No one can openly admit one’s hatred of dogs and get away with it… except for David Sedaris.
Sedaris’ distaste for dogs and other domesticated animals is a recurring theme in many of his essays. As a girl who has a digital photo frame devoted to pictures and videos of her dog, you would think Sedaris would be on the bottom of my reading list. However, his short story collections have continuously entertained not only me, but millions of readers across the world.
UC San Diego’s ArtPower has brought David Sedaris to San Diego multiple times; with the release of Sedaris’ new book Theft By Finding, released this past May, a 2017 appearance by Sedaris was highly anticipated. On November 16, David Sedaris held a book reading/signing at Balboa Theater, thanks again to ArtPower.
David Sedaris is just as much an author as he is a humorist. Sedaris released his first short story collection Barrel Fever in 1994, and was praised for not only its profound commentary, but its unique and sardonic wackiness. Me Talk Pretty One Day, released in 2000, is arguably some of Sedaris’ best work—a collection of personal anecdotes tinged by his sassy narration. Through stories of both his childhood and adulthood, Me Talk Pretty One Day establishes Sedaris as an artist capable of turning mundane scenes into potential comedy acts, transforming his family members into sitcom characters.
After an introduction and brief speech by his long-time friend and author Jeffrey Jenkins, Sedaris made his way to the podium showing off quite an impressive pair of trousers. The applause slowly died down and Sedaris opened his talk by addressing his admiration of Japanese clothing, hence his impressive trousers. The crowd applauded once again, admiring Sedaris’ outfit and animate presence.
Sedaris began by reading entries from his upcoming book set to be release in May 2018. The first entry he read was entitled, “And While You’re Up There, Check on my Prostate.” This story revolves around the international ways of expressing road rage and vulgar insults. Sedaris’ prose forces us to think about the cultural bridges that connect, and sometimes fail to connect, different languages. We are also reminded how silly and nasty we can be when a driver fails to use their blinker before merging. During his extensive travels, Sedaris asked some of his fans what they say when they get cut off on the highway. In Amsterdam, “cancer whore,” and in Vienna, “blood sausage.” The question somehow turned into, “How do you insult your daughter?” and the Amsterdam response is, of course, “little ballsack.” Sedaris responded with, “I don’t even like calling my ballsack a ballsack.”
For a little change of pace, Sedaris read an emotional piece about his father. In nearly all of his collections, Sedaris simultaneously portrays his father, Lou, as a real person and fictional character: eating dinner in his underpants, telling strangers they’re too loud, and being a dominant figure of familial authority. He read the audience a story of Lou’s transition to a senior home. Though Lou is described as physically disintegrating, his personality remains just as strong-minded and frank as we remember. The last scene of this piece takes place at the airport. David is waiting to get picked up by Lou, who was scheduled to pick him up at 6:30 pm. On the phone, Lou confidently says, “Well, it’s not 6:30 here, but I’ll be on my way soon.” After almost an hour of waiting, David calls again and Lou answers, “I’m coming!” as the TV plays in the background. Sedaris ends this piece by comedically and profoundly saying that Lou was even “late for death.”
The entire theater fell silent, and after a few moments of processing, the audience commended Sedaris’ evident vulnerability and wit with a roaring applause.
Sedaris’ last piece from his new book, entitled I’m Still Standing, is about personally enduring a gastrointestinal infection. Sedaris reflects on the past times he has seen strangers poop their pants, both times (unfortunately) on a plane. As the story built, we realized that Sedaris might be next. His experience with this infection was described in full detail as we learned about his frustrating Fitbit standing requirement and his childlike reliance on his boyfriend, Hugh, when sick. For six straight days, Sedaris described shitting so many “cans of paint,” he had to ask himself, “Where is this coming from—my eyes?”
After sharing these three pieces, Sedaris moved on to reading short excerpts from his latest book Theft by Finding. An anthology of journal entries from 1977–2002, Theft by Finding is a look into Sedaris’ everyday life. A series of his entries are about learning French, and often jokes about his frustrating relationship with his teacher. Sedaris read aloud an entry written in Paris in 1988: “Today the teacher called me a sadist. I tried to say that was like the pot calling the kettle black but came out with something closer to ‘That is like a pan saying to a dark pan, ‘You are a pan.’”
A short but necessary Q&A session took place after his reading, where audience members could ask questions like: “How could you possibly have endured a gastrointestinal infection for six days? I have personally had one and I couldn’t move.” and “You said that you cleverly named one of the streets you lived on ‘Sea Section’ because it was next to a boardwalk. Were there any other strong candidates of punny street names?” Sedaris responds to both somehow trailing onto a tangent about his love for shopping.
Sedaris closed his talk by thanking us for the immense support and held a book signing in the lobby directly after. Readers lined up minutes before the end of his talk, awaiting their special few seconds with Sedaris, and probably thinking about how they respond to rude drivers on the freeway.
The night with David Sedaris proved to be a night of laughing and learning. As one man simply reads words to an audience of over 1,000 people, we become members of a new world—Sedaris’ world. In this world, it is socially permissible to dislike dogs, and the critique of society and interpersonal relationships is elevated through the most unifying and freeing of mediums: humor.
Ana Magallanes is the Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Triton.