedian about his current show, Dark, the differences between UK and American comics, and why critics don’t matter.
You’re in New York for the US premiere of your solo show Dark. It was a big hit for you at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and you toured with it all over Europe last year.
Yeah. The show this year that I’m doing in New York and LA is that show, but with an extra half hour since this is my first time doing a solo show over here in the States. I’m adding another half hour of all of my best material from the past three years.
You’re a pretty big comedian in your part of the world. You’ve come here and had the opportunity to be on Conan, The Pete Holmes Show, and @midnight. People here may have seen you, but you’re not a household comedy name, which is hard to achieve these days. What’s it like when you come to the States and book one man theater shows? Do you have a solid fan base here that will turn out?
I guess we’ll find out. It could be awkward.
Having a new hour-long one man show every year is something you picked up at Edinburgh, right?
Yeah, yeah. I would say one of the main differences between UK and American comics is that we refer to our start and finish of the year. We have something to aim for. Everyone wants to do Fringe and you can’t do the same show there two years in a row. You’ve got to write a new hour every year. I really enjoy that because it helps me improve as a comedian. I understand that’s not the case over here. The circuit here is so fucking big. You can be a road comic traveling… writing a new hour every year would be such a waste of time because not everyone would see it unless you had it on television.
I often ask American comics who have an album or special coming out how much time is represented in that singular piece of work. Most say it includes bits they’ve been doing for several years. I think that more comics here work for years toward building up a “greatest hits” amount material for an album or special. Do you see a distinct advantage in either the one year model or the “how ever long it takes” model?
It depends on what you want. If you’re working towards a really good one-hour special then it’s about doing the older material over and over again. But for me I want to be the best fucking comedian in the world and to do that you have to keep writing, turning over material and doing new stuff. I understand people who are like, “I want to get my best hour together.” I remember my first hour. Nobody else remembers my first hour. Nobody remembers my second hour. Nobody remembers my third or my fourth. This is my seventh hour. People are only going to remember the most recent one. I’m so thankful I did all those hours. I’m 25 and have done seven solo shows. I’m doing my eighth one this year. That experience is something I’m so grateful for. It really has improved me as comic. That’s what I want to do, get better and better every year. The way for me to do that is by writing a new hour every year.
You said you sold out seven solo shows, but you’ve done Edinburgh eight times…
The first time I did Edinburgh I did a double header show. It was me and another comedian doing 20 minutes each.
And you were, what, 17 at the time?
What inspired you as a 17-year-old to want to get on a stage and tell comedy to adults?
I’ve been a fan of standup comedy since I was five or six years old. I’ve always loved standup and I’ve always loved making people laugh. It’s my fucking favorite thing to do. For years I never thought about comedy as an option career-wise. But I loved standup, I loved watching it and I loved performing onstage as an actor. But I didn’t like doing serious acting. It was so glaringly obvious that I wanted to become a standup comedian. But I didn’t really know… it’s like when a gay kid comes out in high school and says, “I’m gay!” and his best friends are like, “Buddy, we know. We’ve all known.” It’s kind of like that with standup. I said to my mom, “I think I want to be a comedian.” She said, “Oh, you don’t fucking say? Really? Wow, that’s unusual. Idiot.”
Looking at pictures of you when you started out as a kid, you almost had a Justin Bieber look about you.
Oh, God yeah.
When you start a career at a young age it’s easy for people to document major changes in your creative life. I read that you chose the name Dark as a way to joke about how people comment and criticize the natural evolution of your comedy. You’re growing up. You’re going to be talking about different things. As your material changed, did people think you weren’t being yourself or trying to be edgy for edgy’s sake?
I don’t think they thought I was doing it to be edgy. I think you’re right, I was naturally going through standup. The longer you do standup the more it becomes about depth and substance. Also I had a lot of success when I was fairly young on television and stuff. It meant that my audience was used to seeing clean, family material. But when I was doing my solo show… the thing was, I was always doing that sort of darker comedy. I hate the word dark. To me Doug Stanhope is dark. Jim Jefferies is dark. I absolutely do not consider myself in line with those two fucking greats. But people saw my stuff on television where I was doing the five or ten minutes of clean material that I had. The other stuff I couldn’t do on television. When people came to see me maybe there was a visceral reaction. I’m just like, “No, this is just my other stuff. You’ve only seen the clean stuff because that’s the only stuff I can get out there.”
I’m not that familiar with the rules of British television. Is censorship a big issue?
Totally. You’re not allowed to say loads of stuff in the UK. You’re not allowed to talk about religion, which is a lot of my set. You can’t use any of the fun swear words. You can’t say cunt. I was one of the first comics in the UK to do material on television about marijuana. That was such a fight to get through. It’s taxpayer money that goes into the BBC so they have to produce a certain quality of material and have to be held accountable. I absolutely understand it but it’s a bit tamer than I would like it to be.
You’ve been vocal about not listening to critics. The last time you talked to Splitsider you said that you weren’t letting press into your shows at Edinburgh. Are you still holding to that?
We never didn’t let reviewers in. We stopped giving out free tickets to reviewers and then they suddenly stopped coming, which I think tells you a lot about their agenda. I would never ban anyone from my show. And I want to clarify, there are some reviewers that I absolutely respect. There are good comedy critics who go watch a lot of comedy and understand it. They’re able to write good, helpful reviews. But sadly that is like 2% of reviewers at a festival. Most of them are not reviewers for the rest of the year. They just do it to get free tickets. They’re very ignorant. For me the reviews don’t matter. My show is sold out whenever I’m in Edinburgh. I get audiences in and get to have a lot of fun. You can give me a two star review and it doesn’t offend me because the audience is enjoying themselves. But that’s not the case for other comedians. There are other comedians who on a Tuesday or Wednesday might only have six or seven people in their audience and it’s their first Fringe show. They’re getting worried about whether or not they should be doing this as a job. It’s three weeks into the festival, they’re hungover, have spent 6,000 putting on this show, flyering every day, hungry and tired. Your fucking flippant one, two, even three star review could be the difference between them continuing to do standup or not wanting to do it any more. I don’t think any reviewer takes that responsibility well. I imagine a comedy reviewer over here is like a permanent job, but most of the people in the UK they’re not reviewers for the rest of the year.
Have you done any of the big North American festivals?
I’ve done Just For Laughs. I’d love to do them all. Any place I get to do comedy I want to do it.
Festivals here are changing. There are new ones every year and probably more comics in the country than there ever have been. We’re having a bit of a boom right now. I feel like there’s been a resurgence of interest in standup as an art form.
I’ve only been gigging in America for about three years now, but America was a always a place I wanted to do standup comedy because most of my favorite comedians are American. I like the style. I don’t know if it’s because of the resurgence that the comedy is getting better, or more people are watching comedy because it’s getting better, but I don’t believe that it ever went away.
Catch Daniel in NYC at the Soho Playhouse on 2/12 and 2/13 and in L.A. at Westside Comedy Club on 2/16 and 2/23.