Sharing his diary entries, an essay from his upcoming book and in-progress material, humorist and comedian David Sedaris treated an audience to a night of comedy on May 6, thanks to UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures.
Sedaris, best known for his nine essay collections, The New Yorker contributions and two diary collections, gained a following due to his sardonic writing style and openness. A master of satirical and humor writing, five of his books have become New York Times bestsellers and his new book, “Happy-Go-Lucky,” releases later this month.
Sedaris opened his set by delivering five works in progress from his time as a CBS News commentator, writing two-page essays he delivers on the show. One, titled “Puff Piece,” details the recent ban on menthol cigarettes, saying that he might keep smoking just out of spite. When approached by a homeless man in the story, Sedaris says he doesn’t have any change, but he notices the man is a smoker. “I’ll be right back,” he says, and goes to retrieve the 11 cartons of menthols he had on him. When he tries to give the man the cigarettes, he goes, “Menthols? Really?”
He then read an essay previously featured in The New Yorker and featured in his upcoming book, “Happy-Go-Lucky.” He details a recent visit to his 97-year-old father, along with his partner Hugh and sister Amy. Their family has always been split over politics, with Sedaris and his five siblings Democrats and his father a previous voter for Trump. While viewing the events on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, however, his father had a change of heart. “I believed what he was telling us. And, well, it seems that I was wrong,” he says of Trump. “That guy was bad news.” Sedaris is justifiably shocked, and writes, “‘Who are you?’ I want to ask the gentle gnome in front of me. ‘And what have you done with Lou Sedaris?’”
The family then eats in the dining room before the kids leave their father. Sedaris is never one to shy away from the truth, no matter how bad of a perspective it places on him. He writes, “My father’s last words to me, spoken in the too-hot, too-bright dining room at his assisted-living facility three days before his ninety-eighth birthday, are ‘Don’t go yet. Don’t leave.’” Sedaris, eager to go, realizes that his last words to his father were “We need to get to the beach before the grocery stores close.” Never to end on a low note, though, he reflects about his time with his father, all of the kids coming together, “laughing so loudly we’ll be asked by some aide to close the door.”
From his diary collection published last fall, “A Carnival of Snackery,” he then recounted an entry where he was flying to Santa Barbara from Portland. Sedaris has the masterful ability to complain without seeming like an old man shaking his fist in the air, going on and on about “kids these days.” Annoyed with the overt friendliness of Portland, extending to the chatty check-in agents at the airport, he writes, “‘Oh, but Portland’s beautiful,’ caroled the would-be passenger I hoped might die in an accident… ‘Where are you from?’ asked the whore with the blond hair.”
He continues to detail, “When it was eventually my turn I was greeted with a smile. Then a frown. ‘I don’t know if your bag’s going to meet the forty-minute cutoff time,’ the agent who was born of Satan and spent the whole of her life sucking his cock and diddling her fingers inside of his asshole said.”
Later, he can’t help but say, “Somebody shoot him,” when spotting more “chatterboxes” in the line for Starbucks “not yelling but not exactly whispering either.” His ability to identify and describe the intense, aggravated emotions we have from time to time is uncanny and posits him as the forefront of the movement of unashamedly being a hater.
Sedaris then read some scraps from his diary that didn’t make it into the book, detailing things he sees when traveling on tour (he visited 72 cities last fall). “If it’s got tires or tits,” one bumper sticker on a truck read, “I bet I can make it squeal.” Sedaris read it giggling, saying, “I just live for stuff like that.”
He ended the evening with a Q&A, answering questions such as if he indulged in his hobby of cleaning up any litter while in Santa Barbara (“No,” he said. “I do it at home. Cleaning up here is your job.”) and why he chooses to live in England and Paris rather than the States (the political and personal divisiveness, he said, is much less common overseas). After finishing his talk, he signed books in the lobby of the theater, continuing his tradition of talking with every single person who wanted to, until the theater completely left out.
As a champion of dry humor and satirical writing, Sedaris showed that he holds up and can pen a laugh-out-of-your-chair story even 30 years into his career.