Exclusive Interview with David Sedaris: Funny animalEntertainment News Thursday, April 28th, 2011
David Sedaris – the acerbic, sardonic and self-deprecating openly-gay humorist/writer – is at his best when life seems at its worst. His awkward foibles and fumbles with family, while employed as a Macy’s Santaland elf, insane neighbors including a Bad Seed-esque little girl and culture shock after moving to Paris with longtime partner Hugh Hamrick have made for riotous reading in bestselling books like Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. 2010s Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modern Bestiary saw Sedaris switch gears a bit – while still darkly funny, this was a collection of “morality stories enacted by animals.”
Born and raised in Raleigh, N.C., Sedaris and Hamrick have made France and London their home bases, although Sedaris – whose sister, Amy, is well known from cult TV series Strangers With Candy and her twisted crafts and home entertaining tomes – frequently hits the road stateside for live engagements. His latest tour brings him to San Diego, April 30.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: How do you go about constructing your stories these days?
David Sedaris: I go on these lecture tours twice a year to different theaters and colleges and whatnot and generally I start a tour with maybe four or five new stories. Then I read things out loud and go back to my hotel room and rewrite them, read and rewrite.
I like it that way because it gives me a chance to try things out in front of an audience. It’s not like I keep everything that gets a laugh, though. It just gives me an understanding of what a story needs.
Sometimes on a page it’s hard to determine, but when you read out loud it’s easier.
I love the story from 2008’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames about the straight cab driver who kept pressuring you to discuss your sex life and hook up with lesbians.
It’s my belief that all men know that cab driver. I was in Toronto and I went to a barber shop and got my hair cut and the guy, who was Italian, asked me where I live and I said France and he said, “Do you get a lot of pussy in France? Do you get a lot of French pussy?” Does that ever happen to you? Part of me is like, “Can’t you tell I’m gay?”
Now that you’ve mined most of your life for material, how do you go about filling up the well with fresh, new experiences for stories? Do you ever turn to Craigslist for encounters with crackpots?
No, I don’t know anything about it. The Internet is so new to me. I didn’t realize you could just go on and lie about people. I can get on a computer right now and write, “Michelle Obama said to me she hates Jews.”
Somebody once called me, “Oh there’s that thing on Gawker that you try to pick guys up during your readings.” I’ve never done that. Ever, ever, ever. I will have gifts for teenage girls when I go on tour because I’m always honored when they come and it’s fun to make a big deal out of a teenager. I’ll often talk about how pretty she is, like, “It must be so good to be you, and you’re what guys in prison dream about.”
But a guy? I won’t talk like that to a teenage boy because I don’t want it to be weird or uncomfortable. They respect you and are in awe of you so it would be weird to put any move on them.
Plus I’m involved with somebody. So I was appalled because I’ve never done a thing like that.
Have you found anything else online that surprised you so far?
I went on YouTube to hear Billie Holiday and then it said, “What do you think of this?” It’s Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” in 1955. What do you mean what do you think of it? Who the fuck cares? Are you going to give it a thumbs-down?
And then someone commented, “Oh she needs to take singing lessons from Diana Ross, there’s somebody who knows how to sing.”
And someone below that responded, “Shut up asshole,” and the other person said, “You’re an asshole, you shut up.”
It’s like talking during a concert! Shut the fuck up, Billie Holiday is singing!
You and Amy have collaborated on plays including 2002’s The Book of Liz as ‘The Talent Family.’ When you’re hanging out together, do either of you do things just to take the other aback?
Amy does that to me more than I do that to her. We were in Paris and I was pointing out that you always see American couples fighting in the street.
They’re on vacation together and just snap, they can’t take it anymore. Generally they don’t spend much time together and often they feel threatened, don’t speak the language and only have one another to depend on and they snap and I heard fights all the time on the street outside my apartment.
I pointed this out to Amy and then Amy and I were in a crowded place and she turned to me and yelled, “This is my vacation too, can we please just try to have a good time?” I thought, damn, that’s what I get for pointing things out to her. Back in your face.
Have you considered being a Santa’s elf again? Would you revisit the experience for a Santaland sequel?
No, I did it for two years and that was kind of enough for me. It would seem gimmicky.
The reason that (Santaland Diaries) story worked was I just needed a job and they hired me. I didn’t get the job to write about it.
I feel like when you do things specifically to write about them you’re trapped into writing about them. You’re under pressure to find what’s interesting about them. I would rather have all that come about organically.
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