Comedian Daniel Sloss gives toxic masculinity a 'gut punch' in 'X'

By Ben Hooper
Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss said part of his aim in taking on difficult subjects in his comedy is to make audiences "laugh and think." Photo courtesy of HBO
Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss said part of his aim in taking on difficult subjects in his comedy is to make audiences "laugh and think." Photo courtesy of HBO

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Comedian Daniel Sloss' new HBO special, X, takes an unexpected turn into deeply serious territory in its final half hour, and the stand-up said there was a long period of time during which he "thought it would never work."

X, which premieres Saturday on HBO, features about an hour of Sloss, 29, profanely joking his way through topics that include his young goddaughter's intelligence (or lack thereof), getting in touch with his emotions and unlearning behaviors associated with "toxic masculinity."


The final third of the special finds the Scottish comedian getting deeply serious about his experience with a friend who was raped. Sloss told UPI in a recent interview that it wasn't long after the incident that he decided to talk about it in his stage show.

"It was something that was on my mind all the time," he said. "It was something I was talking about every day to friends because it was something we were going though. I was going on stage at night, and I've always been honest on stage, talking about my pains and things, and it just felt disingenuous to not talk about it."


Sloss said he consulted with his friend, and she not only told him to put the story into his act, but she helped him write the segment.

"My friend who is the survivor, she helped me write the last bits, because I was like 'What do I need to say? What do I not need to say?'" Sloss recalled.

He said his first attempts at broaching the subject, during preview shows for the X tour in Scotland, "bombed for quite a bit."

"I was coming at it from the wrong angle. It was just awkward silence and stuff," he said.

Sloss said he decided to keep developing the piece after asking women in the audience if they thought he should continue to pursue the delicate subject.

"And every single woman in that show was like, 'Yes. Here's all the points where you missed the mark. Here's the bits that we didn't necessarily agree with. But, yeah, we think you should talk about it.'"

He said the feedback from those women, and conversations with survivors in the audiences of his subsequent shows, gave him the confidence and insight to continue working on the routine until audiences started responding.

"There was a long time where I thought it would never work," he said. "And I'm glad I was wrong. I guess it's not for me to say people might hate it."


Gut-punch moments

Sloss said he normally sees the job of a comedian as one in which you "push buttons and cross lines," but learning how to address subjects as weighty as rape and sexual assault was like "stepping through a minefield."

"Once you learn the route, you have to learn which buttons you are allowed to press and what lines you are allowed to step over," he said. "There are some people I want to upset and some people I don't. And the last people I want to upset with this routine are people who have gone through this or something like it. So I had to sort of find where the limits were and how far I could push them."

Sloss acknowledged he's become known for putting a "gut-punch moment" in the last third of his specials. His previous outings, Dark and Jigsaw, which premiered together last year on Netflix, featured segments toward the end in which he addresses serious topics.

Jigsaw in particular became infamous for how Sloss' thoughts on not forcing a bad relationship to work led to the breakups of thousands of couples, who shared their stories on the comedian's website.

"Divorces are now up to 125," he said. "Canceled engagements are up to about 140, and then the breakups -- last we checked months and months ago were over 50,000."


Sloss said he started to keep track when fans sent him Instagram messages about how his special inspired them to leave dysfunctional relationships.

"I used to go into my Instagram DMs because I was needy for attention, and that's where all comedians go when they feel all by themselves -- to just see people say nice things about them. And then I realized how many of my fans were weirdos, so I'm just never going in there again."

Laugh and think

Sloss said he's not sure what long-term effects he would like to see from X.

"First and foremost, I want people to laugh, because it's a comedy special and that's always first priority. I don't want people to turn it into something it's not, I don't want them to think it's a lecture. I know I get a bit Ted Talky at the end, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything," he said.

"I'd like people to learn from my lessons, learn from my mistakes. ... I don't know, maybe I do hope it starts a conversation. I just hope it makes people laugh and think, really."

Sloss said he doesn't intentionally set out to find difficult or complicated subjects to address in his shows, but he feels compelled to discuss the big issues that come up in his life.


"I've just always really loved comedians who spoke about difficult things on stage. I like comedians who made me think, who changed my mind on things. I loved watching comedy where after the show you go, 'That's such a good point, really.' So of course that's the type of comic that I want to become."

Sloss said he doesn't believe there's a subject too tense to be made into comedy.

"I think the only reason taboo subjects are taboo is because people don't talk about them," he said. "Everything can be funny. Just because other people don't find things funny doesn't mean you're not allowed to find them funny. And sometimes it takes a clown to bring the conversation up."

The comedian said he'd like to get back to just doing a "solid hour of jokes" without the expectation of a serious segment at the end of the show.

"I know that the first couple of times I do that, everyone in the audience is just going to be like, 'Oh, it's coming up. He's going to do what he always does. He's going to make us sad for a bit and make us think.'

"And then I'll be like, 'Here's a wank joke, good night!' I think that will be a difficult transition for me. But that's the audience's expectations on what they think I owe them. Which is nothing."


Daniel Sloss: X premieres Saturday on HBO.

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