An Evening With David Sedaris

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 6, 2017

An Evening With David Sedaris

How to write about a writer? How to write about likely the best living writer? How to write about your inspiration?

You just begin.

Hero worship is for chumps, but it seems an unavoidable spiritual stumble. I start speaking in tongues when I see Obama's beaming smile flash across my hated social media platforms.

I am inspired while filled with self-loathing when I hear David Sedaris speak his words.

His stories are so simple, yet so well-curated. His vocabulary is plain, which makes it infinitely accessible. I mean just accessible. Sedaris is accessible, relatable.

He uses scene a lot, quoting what somebody said, then his perennially spot-on response. I mean his perfect retort. I mean, what he said. I teach my writing students to use quotes whenever possible, to add interest and immediacy. Sedaris gives a master class.

I also ask my students to use just enough journalistic and sensory detail to paint a picture in the listener's head. His stories are spare, getting right to the point.

I advise essay writers to use a hook -- extra credit, not required, but packs a punch if you can tie something provocative to your thesis. Then bonus points for recalling that hook at the end, giving it a spin, wrapping up your essay with a bow. Sedaris always comes full circle.

And that's what he did on All Saints Day at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. A chilly fall rain made the massive historic theater cozy inside, filled with fellow pedestrian literati, I mean we ordinary fans.

He dressed for the venue, walking to the tiny podium under the giant expanse of curtain wearing an unusual tux: a jacket with some odd cutout section, a red flower lapel pin, and culottes pants he got in Japan, with a long fabric piece in front so you don't have to worry about your zipper being down. I mean:

"I went shopping in Japan," Sedaris said. "And you don't have to worry if your fly is down because of this flap."

He immediately introduced his childhood friend and collaborator Jim Jenkins, who came out for a few minutes to talk about "David Sedaris Diaries: A Visual Compendium." The thick tome, "a time capsule of our culture and David's development" is an illustrated curation of artwork and images from the author's 40 years filling 153 diaries with writing and collected ephemera, filling pages and pages each day since 1977.

"It's photos, sketches, postcards, trash," said Jenkins. "Plus business cards he used to carry, saying things like 'So Sorry,' 'Nothing by Mouth' and 'Abortions $3.' David has a different sense of embarrassment," he added. "And he's richer for it," indicating both the spiritual and financial aspects, and also calling his friend "an archeologist of the present, shedding a trail of debris and evidence."

In Al Franken's recent political memoir, "Giant of the Senate," the author notes "I'm kicking myself for not taking notes during childhood." Me too. Sedaris is thorough and prolific, writing so much that he's got a wealth of quotidian adventures which to plumb.


He's written all his life, which helps one become a writer by practice and volume of material.

In his lilting voice (he's written that he's usually mistaken for a woman on the phone), he launched into a tale of never learning to drive, thus never experiencing what it's like to be angry behind a wheel.

He shared road rage curses from around the world. In his nonstop research, he seems to question his audiences when he's signing books or getting coffee. In Holland, he learned one might yell "cancer whore" at a poor driver, as invoking disease seems to get the job done.

Some are asked to "run around in my ass" while others are wished to "build a house from your kidney stones."

He was most impressed with Romanian curses, historically famous, and today, manifested as "I shit in your mother's mouth," "I fuck your mother's memorial cake," and, his favorite, "shove your hand up my ass and jerk off my shit." (Sedaris skewed seriously scatological throughout the two-hour program. Uh, he talked dirty this day.)

He shared a new essay called "The Comey Memo." He worked in topical political material a few times, saying about the former FBI director, "we all hated him until someone we hated even more fired him." This story, like most of his, explored family, here focusing on the house he bought in Emerald Isle, NC, which he named "The Sea Section," soon to be joined by his boat "Row Vs. Wade," with "a side business selling bait" (the evening was quite excremental).

His elderly dad lives in his nearby hometown of Raleigh, whom he gently compared to Trump with his insistence that some statements weren't lying, just "this is the way I need it to be."

Sedaris talked about aging (his audience's primary demographic), and that, going forward, he's most likely to see a bedpan than a Tony Award.

The shit really hit the fan, and some pants, in the new essay "I'm Still Standing," recounting a long bout of GI issues during a spring 2017 tour (he spends about three and a half months a year on the road). Once he was recovered, however, he found he missed "the razor's edge of a gastrointestinal illness."

From the 40 cities he visited, he acquired more chilling shit-your-pants stories from audience members, as well as concise life goals, such as "I'm mentally ill and that keeps me busy."

His latest collection, "Theft by Finding," covers his diary years 1977-2002, and the next volume, "A Carnival of Snackery" (named for an Indian menu) will run from 2003-2018.

He took audience questions at the end, explaining he was funny because he had to fight for attention in his large, six-kid family, "you have to learn how to get in and get out."

"I can tell when you're an only child," he said, adding that his siblings weren't competitive, just wanted to make each other laugh (and he and I plug his sister Amy's new show "At Home" on TruTV).

He talked about living meagerly in Chicago when he was going to the School of the Art Institute, and how the city has "great street trash" (oh, here we go, circling back to trash again).

He elaborated on his well-documented love of picking up roadside trash in his home outside Sussex, England, how he spends 4-9 hours a day with a bag and grabber cleaning the streets, which has earned him a garbage truck bearing his name and a visit to Buckingham Palace.

This was a good place to end the enjoyable evening. When I was three, my mom said I used to walk around with a bucket proclaiming that I wanted to be a trash man.

Sedaris has become one. He's just persistent and talented enough to turn it into treasure.

Essayist and frequent This American Life and New Yorker contributor Davis Sedaris read at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress in Chicago, on November 1. This book tour continues through April 28 at venues throughout the US and Australia. For more information, visit

For tickets to other Auditorium offerings, including the second half of the #Aud1718 dance season (Alvin Ailey, Hubbard Street, Giordano and more), visit

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at