“You just brought a tote bag of David Sedaris books to a knife fight!”
This was the first thing I heard this morning, on a 5 am BBC Radio news report quoting Jon Stewart on a recent brouhaha between National Public Radio and Fox News.
Judging from Sedaris’ Boulder Theater reading/book-signing on Tuesday, it’s likely that Sedaris would have the sharpest edge.
Over 90 minutes, Sedaris recited three essays, played excerpts of another (as read by Broadway icon Elaine Stritch), read diary excerpts, and took random audience questions. He wore a crisp white shirt and tie, with rolled-up sleeves and a pencil in his shirt pocket.
Reading in his enunciative style, Sedaris began with “A Faithful Setter” from his new essay collection, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.” This, like all the collection’s stories, is written from the perspective of an animal — in this instance, a purebred Irish Setter who escapes his humdrum domestic life with a romantic country affair, rationalizing his infidelity as a human might. The animal-with-human-concerns conceit is cleverly written, though it’s the humor of a “humorist” — a literary lion who’s funnier in theory than in practice, much like fellow NPR contributor Garrison Keillor.
As the evening progressed, Sedaris moved away from droll set pieces and into bawdier stuff. Hearing Sedaris plow through the personalities in the essay “Standing By” is like visiting a modern art museum with a snarky friend; around every corner is a new occasion for a devastating line.
Describing a caucasian boy with cornrows, Sedaris quipped, “Stevie Wonder used to wear his hair like that… but he’s black…(some laughs)…and blind.” This essay, about the social dynamic of an airport-layover delay, skewers traveler intolerance and annoyingness so that it’s not air travel that’s indicted: it’s us. “We’re forever blaming the airline industry for turning us into monsters,” Sedaris muses. “But what if this is who we truly are, and the airport is a forum that allows us to be our true selves?”
Later, Sedaris morphed into a great party emcee, giving away copies of his writings translated into French and Croatian. He also gave an effusive and extensive plug for young writer Wells Tower (despite this air of corporate synergy, Tower and Sedaris do not share a publisher) and reading diary excerpts that incorporate jokes you and I might tell — were our brains better-curated.
At one point, Sedaris compared the metastasizing subdivisions of his native North Carolina with the stability of Binghamton, N.Y., where he recently toured. “In Binghamton, nothing’s changed. Which is the nice thing…about towns that have no jobs.”
Even when he can spy a silver lining, Sedaris still seeks the jugular. This is one thing that makes him more than merely an entertaining humorist, it makes him an effective weapon.
Jeremy Simon is a Lafayette freelance writer and regular contributor to Reverb.