In this age of instant gratification, the author who can get people to read is a rare thing—let alone convincing 2,500 people to show up at a reading—but David Sedaris manages to do them one better. He gets people to pay for the privilege of seeing his slight frame disappear behind a podium and read—both from published and unpublished work.
There’s banter in between, of course. Like, for example, when he tells the crowd that he’s happy to be reunited with his “beloved” Little America, which he calls “a five star motel” and says keeps getting “better and better.” Sedaris is a well-documented admirer of the smaller of Salt Lake’s America hotels—I think he’s mentioned it each time I’ve seem him live.
Sedaris started the evening with an essay that read like a series of diary entries detailing his experiences leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election—including relatable interactions with his republican father. The tone of these essays put into words what I was feeling, and continue to feel as the administration rolls on. At the end of the essay Sedaris leaned into his mic and whispered, “I don’t like the President,” and the crowd, full of NPR listeners and New Yorker readers cheered.
Sedaris, who has lived abroad for many years, talked mostly about the beach house he and his partner bought near the spot his family vacationed as a child in North Carolina. And in perhaps the best non-reading moment of the night he told the audience that the house is named the Sea-Section. And if that weren’t clever enough, he added that he’d like to get a boat and name it “Row Vs. Wade.” Funny, enough, right? Not for Sedaris who follows that up with a the idea that he’ll also put on the boat the phrase “Seaman got you into this.” And then, the piece de resistance—Sedaris joked that he’ll perform abortions in international waters because soon we might need that service. And.. well, suffice it to say, the joke got more crass after that.
Following that were stories of an abscess cut out of his body and fed to a snapping turtle, a crude joke about Princess Diana (when the crowd moaned, Sedaris shrugged—“Too soon?”) and a vulgar joke he was told by an 11-year-old boy.
This is not This American Life David Sedaris. But this is who you get when you read his books—this is who Sedaris really is, I think to myself. He, like the rest of us, cleans it up for mass consumption—but I know, I think, who he really is. And I like it.
And then, just like that, in the middle of a essay he read about his family, more specifically, sister Amy’s visits with psychics in the aftermath of another sister’s suicide, the mood turns. Sedaris turns somber, serious and raw and the crowd reacts in kind.
And it’s all that moment that I realize that, as it turns out, Sedaris’ strength is not in his sense of humor—though it is mighty. His strength is in his ability to connect with his audience in such a way that he can alternate between dick jokes and personal trauma and still have them hanging on every word because he remains a genuine voice in almost any circumstance. That’s what’s selling the theater tickets—and for that, he deserves every dollar.