Humor writer David Sedaris speaks in Port Angeles this coming Wednesday

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Writer David Sedaris was a Santa's elf at Macy's in New York City.

Later, he became the struggling student of one mean French teacher in Paris.

Then he tried to quit smoking.

Through it all, Sedaris finds his particular kind of comedy, writes short stories — and reduces people to puddles of laughter.

He's a modern literary rock star, having gained fame via his deadpan readings on public radio's “This American Life,” in essays for The New Yorker and for books like "Holidays on Ice" and "Squirrel Meets Chipmunk."

He's crisscrossing the country now on a frantic tour, next stop the North Olympic Peninsula.

Sedaris' only Western Washington appearance will be in the Port Angeles High School auditorium, 304 E. Park Ave., at 7 p.m. this coming Wednesday (Nov. 21).

Ticket prices

Tickets to Sedaris' reading are $30 for general reserved seats or $15 for students, while premium reserved seats in the first 10 rows are $50 and include entry in a holiday drawing and a priority queue for the writer's book signing afterward.

Any ticket holder may come early to have Sedaris sign a book, since the writer will be available at the auditorium starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Ticket outlets are Port Book and News, 104 E. First St., Port Angeles; Quimper Sound, 230 Taylor St., Port Townsend and www.BrownPaperTickets.com. Remaining tickets will be sold at the door.

Range of topics

In an interview earlier this week, just before he was to go on stage in Bismarck, N.D., Sedaris chatted about love, marriage, the presidential election, the Ritz-Carlton and how he adores attention.

Before a reading, he doesn't get nervous.

“I get excited,” Sedaris said. He does not, however, ask how many people are out there in the audience. He wants to give the same all whether it's a sold-out house or a sparsely attended gig.

At the podium, “I don't open a book,” he declared. Instead, he brings new stories and tries them out, always keeping the sheets of paper concealed.

It is appalling, he feels, when a writer comes out with a fistful of pages and announces he has eight pieces to read. Then the audience will sit there, counting down, Sedaris figures. Or the writer will see those tell-tale lights go on in the audience, as people start text-messaging.

But Sedaris shouldn't worry about such things.

His stories of growing up in a big Greek American family in Raleigh, N.C., of his travels with his longtime partner Hugh and of living in Paris, London and New York have brought him a devoted following.

His books are best sellers, and his 2001 collection "Me Talk Pretty One Day" won the Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Sedaris' Port Angeles appearance is a benefit for the Jefferson Clemente Course in the Humanities, a program providing free college courses to low-income students in Port Townsend.

“We are beyond thrilled to have Mr. Sedaris here,” said Clemente's academic director, Lela Hilton.

“I can't think of a better way to start the holidays: by laughing ourselves silly.”

Sedaris' take on people

For Hilton, Sedaris' appeal lies largely in his take on human foibles and passions.

“He is so insightful about human nature . . . he's not afraid to say, 'Look at how weird we are, and isn't it great.'”

Sedaris likes a busy tour.

Between Monday and Saturday of this week, he was booked into auditoriums in Bismarck and Fargo, N.D., Spokane, Bozeman, Mont., and Davis and Grass Valley, Calif.

Next week has him in San Diego, Orange and Santa Clarita, Calif., before he flies north to Port Angeles.

He has Thanksgiving night off before going to Aspen and Grand Junction, Colo., Palm Desert, Calif., Tucson, Ariz., and Santa Fe, N.M., before month's end.

Election Day

He had Election Day, Nov. 6, off too, so Sedaris, of course, took the opportunity to observe his surroundings. He was staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, where his fellow guests were not happy about the presidential election results.

It was clear that he was in the midst of people whose politics were quite unlike his own. This was a switch for Sedaris, who suspects the vast majority of people who come to his readings share his views.

The people working at the Ritz-Carlton, however, were a different story. If you snuck up on them on election night, Sedaris said, you might catch them peeking at their computers and delighting in the returns.

So as not to offend the guests, though, “they had to pretend they were indifferent or sad.”

When asked about Washington state's passage of Referendum 74 approving same-sex marriage, the openly gay Sedaris popped off a couple of classic quips.

Fighting for the right to marry is well and good, he said, but when it comes to weddings, no thanks.

Those who read Sedaris know he's been with Hugh a long time — 22 years now — but “we would never get married,” Sedaris said.

“Listen: Nobody wants to go to a wedding. It's still going to be the chicken dance; people choosing between chicken and beef,” and really, a Hugh-and-David rite is not all that exciting.

“Sure, we love each other. But I don't see any reason to make people leave their house for it.”

And “at my age — I'm 55 — the pictures are going to be hideous,” he added, although “maybe when I'm 90 I'll say, 'I looked good.'”

As for other couples, Sedaris promises double wedding gifts if they choose to elope.

Works hard at craft

When Sedaris isn't on the road, he and Hugh live in England. Sedaris spends a lot of time, naturally, locked in a room, alone and writing.

Then when he goes on tour, he revels in the challenge of wooing a crowd with just his words.

“What I do is so un-entertaining,” he said. “People are so easily distracted. It's not like I'm breathing fire, or I'm in a play.”

So he works hard at the craft of reading aloud — and basks in the laughter, the applause, the lines of people wanting him to sign books.

“Having a night off throws me off,” he said. After visiting a friend en route to Bismarck, “when I got back to airport, I felt at home.”

More than 7 million copies of Sedaris' books — including the best sellers "Naked," "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" and "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" — have been sold; the essay and story collections have been translated into 25 languages.

The man's sense of humor, it seems, has crossed a lot of borders. And boundaries.

Greek translator Myrsini Gana recently told The New York Times: “One of the biggest difficulties when translating David Sedaris' humor is that you laugh so hard that it is almost impossible to concentrate.”

For more information about Sedaris' Port Angeles appearance, phone 360-732-0007.

Last modified: November 16. 2012 10:04PM
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