Daniel Sloss has but one regret for coming to Madison to perform at the Barrymore Theatre on Friday night.
It means he can’t perform at Comedy Club on State at the same time.
“Comedy on State is one of my favorite clubs,” the 28-year-old Scottish comedian said in a phone interview from New York City. “Part of me’s upset that I’m not performing there. I’m joking, because it blows me away that I get to come to Madison and perform my own show in a theater. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. But, man I love Comedy on State. The staff is brilliant, the audiences are great, it’s just a f------- beautiful room.”
Those Comedy on State audiences have a reputation among comedians for being receptive to smarter, more challenging stand-up comedy that the typical comedy club. And Sloss is the sort of comedian who isn’t afraid to challenge his audiences.
Check out his two acclaimed stand-up specials currently on Netflix. In the aptly-named “Dark,” Sloss spends most of the hour talking about his sister Josie in the present tense. It’s only late in the set that he reveals that she died as a child when he was 9, and you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Sloss wanted the audience to feel that gut-punch shock he did when he heard the news as a 6-year-old boy.
In the second special, “Jigsaw,” Sloss talks about relationships in a way that forces audience members to look at their partners in a new light. Sloss jokingly (but also seriously) kept a running tally on his social media feed of how many couples had broken up because they watched “Jigsaw.”
“It feels disingenuous to not talk about serious stuff on stage,” Sloss said. “Once I walk on stage, it’s like, ‘Here’s who I am.’ And I am not funny all of the time.”
Sloss said that as a young comedian he was inspired by others who made him think as well as laugh, and cites Tig Notaro’s “Live” show, in which Notaro frankly discussed a recent cancer diagnosis, as a big inspiration.
The turning point for him came at a show in Los Angeles where comedians were invited to tell stories they had never told on stage before. Sloss had never talked about his late sister Josie before an audience, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“I phoned my mom and said, ‘I’m going to talk about Josie on stage, are you okay with that?’ he recalled. “And she said, 'Sure,' and gave me a bunch of f------ funny stories about that. We laughed about it. And I went and told those stories, and it smashed.
"And then I spoke about death and the audience was silent. F---, it made me feel powerful. Normally you associate silence with badness as a comedian. Normally silence is a lack of control. When you make that audience silent, there’s no control like it. You’re the lifeguard and they’re drowning. They’re like, ‘Please throw us the life preserver,’ and you’re like ‘No, not yet. I think you can tread water for a couple more minutes. I believe in you.’”
Sloss loves playing with that tension and release in an audience, although occasionally that can lead uncomfortable audience members to laugh at the wrong time.
“You can feel the rest of the audience going, ‘How dare they laugh at that?’ And I’m like, ‘No no no. They didn’t laugh because they’re evil. I’ve put you all in a very uncomfortable position, and you don’t know how to react.’ A lot of being a comedian right now is just getting the audience to not turn on each other.”
His new show, entitled “X,” uses personal storytelling to talk about toxic masculinity and the #metoo movement. In this case, Sloss said, he’s aimed the show primarily at the men in the audience — but not to yell at them about their shortcomings.
“Men are getting f----- yelled at all the time, and as a man, I know that when you yell at a man, you don’t achieve anything,” he said. “Fortunately, I can explain things to men. I don’t think men are malicious. I think men are sometimes ignorant. And it’s not a malicious ignorance. It’s that we just don’t concern ourselves with things that don’t concern us.
“Men just aren’t paying attention. I don’t like this f--- narrative that men aren’t sensitive or men are emotionally stunted. No, we just deal with things in different ways, and you being condescending to us isn’t helping anything. So I’m going to talk to men in the way that I like being spoken to.”