In nine books of essays, humorist David Sedaris has written about his life and the people in it. His subject matter ranges from picking up litter on the side of the road to the preponderance of snot in China to a sister’s suicide. He has a gift for recounting the ordinary and finding its absurdity, but never with malice or cynicism.
Sedaris’ upcoming book, Theft by Finding, is a series of diary entries culled over several decades. And despite seeming so prolific—in addition to being an author, he’s also a regular contributor to The New Yorker and This American Life—essays don’t spill out of him as one would think. “I write a lot of things that wind up not working,” Sedaris says. “I never expect anything to work out. The trick is knowing when to give up.”
Sedaris’ brand of humor, as fans know, falls squarely in the self-deprecating camp. In decades of observing and writing about human behavior, what hard-won wisdom has he gleaned? “I’m not a very wise person. My book is, I don’t know, it’s like 700 pages long, and there’s not a single bit of wisdom in it. You would think that there would be, because it’s 25 years of keeping a diary. Can’t count how many juvenile jokes are in it, but there’s not one word of wisdom.”
Another hallmark of Sedaris? That deadpan tone. The genius of his prose is how well it lands on the page, so that you often find yourself laughing out loud. As any good comedian knows, it’s all about timing and brevity, something Sedaris learned early in life. “I think economy is part of the reason, because there were so many children that, if you were going to tell a story, you had to learn to do it quickly. You had to get in and get out, and you had to make it good or somebody else is just going to butt in and do the job for you,” he says.
So isn’t it an incredible stroke of luck for a humorist to have been born into a large family? “I think it was just that abortion was illegal. I really think that’s it,” he says.
See? Funny as hell.
An Evening With David Sedaris
The Smith Center, Thursday, May 4, 7:30 p.m., Tickets: $49—$59, thesmithcenter.com