I’ve been told that evenings with David Sedaris are memorable and hilarious, and I’m excited to say that it’s true.
A woman from Michigan Radio introduced him with an anecdote about him calling into the station to make a donation, leaving everyone on the other line starstruck. It seemed that the same starstruck feeling echoed in the almost-full auditorium of Michigan Theater as he walked out in a long dress shirt, untucked and down to his calves, beneath a jacket that had seen some scissors. He modeled for us as a start to the evening before his anecdotal debut: a quick mention of a time when he called into another radio station, who told him that he sounded like Piglet.
His timing there must have been on purpose, because I and several others afterwards discussed not being able to get that out of our minds as he spoke for the next two hours. Nothing that he brought was content that I’ve read before, so it was nice to hear something new to me.
Sedaris brought a couple of short stories to read, sprinkling in small anecdotes and some selections of his latest diary collection, Theft by Finding — along with some from his upcoming second selection of diaries. After reading an essay simultaneously about mysterious dental pain and traveling to Japan, he brought up something that I’ve been wondering since first reading Me Talk Pretty One Day: he never wants to write about just one thing at a time. He has a way of associating seemingly very separate things in order to avoid writing about just one thing. “I wanted to write this essay about my tooth, but I also was thinking about my visit to Japan, and it just had to fit.” And in some magical Sedarisian way, it worked. He seems to have the life experience to associate anything.
Another story that he read was called “Active Shooter,” about him and his sister going to a shooting range because they’d never done it before. His sister was interested in learning how to handle a gun, specifically just in case she was about to be killed and her killer dropped his gun — much of the story hinged on his sister’s oddly particular foresight and thinking of the most specific instances. It followed their journey through a long class about how to handle guns and ended with the sister being praised for her skills, while the teacher consistently called David by the name of Mike. Both siblings left without feeling the need to shoot again.
My favorite diary entry that he read — which made me and several cry laughing — was one about trying to translate the English idiom about the pot calling the kettle black into French (directed toward his French teacher who called him a sadist), which turned out something like “That is like a pan…saying to a dark pan…’you are a pan.'” I instantly thought of all my foreign language experience trying to translate what was in my head directly, and how often it just doesn’t work.
One of the final bits that he read was “And While You’re Up There, Check My Prostate.” This essay explored international methods of dealing with road rage, many sayings translating clunkily but funnily to English from various European languages and dialects. I liked the general theme of translation-based disconnects that evening, and also appreciated their delivery. They were hilarious enough to make anybody laugh no matter their translation experience.
Following the reading and before the signing, he requested to bring the lights up for a Q&A session with the large audience. I loved seeing how appreciated he was to locals here, and figured it made sense with his wit and attention to social culture. The question I best remember was somebody asking him whether he still picked up garbage (mostly as a gesture to preserving the environment) — to which he responded, yes. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was the only one in the room who did that.
What I love about Sedaris’s writing is that it’s largely about the human condition, but also is so full of rich comedic timing and phrasing. It’s honest and fun, rarely distant, and always makes me wonder how much of it he’s actually experienced. Following the reading, I braved the long line to have him sign my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames and was delighted to find that he was just as funny and surprising on a conversational whim. I left Michigan Theater feeling ecstatic, especially after getting to meet him.
He’s returning in June to Ann Arbor, and I highly recommend going to see him read and speak! You’ll laugh and learn so much.