Rarely does an author come along that can pack people like sardines into a venue that has recently seen the likes of Modest Mouse, Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation and the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s award ceremony for Leonardo DiCaprio, but David Sedaris isn’t just any author. On Monday night the small, bookish Sedaris jovially took the stage at the Arlington Theatre, light blue sleeves rolled around his elbows, and yellow tie just off-kilter enough to keep him grounded. Sedaris looks little like the promo picture of him that has been used for years with the glasses and the smoke. He is older now, and without the thick glasses, he looks tired.
After setting down a stack of books on the antique end table next to the podium, he quickly jumped into his first story, a fable about an ornery cat and her eager-to-please baboon hairdresser. The hilarious tale ended in a classic Sedaris fashion, “and that is the difference between licking ass and simply kissing it.”
“This is another one,” Sedaris said, immediately plowing his way through a second fable, this one about a hen who, so afraid to die, continually changed her behavior to prevent it. After being mocked by her sister, the hen sat and watched as her sibling succumbed to the hand of the farmer’s wife. The hen decided, “Her sister had been killed because she had deserved it.”
“The Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle” began the night’s section of Sedaris’ more typical work: sidesplitting stories involving too-crazy-to-be-true characters and awkward situations all stemming from the author’s actual life. This new story placed Sedaris in an aisle seat on a short flight next to a woman whose husband was seated in the bulkhead. His seatmate, Becky, asked Sedaris, whose least favorite seat on an airplane happens to be the bulkhead, to switch seats so that she could travel alongside her husband. When Sedaris kindly refused, he was called an “asshole” for the whole plane to hear. “She hadn’t looked like trouble,” he commented.
Things turn worse when Becky falls asleep and in a violent coughing spell, Sedaris shoots his cough drop out of his mouth, off of his tray table and into the crotch of his disagreeable seatmate. Only the impossible Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle kept him from becoming vocal with his anger, filling in spaces like “11-down: whore.”
The kingpin of the night belonged to, perhaps the dirtiest of Sedaris’ stories to date, “Town and Country.” The raunchy tale began with characters Sedaris described as “the grandparents from a Ralph Lauren ad forced … into a David Mamet play.”
The well-dressed couple seated near Sedaris on a flight from Denver to New York accessorized every sentence with a flashy string of profanity, like “It’s fucking freezing.”
“Yeah, It’s cold as shit in here,” prompting Sedaris to claim that shit is the tofu of cursing. Shit can be molded and formed into any situation as needed. It can be cold as shit, windy as shit, but it all left Sedaris “befuddled as shit.”
The story took an unexpected turn as Sedaris hailed a cab to his sister Amy’s apartment in the West Village. His cabdriver, of unknown descent, continued on the trail of profanity, this time emphasizing his love of ” pussy” and “fucky fuck.” After being thoroughly embarrassed by the man’s emphasis on lesbian porn, and claiming to be above such debauchery, Sedaris arrived at his sister’s apartment. She greeted him promptly with a vintage bestiality magazine she wished to leave on her coffee table the next time their father was in town.
The closing story of the night came from Sedaris’ most famous release, Me Talk Pretty One Day. “Jesus Shaves” solicited cheers from the depths of the Arlington’s balcony. The excitement of paying $35 to hear a man read off of a paper is not immediately obvious. As Sedaris put it, “It’s the laziest form of show biz.” But so much of Sedaris’ appeal stems from his nasal tone and dead-on delivery. Even stories I’ve read some 15 times become brand new. Now that’s some author.