David Sedaris, humorist and essayist, came to the swanky Providence Performing Arts Center Monday night for a reading of new and past works and a book signing. Sedaris is the author of the bestselling personal essay collections Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and also frequently contributes to The New Yorker magazine and blog. With a stack of books and papers under his arm, Sedaris wandered onto the massive PPAC stage to read, teaching us a few things:
1. Tumors make good turtle food. Sedaris had a benign fatty tumor in his side called a lipoma. He had taken a liking to a particular snapping turtle, which had a growth on his head, near his house in Emerald Isle and came to the conclusion that he had to feed his tumor to the turtle. He went to a doctor who said he could take the tumor out, but could not give him any removed body parts due to Federal law. Sedaris had the tumor removed in the middle of the night by a fan who approached him at a book signing, who explained that while she was not a surgeon officially, she learned it for a year in med school. After his trip to her clinic after the show, Sedaris kept the tumor in his freezer for almost a year, as the turtles were hibernating. But, when springtime rolled around and he returned to Emerald Isle, Sedaris discovered that his favorite snapping turtle had died over the winter. Sedaris somewhat reluctantly fed the tumor to other turtles in the area, and they gobbled it up!
2. Sedaris is a local litter hero. As described in his 2014 essay in The New Yorker, “Stepping Out”, Sedaris loves his FitBit. When he first got it, he loved it so much that he started picking up trash on his long walks, upping his self-imposed litter-patrol shifts to about nine hours a day, around 60,000 steps, and about 20 – 25 miles. Sedaris shared that he once collected garbage for 30 miles in one day, taking him 11.5 hours. Sedaris has collected so much garbage around his village in West Sussex, England that the local council has named a garbage truck after him and he was invited to Buckingham Palace last May to meet Queen Elizabeth II.
3. Always go for the gold (when shopping for strap-on penises). Sedaris shared that once, on litter patrol, he picked up a strap-on penis with his trash grabber, which he described as “bandaid colored, 3 inches in length and not much more in girth.” He considered sending it to one of his sisters for Christmas. Sedaris compared the bare-minimum strap-on as like getting triple A breast implants, and encourage us to always go for the gold.
4. Sedaris is obsessed with Christmas. Sedaris starts his Christmas shopping in January–or Japanuary as he calls it, as he goes to Japan at the start of every year with Hugh, his boyfriend. He puts a lot of thought into his Christmas gifts – you’d be lucky to be on his list! Although Sedaris loves Christmas, he wants to obliterate all memory of it the day after. His birthday lands on Boxing Day, and so he asks Hugh to remove the tree as a birthday gift.
5. Sedaris owns a house for family gatherings called The Sea Section. Sedaris owns a house in Emerald Isle, North Carolina that he uses primarily for family gatherings, like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The other houses on his street have ridiculous names like “Clamalot”, “Dune Our Thing”, and “Chocolate Thunder,” and Sedaris changed the name of his place from “Fantastic Place” to “The Sea Section.” (The new title seems to fit better with his sense of humor.)
6. Sedaris has kept a diary for 40 years. David Sedaris explained that he has written in a diary every morning for the past 40 years – most of it spent complaining, but some parts he can later use as for jokes or descriptions. He read some random selections from that diary on stage, jumping playfully from June 4, 2007 in London to August 24, 2015 in Copenhagen to memories and places in between and before, describing experiences on tour with his family or with strangers in coffee shops. Sedaris taught us the Danish insults he learned while in Denmark, which translate roughly to “Dick anchovy” and “Why don’t you run around in my ass?” He described the large toenail he found on his desk at a hotel, a difficult object to identify out of context. Also, saying “At least it tasted like a toenail” to the receptionist at the Ritz-Carlton is apparently not an appropriate ice breaker. Sedaris is currently working on compiling these diary entries in an upcoming book.
7. Boredom can often open the door to fascination. For the final part of his show, Sedaris brought up the lights in the PPAC and answered some questions from the audience. Some were curious what other strange objects Sedaris had found on litter patrol, aside from the big penis. His answer: two garbage bags of porn, one full of DVDs and one full of magazines, both of which he offered to his neighbors instead of throwing it away. He has also found a his/hers pleasure ring–which he still isn’t quite sure how to work–and a magazine all about spanking that he regrets he didn’t keep for closer inspection. An audience member asked Sedaris if he ever gets bored. Sedaris responded with a resounding no, explaining that he has always found that being bored is right at the door of fascination. Sedaris never learned to drive, and when he was in high school, everyone would go drive someplace whenever they were bored. Instead, Sedaris would sit at home and listen to the radio, doing ‘art’ (a.k.a. tracing). As Sedaris’s essays prove to us, it seems like Sedaris can find fascination in all places – whether on a nine-hour litter walk or late at night on a fan’s operating table in the middle of nowhere.
8. Sedaris is so freaking funny. I mean we all knew it already, but there’s something different about hearing him read and tell his stories aloud versus reading them from a magazine or book. Sedaris’s voice is so expressive on stage – melodic, perhaps a little cartoony. His voice filled the auditorium, in a way that felt personal, casual, and intimate despite the formal, massive PPAC theater.
Sedaris’s most recent essay collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013), is available in stores and online now. Author Akhil Sharma, who joined Sedaris on stage Monday evening, released his second novel, Family Life, in 2014. Sedaris’s nationwide tour continues through November, with locations and ticketing information available on his website.
Image via Kenji Endo ’18.