In just under an hour’s running time, Daniel Sloss’ “Dark” veers from straightforward sex comedy to cross-examining the true meaning of comedy itself. Released by Netflix along with another Sloss special, “Dark” introduces the Scottish comedian’s brand of, well, dark humor to mainstream American audiences. While Sloss’ take on taboo subjects like religion, pedophilia and disability may be too much to some, for fans of black comedy like myself, “Dark” lives up to its name in the best way.
Although he insists that “I’m not intelligent; it’s just the accent,” Sloss’s comedy is actually quite intellectual. Not content with just telling jokes, he probes the nature of comedy onstage. After a joke about abortions fails to draw universal laughs, Sloss slows down. “Let’s discuss this,” he says.
“Some of you are clearly letting the subject matter of that joke get in the way of how expertly written it was.”
After another lackluster round of applause, Sloss says, “I can tell some of you want a bigger punchline. There’s not one. That’s because it’s a true story, a painful true story. Some of the best comedians in the world, they tell you these amazing ‘true stories,’ and at the end of these ‘true stories’ is a perfect punchline…. Do you know how they come up with those punchlines? They f****** lie! And I would never do that to you. I think comedy comes from truth.”
Sloss’ deconstruction of jokes begs comparisons to Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette.” Although “Dark” has so far failed to generate as much excitement in the Twitterverse as “Nanette,” the two shows share a similar rhythm, starting at surface level jokes before progressively tackling deeper and darker themes.
After reducing the audience to tears with the story of that awkward time he put mouthwash on his penis (“I could stand on this stage right now and say, ‘And that’s why the ladies call me dental Sloss,” but I’m better than that”), Sloss takes the show in a completely different direction.
Growing up with a sister with cerebral palsy taught Sloss that “Disability can be hysterical,” he says. “You just have to make sure you’re on the right side of the laughter. If you’re laughing at the disabled person, congratulations, you’re a pile of s***. But if you’re laughing with them, what a joy. But to say disability is never funny, to me, that is dehumanizing. You are saying that these people are not capable of doing something that you yourself are capable of doing, and that is laughing at the situation you are in. Of course, they can do that; they’re human beings.”
Sloss is equally unflinching with his visitors’ take on the United States. Reflecting on a show when a joke about religion didn’t go over well, he says “There was a man in the front row who was so upset by the joke, his only way of letting me know how angry he was was to lift up his shirt, show me his gun, and say, ‘You’re lucky I don’t shoot you.’ Now, where I come from, we don’t call that luck. We call that society.”
In an interview with Forbes, Sloss explained that he prefers comedy that makes the audience uncomfortable in contrast to shows that keep everyone laughing: “The shows I remember so vividly… are the ones that sucker punch you. I love f****** with the audience like that.”
Reflecting “Dark,” Sloss told Forbes: “The audience can laugh at any moment, because anything can be funny, no matter how dark…. I wanted to catch everyone off their toes. I wanted to upset them because that’s how I prove my point that you can laugh even when you’re sad, even when things are really bad.”