It’s a tricky manoeuvre, being a millennial comedian these days. Half your peers can’t make it through a 10-minute set without uttering a slur of some kind, while the other half are too high to figure out you’re insulting them. Here you were, just beginning to break into the cool festivals and opening for the right people, and all of a sudden, a Netflix special is the only venue of value. This warp-core speed of change is, as you realise, the new normal for standup comedy and there’s no going back.
Whatever our criteria might be, there’s no denying that Daniel Sloss is one of the brightest young comedians on the circuit right now. In both Jigsaw and X (his stand-up specials for Netflix and HBO, respectively), Sloss combines discomfiting comedy (“this joke has broken up over a hundred couples”) with whimsical riffs on love, loss, parents, siblings—cut-throat observational stuff, albeit informed by an empathetic sensibility. Sloss is what you get when a curmudgeonly teenager grows up quicker than he thought he would. Wisdom snuck up on him despite his best efforts, and he’s trying not to let it weigh him down.
And now, in the time-honoured tradition of memoir-ish books written by comedians, Sloss has published Everyone You Hate Is Going To Die. He opens the book with his aforementioned rant about middling relationships, the one that has “broken 119 marriages”, as he says in the book (no doubt the count has been updated since he last used the routine onstage). Sloss then uses a calm, methodical approach to write about his friendships, relationships, family and career, each receiving one chapter apiece.
Sloss talks about his formative years in a tone that’s not so much self-deprecation as it is ‘self-ragging’. These punchy autobiographical bits are pretty close to his routines on Jigsaw. Here’s what he says about his lovelorn early teens: “Partners were glorified Pokémon, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t need to catch them all. But I definitely needed one.” In general, the second half of the book can be considered “unreleased material”. The first half is more like a repurposing of his stand-up; reading it is like listening to a cover version of a song you already love.
Some of my favourite sections involve Sloss talking about his mom (a decorated microbiologist who often advises the UN) and dad (a veteran programmer who’s a whiz with household electronics). Like the section where Sloss explains how certain ubiquitous cuss words have lost their pejorative impact in Scotland, so common is their deployment in Scottish households.
“In Scotland you can be a “good cunt” or a “bad cunt,” but your status as “cunt” is not up for negotiation. My mother calls me that word. Sometimes I forget that it’s a word that offends people because I’m normally surrounded by adults who don’t get upset at specific noises (although my American editor keeps cutting it out of this book, the cunt).” This one had me chuckling in real earnest. It reminded me of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his famous rant in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting: “Some people hate the English, I don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers.”
The best of Sloss comes out when he’s talking about his folks. It’s generally bittersweet stuff, but he occasionally throws in unironically emotional curve-balls.
If you’re a writer—or a comedian, for that matter—how you talk about your parents reveals a lot about your style. It’s because your parents are representative of their generation, at least in your eyes. If you have the knowledge and the maturity to talk about their strengths and weaknesses without being either gushy or super-harsh, you’re probably quite good at what you’re doing. And I feel the best of Sloss comes out when he’s talking about his folks. It’s generally bittersweet stuff, but he occasionally throws in unironically emotional curve-balls. Like this, from a section that talks about love in the abstract.
“I’m a dumbass who smokes too much weed and writes books criticising relationships about which I have no inside knowledge. In the apocalypse, we’ll need brilliant men like my father to rebuild the world, not men like me. But he’d still die for me. That’s what love is. Utterly illogical.”
Everybody You Hate Is Going To Die is, like many books in this subgenre (memoir-ish books written by comedians), a kind of greatest hits package. But it’s also a hint towards the kind of comedy Sloss is moving towards. For a while now, Sloss has been talking about class in his routines, in a way that few young comedians are (for the older ones, it’s relatively commonplace but in a smarmy, unappealing ‘in our good ol’ days’ way, y’know?). Here, too, there are several zingers exploring how class shapes our perception of things.
“You stick a candle in a Chianti bottle and you’re a classy, trendy, recycling young gentleman. You stick a candle in a vodka bottle and you’re a Ukrainian separatist desperately fighting off the Russians. And good on you.”
This book is sure to win Daniel Sloss a lot of new fans. But even more importantly, it seems to be foreshadowing a smarter, sharper, better Sloss; now that is a delicious prospect.
Feature image courtesy: Daniel Sloss (Instagram)