The only comedian willing to speak on the record, without anonymity, to Channel 4’s Dispatches and The Times and Sunday Times about the sexual allegations against Russell Brand was Daniel Sloss. The 33-year-old tours internationally and has two Netflix specials to his name, having built a reputation for confronting the darkest and most difficult subjects in his stand-up, including the rape of his closest female friend and his own experience of being groomed by a paedophile online.
That Sloss lent his voice to this weekend’s allegations – which Brand has roundly denied – will not have come as a surprise to his fans. The Scottish stand-up has previously alluded to rumours about Brand in interviews, last year telling fellow comics Mark Normand and Sam Morrill on their We Might Be Drunk podcast that he knew “unrepeatable” things about the Essex comedian, concluding that Brand is, in his view, “not a good man”.
When Katherine Ryan disclosed last year that she had confronted a reputed sexual predator on a television show that she had worked on, Sloss publicly supported her and denounced the pressure she was put under to identify the man.
“I think it is incredibly brave of Katherine to mention the fact that there is a very well-known, incredibly famous predator on the comedy circuit, who everyone on the comedy circuit knows who it is,” he reflected in a video posted on Instagram. “But [she] is not allowed to name [him] because of all of the injunctions in place. It is not Katherine or any other female comedian’s responsibility to name this comedian.”
In his 2018 touring show X, released by HBO the following year, Sloss called on more men to speak out about rape and sexual harassment, echoing the frustrated calls of female comedians at the widespread silence of male comics on the subject.
X ends with Sloss recounting his unnamed friend’s rape by another friend, part of a wider exploration of sexual assault in culture and the impact it has on individuals, a careful and informed take that nevertheless found jokes amid the bleakness and afforded his friend status and dignity beyond that of simply being a victim. He also shared his feelings of guilt at believing he could have prevented the rape.
A long way from the wunderkind of British stand-up he once was, Sloss, who became a father last year, revealed in his 2017 show, Now (released as a special last year under the title Socio), that he was groomed online by a paedophile when he was 13, something that only became clear to him when a police officer turned up at his family’s home and shared transcripts of their conversations.
As an indiscreet anecdotalist on the Sloss and Humphries On The Road podcast that he hosts with his friend and regular support act Kai Humphries, Sloss has openly shared his disdain for the UK comedy and television industries, routinely deriding his failed 2010 BBC Three sitcom pilot, The Adventures Of Daniel, as an ill-conceived project that he had little control over, made before he found his comic voice.
However, he is in a privileged position, having essentially bypassed UK television with the patronage of US talk show host Conan O’Brien, who featured Sloss nine times on his show from 2013 onwards, after his kingmaker talent booker JP Buck spotted the emerging stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe.
O’Brien became a champion and producer of Sloss, who concurrently released the acclaimed Netflix specials Dark and Jigsaw in 2018, leading to him becoming one of the few contemporary British stand-ups to legitimately break the States, while creating demand for his tours across four continents.
Despite global success though, Sloss – who was born in Kingston upon Thames but raised in Fife from four years old – continues to reside in Edinburgh with his wife Cara, whom he married in May, and their infant son. He is close to his parents, his father Martyn having snuck him into adults-only stand-up gigs when he was underage, and his mother, Lesley, who secured him work experience in 2007 writing gags for Frankie Boyle at the height of the Glaswegian’s Mock The Week fame, pre-empting Sloss performing his first five-minute set at Edinburgh’s Stand comedy club later that same year.
As he recalled in Dark, Sloss was only nine when his younger sister Josie, who had been born with cerebral palsy, died. Speaking to the Australian comedian Reuben Kaye on his Come To Daddy! podcast this Wednesday, Sloss recalled that seeing the adults in his family so grief-stricken by her death motivated him to want to make them laugh, laying the groundwork for his subsequent vocation.
With a strikingly robust sense of himself, the comics he admires and the type of act that he wants to be, Sloss has long seemed more like a North American comedian than a British one.
He is uninhibited in a way that many British stand-ups who started later than him cannot be, with a disinterest in appearing on television here, and less beholden to industry tastemakers and gatekeepers. Inevitably, he will now be attacked by Brand’s supporters, but is already being commended by others for speaking out, his willingness to do so typical of an act who shares his mind.
More so than Boyle, when Sloss really began to break through, it was Tom Stade – the louchely cool, Edinburgh-based Canadian storyteller – who came to be one of his biggest influences. Sloss’s laddish tales of sex, drugs and general hedonism, alongside a total disrespect for offence-taking piety, had a rather bratty but increasingly direct, and wholly unapologetic tone, as he self-consciously echoed such casually edgy older comics.
I last interviewed Sloss in Edinburgh in 2014, when his US career was really starting to gain momentum, and found him far quieter, more reflective and thoughtful than the self-avowed “smug arrogance” of his stage persona.
His ongoing podcast and still phenomenally popular specials are proof that he won’t ever dispense with the knob jokes or crudity for crudity’s sake. But that puerility doesn’t negate the seriousness of his deeper preoccupations, or the moral fibre shown in his willingness to denounce toxic masculinity. His daring and outspokenness – carrying the weight of his own lived experiences – has made him a significant voice in the comedy world, both onstage and off.