David Sedaris Isn’t Funny Anymore. Are His Audiences To Blame?

Something is amiss with David Sedaris. The author read from recent works at SMU on Monday night and it was impossible not to notice: David Sedaris’ new stories are not funny. Surely, James Frey is a little to blame. When A Million Little Pieces turned out to be A Million Big Exaggerations, other authors, including Sedaris, became targets. The New Republic’s Alex Heard wrote a 4,000-word piece attempting to fact check many of Sedaris’ old pieces. Turns out many of the settings and much of the dialogue were pure fiction. And although Sedaris was far from apologetic—he claimed that exaggeration is very much a part of the deal he shares with his audience (and I agree), 4,000 words dissecting your work of “non-fiction” has got to shake you.

I also blame the New Yorker, which, unspoken exaggeration agreements with the audience aside, is clearly fact checking his newer stuff. It’s that unfunny. And he’s writing for the New Yorker. I presume one wants to write about loftier topics than a mad crapper who is taking liberties with the family towels, as Sedaris did in one of my favorite stories from Naked, “The Fugitive.” But still. That doesn’t mean he has to write trite stories—with snappy dialogue—where the main characters are birds or dogs.

But most of all, I blame his audience. David Sedaris doesn’t have to be funny because his audience is already laughing. Every pause, every sideways glance—his fans are already doubled over. At Monday’s performance, Sedaris also told a few first-person stories in addition to the animal kingdom chronicles. In one about travel, he wrote about a stewardess who copped to cropdusting the plane—essentially tooting as she walked up and down the aisle. In another, about a stay Dallas, he claims to have walked from the Adolphus to AT&T Center and couldn’t believe the irony that nary a payphone could be found. Sedaris is better than this—even if his audience isn’t.

Because Sedaris is still funny. At the end of his presentation, he recommended a book: Irish by Tim Johnston. Apparently, it’s a dark collection of short stories—like, really dark. Think severed limbs and other disturbing acts of violence. Sedaris was so brilliantly funny when he was riffing on it. After talking about a particular story that involved the rape of a mentally-challenged girl, he smiled, and said, “Sold!” It was the funniest line of the night.

Photo: David Sedaris (Credit: WBUR via Wiki Commons)


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  • amanda

    Someone asked me what the hardest part of writing humor is. “The editors,” I said, in all seriousness. This sent the person into hysterics. It’s not funny. It’s true.

  • DesignBoy

    And this is probably why I’m still wading through Sedaris’ latest collection. I love his writing. Always will. But the bite is gone.
    @Amanda: Depends on your editor. A good editorial scrubbing usually leaves my prose tighter with humor intact.

  • Terry Jaymes

    Laura Kostelny’s review of David Sedaris IS funny.

    Since Ms. Kostelny loves to “fact check,” here’s a couple of more. FACT: David Sedaris has sold millions of books and entertained millions of people worldwide. FACT: Laura Kostelny writes a BLOG.

    Ms. Kostelny must have been at a different reading that my wife and I. The only people who weren’t laughing were conservatives and a couple of uptight, overweight women. If Ms. Kostelny can raise her hand to either of those, then I’ll totally understand her review.

  • amanda

    @Design Boy…well, there ya go! David Sedaris is now tight with intact humor courtesy of his editors. My point exacty. After the controversy over the memoir genre (not limited to just Frey…it was Rosenblat’s “Angel at the Fence that turned the publishers on their ears)Sedaris and other writers are edited to death. Sedaris’ signature of taking a story down a surprising path has faded. Yes, his stories are “tight” and often now sadly predictable.

  • I thought it was a funny night. Keep in mind: it’s a public reading. How often do you go to one of those and wind up laughing hysterically? It’s not The Comedy Store.

    I do wish he’d reconsider writing about his brother Paul “The Rooster” – that stuff is genius. In the Q&A he said that because Paul has now successfully raised a daughter, that he didn’t feel right writing about his crazy antics anymore. Too bad. “The Rooster” deserves his very own book.

    I liked the anecdote about looking for a public phone in downtown Dallas. When he asks the receptionist at the AT&T building if there’s a public phone and she looks at him as if he had just asked for a tomahawk. I laughed and everyone around me laughed too.

  • bigtex

    I disagree. Have you looked at his touring schedule? He is so in demand that it would be crazy for him not to tour and crazy to think that he doesnt have an entire routine that he is doing every night. Its like a rock concert. Night after night, for months………shake it off, he is a very good writer. At least hes no Chelsea Handler, geez shes good on E but her trying to rip Sedaris off by writing, she sucks big ones……………..embarrassingly bad writer.

  • Terry Jaymes

    Amanda … and hacks like Amanda make me sick. Try being real and not what your vision of a “writer” is. Your comments are even hard to read. Looks like you’re trying to hard to be taken serious.

    Amanda writes humor? Who’s the idiot that asked her “What’s the hardest part of writing humor?’ Her answer better have been – The fact that I’m not funny.

  • JeffnCA

    I know. Amanda, your obvious. The green is running off the page.

  • JohnK

    I am a comedy fan and a fan of intelligent humorists. Went to see Sedaris in Portland tonight and I just didn’t get it at all.

    The animal as storyteller tales were mostly silly and only mildly funny (same ones described above). The audience went nuts.

    The airplane story (same one as described above) was okay. The audience went nuttier.

    When he said four letter words, the audience laughed liked they had never heard them before.

    I became more and more fixated on why the audience was reacting the way they were than the actual show.

    As for the actual show: Sedaris revels is pointing out the obvious, so let me point. The people that went with me, who all thought it was much better than I did, were still disappointed in the format.

    In essence, the man read 5-6 essays/short stories from his new book and some older books. This occurred in between book signings before and after in the lobby.

    We had mid-level seats at around $45. Theater must have held 3,000. I am guessing Sedaris pockets over $50k for one hour ten minutes of reading essays.Plus he gets to sell more books to his adoring crowds.

    The crowd was predominantly white (Hello Portland!) in the 40-60 range and obviously fancied themselves as an overly educated elite. Didn’t any of the rest of them feel as ripped off as I did?

    For humor that requires wit and wisdom, I would much prefer the Ricky Gervais HBO special or Eddie Izzard’s old stand up on HBO.

    Stick to books David and stop ripping off you audience with these live “performances.”

  • alma obrikat

    On David Sedaris–funny or not–if you’ve ever been a target of his exaggerations and evil lies, you would think twice. Read “Naked” and realize there really lives a Uta and she was very nice to David when he needed it, long before the big bucks started rolling in. He no longer is funny because success has mellowed his bitterness. I did not appreciate being charachterized as a Jew hating, Black busting bitch. Friends were able to recognize me in this piece for all the accuracies which were not lies. Forutnately I did not come to David’s work until recently and I am grateful that truths are surfacing about his writing. Call me David.