Daniel Sloss X: When defying toxic masculinity meets humour.
When I first stumbled upon 30-year-old Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss in his Netflix special, I didn’t know I was in for a wild ride. The title Dark did the show justice: both episodes were filled with self-deprecating, cynical, and at-times staggering routines, always combined with a more sombre – and topical – side note. Enthusiastic about Sloss’ unique style, I went on to watch his HBO stand-up Daniel Sloss: X, and I was not disappointed. In yet another provocative performance, Sloss does a wonderful job of using humour to educate his audience about toxic masculinity in a way that feels intimate and comedic, while still treating the topic with all the seriousness it deserves.
X opens with a routine about Sloss’ relationship with his goddaughter Ava, where he jokes about how difficult it is being openly parental as a man. And, I have to admit, seeing a male comedian like him do exactly that on stage is unbelievably refreshing. I laughed so hard at Sloss’ unorthodox methods: from teaching the two-year-old that the middle finger means “I love you horsy” and watching her flip off every horse in sight, to lovingly referring to her as “the dumbest moron”, his dark humour is hilarious to the point that it leaves no time for guilt. Still, Sloss demonstrates his ability to free himself of those gender stereotypes that consider the manifestation of parental instincts as something inherently feminine.
Outwardly showing love for children as a man is not only deemed feminine, Sloss jokes, but it’s also often associated with the spectra of paedophilia. If his imitation of himself chasing Ava while pretending to be a funny monster is utterly wholesome and laugh-worthy, later in the day it hit me that it is in spaces like the playground that little girls first internalise the difference between funny scary and genuinely scary, between funny monsters and actual ones.
Sloss then goes on to introduce the audience to the character of Nigel, the keeper of his old and outdated opinions, like his crush on the Olsen twins or his teenage self’s emotional repression. Sloss’ way of unlearning these ideas and of dealing with toxic masculinity is once again as mischievous as ever. Mimicking his lads’ reactions at his attempts to tell them that he loves them out of the blue, Sloss simultaneously left me cry-laughing and reflecting about something that should be more normal than it is amusing.
But if you’re acquainted with Sloss’ work, you will know that the funny part is about to be put on stand-by. Buying a ticket to one of his shows means, in Sloss’ own words, getting 70-75 minutes of funny jokes and then “a 15-minute sad TED talk”. “It feels disingenuous to not talk about things that are on my mind”, explains Sloss. And the one thing that has been on his mind for the past year, he admits, is his friend’s traumatic experience of sexual assault at the hands of one of Sloss’ friends.
Now, while a lot of stand-ups by male comedians at some point include a distasteful pile of cringe-inducing rape jokes, instead of making jokes at her expense, in this section it is Sloss’ friend and survivor who is directly in charge of telling the jokes through him. And this is not because she or Sloss are not taking the matter seriously, he says, but because she refuses to let the “all-consuming power” of this undoubtedly traumatic experience take over her. “Did you say no?” Sloss asked her, in a Nigel-worthy moment that he openly regrets. “Yes,” she says, “more times than the 2 Unlimited song”.
And at this point, you, like me, are probably feeling slightly guilty about finding this incredibly funny. Luckily, Sloss is exceptional at using his theatrical facial expressions and body language to signal that yes, it is OK to both laugh and feel downright uncomfortable about this joke. As a matter of fact, that discomfort is exactly what we should feel. “Talk to your boys”, Sloss urges the audience, “because there are monsters among us and they look like us”.Given the current climate, Daniel Sloss: X is possibly one of the most relevant stand-ups I have seen in the past few years. Sloss uses a kind of laddish humour that appeals to a male audience. He is cleverly putting his privilege to practice for the purpose of gaining the lads’ trust and teaching feminism 101 with the certainty of being listened to. But Sloss’ routines about toxic masculinity are confined to the simulation sphere of the games with Ava and the play-pretend conversations with Nigel. We are left to consider whether the real-life monsters of Sloss’ TED talk are also hiding among the people we grew up with, the ones we have dated or those we consider our friends.