What ‘Great American Joke Off’ Taught Dulcé Sloan About Hosting ‘The Daily Show’
Call it a wrap on the first season of The Great American Joke Off, the “stand-up comedy meets Whose Line Is It Anyway?” show hosted by comedian Dulcé Sloan. The CW show featured an impressive lineup of stand-up comics from both sides of the pond (appropriate since it takes its inspiration from British panel shows), showcasing comedians like Natasha Leggero, Moshe Kasher, Milton Jones, Joe List and Chanel Ali.
With an initial season in the books, Sloan took a minute to exhale and look back on the punchlines that hit hardest. After all, she was judge and jury on who was funniest on the show — the Aisha Tyler or Drew Carey of Joke Off — so what Sloan says, goes.
The premise of Great American Joke Off is simple: Two teams face off to fire the funniest punchlines possible, based on prompts provided by Sloan. The comics get a little advance warning to prepare jokes, but inevitably, off-the-cuff riffing kicks in when they try to top one another. “There's a fun little lightning round where they could go off the top of their heads,” Sloan says. “Even when you have prepared material, you come up with stuff on the fly.”
So who made Sloan laugh during the season? She came into the show friends with Josh Johnson and Chanel Ali, but meeting the British comics turned out to be a pleasant surprise. “Anytime that Rhys James talked, it was great,” she tells me. “Also the British dude with the glasses, Glenn Moore. I’m in love with Ed Gamble.”
One unanticipated giggle for Sloan was the unexpected language differences between American and U.K. comics, with slight variations in vocabulary leading to laughs. “We had to teach the British comics, ‘Oh, we don’t say that word in America.’” For example, one comic told a joke about his house being burgled. “I’m like, ‘burgled’? What are you talking about?” laughs Sloan. Explaining that aubergine is another word for eggplant wasn’t in the original job description. “That was one of my favorite things,” says Sloan, who grew up a fan of BBC comedy.
Another favorite thing? Getting to be the ultimate judge of who was funniest. “It really was me deciding, it wasn’t the audience. It was just little old me being like, ‘I love that joke.’ Or ‘P.U.!’ They should have never given me that power. But I wielded it with grace. Sometimes, I picked the British comics and the American comics would be like, ‘Hey, man!’ Listen, I got no loyalty to your jokes or this country.” Other times, it was the British comics who complained. “And I was like, ‘Mmm, colonization. I’m going to go with the Americans,” she jokes.
Sloan had previous experience with joke competitions, performing as a comic on shows with similar formats like Comedy Knockout.
But it was a very different experience being in the hosting chair. “This was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be’,” says Sloan, although it was also a relief to not be on the panel. “There were days when I was like, ‘Man, I’m glad I didn’t have to come up with all those jokes.’”
What was different about being captain of the ship for a change? “It was keeping the audience motivated because we got a three-hour shoot. Making sure that when they went to the bathroom, they actually came back. Conveying information — sometimes we needed to do reshoots. So it’s a lot of juggling, making sure that we were moving forward.”
Steering a show with a lot of moving parts seems like it would be great experience for hosting, say, The Daily Show, where Sloan has been a correspondent since 2017. The show has been rotating potential hosts since Trevor Noah left, and Sloan finally got her chance to sit in the main chair earlier this month — just in time to have her shot cut short by the writers’ strike. “One night,” she says, “and then, no más.”
Sloan hopes she’ll get a chance to do a full week when the strike ends, but more than that, “I hope the writers get residuals, I hope actors get residuals, I hope studios pay people what they’re owed,” she says. “I can get a hosting gig again. It’s so much bigger than my hosting week.”
Sloan will no doubt get another Daily Show shot once a new WGA contract is ironed out, and she believes her stint on Great American Joke Off prepared her for the job. “Absolutely,” she laughs. “Being in a hosting chair, being at the helm of something, keeping your audience engaged, keeping an eye on the floor, it’s a lot of moving parts. Hosting Joke Off really did help me with being able to host The Daily Show.”
Sloan actually anchored Daily Show for a minute a few years ago when Noah lost his voice. The correspondents jumped into the fray, and “we were basically his voice.” Sloan was in charge for a single segment that night, but she admits it’s different when you’re the pilot for an entire episode: “You don't realize how much stuff you have to pay attention to. When you’re in between segments or (the crew is) doing technical things, the audience has no idea what's going on. Sometimes the audience gets antsy because they don’t feel included. So it’s just, ‘Hey, we’re readjusting the cameras. How are y’all doing? Everybody feeling good? I just need you all to be loud when we come back.’”
As for The Great American Joke Off? “I hope there’s another season, that would be really great,” Sloan tells me, although she believes she might be the last to know about a renewal. If the show doesn’t return, the camaraderie is likely what she’ll miss most. “What I really loved about the show? I’m really good friends with Josh Johnson. We write a lot of stuff together,” she says. “So even if I was nervous about a situation, I could be like, ‘Hey, Josh! How am I doing? This is wild!’ So that was the really great part about it. I’m here with my friends. We were just making each other laugh.”