David Sedaris has written eight critically acclaimed books. He has contributed more than 40 essays to The New Yorker, and is often featured on National Public Radio.
And, according to the master storyteller, he also let a stranger in El Paso cut out a tumor in his side after a book signing so he could feed it to a snapping turtle near his beach house in Raleigh.
Seven shows into the springtime leg of his book tour for his latest work, “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” at the Ohio Theatre, Sedaris had the packed crowd in roaring-belly laughter for nearly two hours straight Sunday night.
Sedaris’ essays are blunt and sometimes shocking, often reflecting on his childhood and early-adulthood experiences. But more recently he seems to be writing (and reading) to update his readers about his current life.
He opened with one of his recent essays from The New Yorker titled “Leviathan,” and its unpublished sequel “Calypso,” giving the room a tone of a family Thanksgiving dinner.
The latter essay updated the audience about his brother Paul’s new vegan and anti-vaccine lifestyle, as well as his own tumor removal (who knew it was against federal law for a doctor to give you back your own tumor?) and additions to his beach house, The Sea Section, as if to say, “Hello again! Here’s what I’ve been up to since the last time we saw each other.”
In his khakis and off-white Japanese department store button-down shirt, which he described as “made to be filthy,” Sedaris stood in the same position for the entire two hours, rarely shifting his weight or moving his arms. But his expressive Ira Glass-like voice and perfectly-timed humor definitely overshadowed his statuesque semblance.
He transitioned seamlessly between articles and diary entries. And when he went into the Q&A, the house lights came up and — for the first time in my experience — the Ohio Theatre felt more like an intimate living room and less like a traditional proscenium stage setting. With each hand that popped up, Sedaris made direct eye contact as if that person were the only other one in the room, and took the time to answer each question with as much detail as possible.
Questions included “What souvenirs should I buy in Japan?” to “What’s something you’re looking forward to in the remainder of your life?”
He answered everything as if he were explaining it to a child — not in a condescending kind of way, but in a “I care about this question and I know you paid $60 for a ticket, so I want to give you a very honest answer” kind of way.
With a few exceptions, everyone in my view of the crowd was over the age of 30, wearing either slacks or some likeness of a tweed blazer and throwing out vibes that screamed “we are all English teachers!”
The diversity of his humor makes the the narrowness of his audience disappointing.
I listened to Sedaris crank out one funny anecdote after another about Ebola in America or racist cab drivers or spending four to eight hours a day picking up trash in England. With every laugh I thought about another one of my friends or roommates who would have also appreciated such humor, but have probably never heard of David Sedaris.
I completely understand that being in college does not allow a lot of free time for leisure reading, but summer is coming and I could not recommend another author more, both on and off the page.