With New Energy and a New Book, Daniel Sloss’ Hubris is Unmatched

Photo by Troy Edige
Sloss is on fire after several headline catching stand-up hours, including X (about "modern masculinity") and Jigsaw (aka "The Break-Up Special")

Scottish comic Daniel Sloss, a rare next gen comic with an earned edge and a track record of envelope pushing with purpose, seems like he almost needed a pandemic to keep him in the stand-up comedy arena. “That’s the good thing about the fucking pandemic, is it put all of that into perspective,” the 31-year-old shares in anticipation of his new show Hubris, which will fill the Bayou Music Center on November 20.

Hubris was written in response to my last tour, X, which was released on HBO [in 2019],” Sloss explains. “That whole show was about sexual assault and toxic masculinity and rape, and other subjects that make many people uncomfortable and situations that are very, very traumatic for people in the audience. It was an 18-month tour, and I lost my fucking mind on the tour. By the end of it, I just wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t in a good place, and it was because I was just doing this same shit every day. Because when you are talking about taboo subjects, something like sexual assault, whether you like it or not, people in your audience are affected by the subjects you are talking about. Now, it’s not their fault that they are affected by it, and it’s also not your fault for bringing it up. But you can have a level of fucking decorum and understanding and empathy to think that if you are going to bring up what is probably the worst moment in somebody’s life, you have a responsibility to them as a trusted audience member to do that to the best of your ability in a way that doesn’t provoke them unnecessarily or accidentally upset them.”

Sloss continues, offering a surgical diagnosis of the dangers of spending too much time with an act before recording. “Once I got to a point in X where I knew my way through the minefield, so to speak, and knew the safest and best way to get through the subject every night and hit all the correct points, I was no longer a comedian. I was a fucking actor. I was doing a stage performance; I was just reciting a script. And it drove me fucking insane.”

While he wasn’t “miserable” when he made his stop in Houston with X in June 2019, he admits to maybe being a bit “bored” and "homesick" by that point. But nothing could prepare Sloss for the brakes put on him by the pandemic. “I mean, X was too much work but the pandemic was no work. After X, I was like, I had fully lost the love for stand-up. I don’t want to do this anymore. And then the pandemic came in, and it was: yes you do. And I was like, what the fuck am I thinking? Of course, I want to do this. It was good in that aspect. But everyone took a confidence boot, and comedy is a confidence game. And I don’t think anyone who went into the pandemic came out of it the same person.”

Frustratingly, Hubris was already nearing the touring stage when borders began to close in Spring 2020. “This is a show I actually wrote last year, like January-February,” he says. “I took it New York for two weeks and LA for a week, and I got it about almost done, like 20 percent from the end. Then the fucking pandemic kicked off. Some gigs came back in the UK for a while, but they were these weird car park gigs, or like gardens of pubs, weird outdoor tents ones. Then after, so many fucking jokes just became instantly became dated. Then the gigs were kind of different. By the time other parts of the globe started to open up again, I went to Australia at the start of this year and I got to really revisit the show. That was the first time. Australia was open and the UK wasn’t, so I was granted like an exemption, got it in like better shape there and then came back to the UK. And I fucking hated it! Well, don’t know if I hated it, or whether London is just shit.”

Sharing some unexpected stand-up wisdom, Sloss reveals his working theory on where comedy struggles to survive. “The capital of every country in the world normally tends to be like a clitoris – it’s needlessly sensitive, and only fun if you know how to play it properly. I find that true for Australia, because Melbourne is very fucking sensitive, London is as well. And Edinburgh is much more sensitive than Glasgow. So I did a week of shows in London and thought: oh God, maybe this show sucks? And then we went off to literally anywhere else in England and Scotland and Portugal, and it went off great. So it has morphed a couple of times because it’s been all over the world.”

On the nature of adapting to his audience, Sloss pulls back the curtain a bit on the localizations he makes for the wide variety of nations he performs in. “I would say the [more fun] bits for me come from when you’ve been touring in the same country for a while, you start getting the little jokes that only work while you are here. Like there are some routines I do in America that only work in the fucking states. And there are others ones, like I can’t make fun of England as much as I make fun of England when I’m in England. And I – well, I was about to say I can’t make fun of America as much as I do in front of the rest of the world, but I do! I do tell it to your face, I’m not bitching about you behind your back.”

While many audiences familiar with Sloss’ recorded specials (Dark and Jigsaw on Netflix, X on HBO) may be expecting a more dramatic pivot from the acidic wit – the comedian aims to square audiences expectations. “When I was writing Hubris, once the X tour was over, I said the next show is just fucking standup. That’s all it is. I just want to write jokes and have the ability to mix it up every night and fuck around and just be able to push boundaries for the sake of boundaries. Also, I’ve done three or four shows now where everyone knows that traditionally, the last 20 minutes of the show I’m going to turn the subject on its head, I’m going to go to a dark subject, I’m gonna fucking say something awful. I’m gonna do that and everyone was expecting that: Dark had that moment, Jigsaw had that moment, Socio had the moment even though its not out, but it did and X had that moment.

"And I could see audience members whenever I get to that 60-minute mark of the show, they’d be looking at each other and thinking, oh he’s gonna do it! And like, I don’t want to be fucking predictable. I like telling stories in that way, I think it is a very good way of doing comedy, and it’s the way I’ve always enjoyed watching it, but I don’t want to be fucking pinned in by my self. I don’t want to do it. So that’s why it's called Hubris, because when I was at my fucking peak of ability I decided to take a massive step back and just do jokes again.”

Uniquely, Sloss appears to have already taped a version of Hubris... but that the recording may never see the light of day. “It was filmed in Glasgow, but I don’t know if I’ll ever release it. I’m not sure. I only release work when I’m 100 fucking percent proud of it. And because this was a show written pre-pandemic, then mid-pandemic and everything, I just don’t know if the filming of it is the best representation of my abilities. At this point, I think I’ll just work on the next show and get that good. What part I’ve really liked about post-COVID comedy is for a long period it felt like re-learning again. Not quite being a fucking beginner, but it felt like earlier stages in my career. It was very fucking reminiscent of doing that and sort of getting the confidence and the swagger back. I would much rather get back and release a show that’s that level of confidence and ability, rather than... Look, we’re not all fucking Bo Burnham here, we can’t produce our best work during the lock down!”

While Sloss may not have stumbled on to the formula to record an hour of comedy from inside his den like Burnham, the comic did find a way to channel his creative juices into something production while away from the clubs: he wrote his first book. But don’t get the wrong idea and start calling him a writer. “I’m not a writer, man!” he exclaims. “I’m a comedian who wrote a book. Any fucking TV presenter or musician or actor who steps into the stand up world, I’m like fine – enjoy. It’s a fun medium, I get why you are here. But you are not a fucking comedian, remember that. You’ve stepped into the world ahead of all the people at the very bottom, you’ve stepped in from another medium, and that’s allowed. It's like how celebrities go to university. But you and I are not fucking peers, and if I hear you describing yourself as a fucking comedian, I’ll slap you across the upside of your head. And in the same aspect, I am not an author.”

Labels be damned, Sloss’ debut on the page is undeniably funny. But that’s not stopped him from agonizing about how it’s coming across after hitting bookshelves in October. “I’m very worried about it,” he acknowledges. “I get away with a lot of shit on stage, and the way I get away with a lot of shit is for some reason some people find me charming. I think it’s the fucking accent... But when I am on stage, you can fucking see the tinkle in my eye. Its very clear which boundaries I’m pushing, and why I’m pushing it. It doesn’t come from a bad place. And that’s why if you’ve seen my stand-up before, my book is absolutely fucking palatable.

"But man... I would read bits out to my fiancé all the time, and she says: out of context, you could EASILY piss off 75 percent of people. Because of a lot of it, I’m just being antagonistic. Well, not purposely, but I was very much being a heightened version of myself. Because there were so many bits in the book where I was being very real and honest, like I bared my soul a bit. And figured because I bared my soul a bit, I was allowed to do the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reverse side of it where if here I’m nice and somber and sad, and now I’m going to say some atrocious shit because we both know I don’t really mean it. I mean, I kinda do, but if I really meant it, it would be evil, but we’re all giggling at it, so we’re fine. But I don’t get to choose how people consume it. If I have learned anything from all the specials I’ve released is you don’t get to decide how people interpret your art.”

Sloss highlights that he fears that someone unfamiliar with his work might unassumingly find his book in an airport gift shop. If anything, the book’s title — Everyone You Hate Is Going To Die, And Other Comforting Thoughts On Family, Friends, Sex, Love and More Things That Ruin Your Life — should clue them in for the type of experience they’re getting into.

If there’s anyone to blame for the books riotous tone, Sloss is quick to toss out the name of his editor at Penguin Random House. “I asked him what he wanted me to write about and he gave me all the topics. And I’ve never written a book before! So I’m just going to see how far I can push these things, just because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing stand up on television is whenever the TV show asks for your set, always send them a REALLY harsh one. Like make sure there’s two jokes in there that are absolutely fucking brutal so the lawyers look those over and says that we can’t have those two, take them out and they felt like they did their job.You actually get to do the set you wanted to do.

"And I tried to do that with this book, and Peter said this is great, this is your voice, this is wonderful and I’m like: call my bluff! He kept it all in to the point where I started to have to self editing, and I went back and I read things over and over and over again... but I don’t know if I trust this process. I mean, it went well but I have nothing to compare it to. I enjoyed writing the book!”

Daniel Sloss’ performance is scheduled for November 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas. For more information, call 713-230-1600 or visit $38-$99