Upon entering the stage at the Arlington Theatre last Sunday evening, writer David Sedaris’ sense of humor was instantly palpable; he is a short man, probably barely 5’6”, with a distinct, nuanced voice and disposition not unlike a younger Woody Allen, circa 1970.
What immediately solidified this observation were his first words into the microphone: “How do you say ‘Hubba hubba’ in sign language?”
The sign language interpreter sitting next to him made quite the spectacle, as an enchanted Sedaris continually directed his attention toward her throughout the evening.
At one interval in the evening, he turned to her and asked her how to demonstrate the symbols for “lesbian” and “cock master,” which was met with uncontrollable laughter in the audience, as he pointed out that sign language “is the only language that makes sense.”
“I love having a sign language interpreter, ’cause there’s not much to look at with what I do, so it always makes it interesting,” he told the appreciative audience, as he proceeded to read from his most recently released book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, as well as excerpts from a number of his other short stories, including a scene taken directly from Sedaris’ personal diary.
The first excerpts the author read that evening concentrated on his many book tours and his habit of retrieving gifts for his audience members, particularly for the teenagers who come to his signings.
He told of taking things from hotel rooms, buying packets of pain relievers, procuring bandages during his trip to Germany and safety pins from Greece and of one amusing incident that involved buying an enormous box of condoms in a highly awkward, self-conscious situation.
This particular reading resulted in many other curious and entertaining anecdotes, which Sedaris related with perfect delivery, subtle and ironic wit and hilarious, perceptive insight.
Another crowd favorite was Sedaris’ excerpt from a recent short article of his, “Undecided,” which debuted in the New Yorker last week.
It discussed the undecided voters in this upcoming presidential election, as Sedaris ruminated on who these people are and how they will likely determine the outcome next Thursday at the polls.
Sedaris confided that he couldn’t understand how these people existed and likened the current political situation to being a passenger on an airplane (back when airplanes actually served free meals) and being asked by the stewardess to choose between chicken or “human shit with bits of broken glass in it.”
Sedaris finished the story by likening the election’s undecided voters to the select group of passengers who would “pause and ask how the chicken is cooked.”
From there, Sedaris shared more of his quirky, compelling perspective about holidays, animal fables that lacked morals, his parents’ rather dysfunctional relationship, as well as more unusual experiences from traveling on tour.
One particularly funny tidbit Sedaris related during the course of the evening was of a course he took back in his college days called “Art and Politics,” which led to a discussion about the pretentious pronunciation of foreign words.
Sedaris infused every mundane, banal experience with genuine, brilliant humor and resonance and knows exactly how to evoke an affective state, both on and off paper.