Following is the full text of comedian Daniel Sloss’ talk titled “It’s Only A Story” at TEDxEaling conference.
Daniel Sloss – Comedian
Good afternoon, everything all good?
Lovely. We’re all storytellers at different points in our lives. We’ve all told stories in different ways in different scenarios.
Whether you’ve been a parent telling a child a bed time story in a desperate bid to make them go to sleep, whether you’ve been a friend telling a friend about another friend’s drunken antic at the weekend to make yourself seem slightly less embarrassed.
Or whether you’ve been at a party telling a story to try and impress the red-head in the corner and you regale a tale about this time you were very witty and snappy, and this verbal encounter you had with another person.
But you weren’t really that funny or snappy in reality, you only thought of comebacks on the way home, but she doesn’t need to know that.
She’s on her third martini, she’s ready to go. We all tell stories in different ways as well.
When my dad tells stories he’s straight to the point. It’s all the facts, no frills. This happened, this happened then this happened, therefore this happened.
Moral of this story is: Don’t drink tequila with your mother, otherwise you happen.
When my mum tells a story, she likes to have all the extra details, all the back stories, all the character biographies and by the end, it’s been like a nine-hour version of Inception.
You’re not sure what’s happened, you just know apparently someone your mum works with is a bit of a cow.
When my grandparents tell stories, they tell stories the way old people tell stories. They’re very humble, don’t like to brag. It’s always stuff like: “Oh, and then I got my medal from Winston Churchill for saving all those orphans. But enough about me, how’s school?”
Children are the opposite. When my brothers tell stories, they do the thing all children do which is they have so much enthusiasm and excitement that they promise a story that’s never going to live up to your expectations.
“And then what happened?”
“And then we went outside.”
“And then what happened?”
“Then Matthew was here.”
“Then what happened?”
“Then he farted.”
90% of stories my brothers have told me has always ended with an unpleasant bodily function.
Everyone is a storyteller, even in the media: television, newspapers, tabloids, podcasts, music, artists. Everything’s a different way of telling a story.
I tell stories differently as well. I’m a comedian. I tell stories that are punchy, jokey, all the way through in order to keep an audience’s ever-shortening attention span solely focused on me.
I tell true stories, I tell exaggerated stories, I tell stories that are completely and utterly made up. Total lies. Like, I have been sitting with my friends, having a drink, and one of them will say something like: “Ah, wouldn’t it be funny if this happened?”
And I’ll think to myself: “Yeah, that would be funny.”
And then I shamelessly take it down in my iPhone. Take it home. Write out. And somehow integrate myself into this story so I’d become a hero. So I can then go out on stage in front of a room full of strangers, in a desperate bid to get them to like me.
Because that’s all a comedian is. We’re desperate storytellers. All we do is go out to a room full of people we’ve never met and beg them to like us.
So if at any point you’re wondering why I agreed to do this talk, that’s why.
And also because my mum told me that if I turn down the opportunity to do a TEDTalk, she’d put me up for adoption. I’m 22 years old, I don’t know how she’d go about that. But it’s best not to argue with her when she’s been drinking.
You see that? That was a perfect example. I made that entirely up, just so half of you went: “Ha”
I was willing to fabricate a story about my mother being an alcoholic with an emotional problem who was willing to disown me as a human being just so 50 of you went: “Very good.” That’s what I mean by “desperate storyteller”.
And the thing is we’re the only storytellers, though, that really get in trouble for our stories. Every few weeks there is something in the newspaper about this comedian that said something awful or offensive that’s offended one member of the audience who, by the way, nine times out of ten, is an idiot.
And then they talk about it on the news and everything. They get scientists and doctors to come on and analyze the joke, interview the traumatized audience member, and then they all sit down and discuss, at length, a joke which lasted one minute in an hour-long set and we all sit patiently and wait for the officials to tell us whether we were offended or not.
And then at the end of it, they decide that we’re offended. Perhaps the comedian shouldn’t talk about rape or murder, those sort of things on stage, that they shouldn’t be broadcast in a household and we all feel quite good about ourselves.
Then switch over to Eastenders or True Blood where there are scenes of murder, sexual audacity, drug abuse, racially invoked crimes and we all go: “This is amazing!”
Why is it different? How come when a comedian says something as a joke, it’s offensive? But when it’s acted out in front of you, it’s intriguing, it’s a twist.
Actors are never criticized or abused for their roles in films. Nobody came out of “Inglorious Bastards” going: “Oh, I can’t believe Christoph Waltz killed all those Jewish people. What an awful man!”
Nobody came out Harry Potter thinking: “You know what? I never trusted Snape. Not since he had that awful German accent and tried to kill John McClane.
There you go. People don’t get upset because they know it’s fake. They know the actors on stage are just portraying characters. So are comedians. That’s our job.
We’re storytellers but we’re also so vain that we like to put ourselves in the stories. We’re the writers, directors, and stars of our own show where we’re just playing an exaggerated parody of ourselves.
Because we’re not going to be ourselves onstage. We might play a version of ourselves. But we can’t be our true selves. If we were to come on stage and talk to you about our real opinions with balanced, thought-through points, we wouldn’t be comedians, we would be politicians and you’d hate us even more. Right?
When we come on stage, we have to find ways to make you laugh and our way of doing that is to come out and say something completely stupid and ludicrous to make you laugh.
Another method of doing it is to take a completely, utterly, point that no one would agree with, something very obscure and blatantly wrong and find a way to twist it round and make it seem valid just for a second.
For example, if I were to make the statement: “I don’t think children should smoke.” Everyone in this room would agree with it, yeah?
But if I were to come out on stage and say: I think every child under the age of 13 should be forced to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day because as my brothers are getting older, it turns out they’re very close to being able to beat me in a foot race. That’s a way of turning it around. You’re not laughing at the fact that I’m trying to kill my brothers.