When David Sedaris entered Lisner auditorium he was greeted with wild applause. Rabid and casual fans alike came to hear him read and sign books to promote “Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim,” which was released last June. Sedaris smiled shyly, thanked the audience for coming and then launched into an hour and a half of sidesplitting humor. “In some stores they have (the book) in the sewing section,” he said. “I love that.”
“Dress Your Family” continues the Sedaris tradition of deeply personal and laugh-out-loud hilarious narratives. Sedaris mines much of his comic gold in his diary, which he later returns to and makes a list of potential story fodder.
As unorthodox as some of his writing techniques may seem, Sedaris says that he writes every day. “I get up and I go right to work,” he explains, “I probably throw away 80 percent of what I write. (But) I try everyday. I never take a day off. I write a lot of crap. Unbelievable amounts of crap.” Sometimes Sedaris says that his comic bits are too good to throw away, so he saves them for later. For instance, his boyfriend Hugh sets mousetraps in their home in Normandy, and he came upon “a bit of nose with whiskers. I just imagine that mouse with its friends,” he said. “‘No, I don’t smell anything. You’re making toast? Oh.'”
These nonlinear sporadic bursts of energy make not only for good reading, but great listening. Sedaris began as a radio commentator on “This American Life” with Ira Glass. “Ira just completely changed my life,” he said. “It’s so queer to use the word angel…he’s just this good deed-doer.” While that may not be his most eloquent phrasing, Sedaris has an amazing ability to accurately access a person in a single phrase and to weave these vivid descriptions into a winding, seamless narrative. In “Town and Country,” which he read Monday night, he began with a description of a “stately couple in their 60s,” who, when they boarded a plane made Sedaris feel “the shame of the tragically outclassed.” As it turns out, the couple talked like New York City garbage men, and it appeared “as if they’d kidnapped people from a Ralph Lauren ad and forced them into a David Mamet play.” Their constant and imaginative cursing caused Sedaris to reflect, “‘Shit’ is the tofu of cursing. It can be molded to whatever conditions the speaker desires.”
After landing in New York, Sedaris took a cab to his sister’s apartment, with a cab driver who was not only just as imaginative with his curse words – a memorable phrase being “fuckyfuck” – but also asked Sedaris about his personal sexual habits, making him extraordinarily uncomfortable. Upon arriving at his sister’s place (yes, Amy Sedaris of “Strangers with Candy” fame), she shared with him, as a joke, a bestiality magazine from the 1970s that she had just happened to pick up a week before.
While this story could be disgusting and even horrifying, Sedaris was able to sum it up simply, neatly and profoundly. He managed to find humor in the most desperately serious situations and gently coax it out. Many of his personal narratives revolve around his perceived sad sack status as a 48-year-old man who does not know how to send e-mail or pay the bills. His ultimately sweet character leaks through in all of his stories, but they never become saccharine, for his pitch black humor and sharp observations temper this toothsome brew.