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)