David Sedaris has a great gig, although he doesn’t think he has a job – he just writes stuff to please himself… and a small army of loyal readers who filled Proctors’ main theater to catch the Schenectady stop on his current 34-city tour. Listed under Proctors’ comedy events, Sedaris is more accurately a humorist. Neatly dressed, he worked from behind a podium while reading from three works (some in progress), excerpts from his diary and a little Q&A at the end.
His first reading was from an earlier work, “The Squirrel and the Chipmunk.” He got a round of applause just by announcing the title – this guy is a rock star of the literati. Who says nobody reads anymore? This story, actually more of an R-rated fable, concerns a short romance between a squirrel and a chipmunk, their lack of things to talk about, awkward silences, familial disapproval and confusion about what jazz is. The squirrel says he likes jazz and the chipmunk, to be agreeable but having no idea what it is, says she likes it too and then worries what she just agreed to. Sedaris milks the comic possibilities of this misunderstanding, including the possibility that jazz refers to a totally non-missionary sexual practice. The analogies to our human foibles were quite clear but didn’t hurt too bad as we were too distracted by the entertaining wrapping.
His second reading was a hilarious and revolting trip report from China. The common Chinese practice of blowing snot out their noses most anywhere was captured most eloquently… “wads of phlegm everywhere glistening like freshly shucked oysters.” Oh, the groans!! But wait, there’s more – diaperless kids dropping turds in WalMart aisles to no one’s astonishment but his (and yes, they have WalMart in China), dinners of rooster blood and dog face, deep fried duck tongues, subway toilets from the fifth circle of hell and on and on. He was merciless, he was cruel, he was relentless, the audience was laughing, no, now aghast, now shocked, now laughing, dreading yet demanding the next atrocity to our senses. His conclusion? “Don’t ask for the bill in a Chinese duck restaurant, because that is exactly what you will get.” To be fair, he took a side trip to turn his pen on effete American food attitudes (affectations?) – vegan, macro, vegetarian, grass-fed, organic, lactose intolerant, wheat allergy, etc. He is a fair and balanced satirist.
His third reading described his adventures in 1966 on his family’s country club swim team and his father’s granting approval and favor to everyone but his own son. Sedaris is not a sportsman but understands the winning and losing nature of competition. “Losing, I can do that.” His father endlessly praised another boy on the team who always won, and his mother was indifferent – the reason, of course, was “this all happened before the invention of self esteem.” Which was an opportunity to explore the difference in parenting then and now. “Now they read bedtime stories to kids for an hour and a half. Then they just said, ‘Shut up and go to sleep.’” In the later Q&A, Sedaris qualified that his father was just a convenient foil for his writing and not the witless nudnik otherwise portrayed.
Sedaris finished with selected readings from his diary, which he has kept daily for over 30 years. This was like watching someone with a twitchy finger channel surf:
A woman who interpreted her accidentally swallowing bird poop as a sign her relationship with her boyfriend was at an end
Fat people in America: “One in three Americans weighs as much as the other two.”
Singing an autograph on a t-shirt painted by a dolphin with scoliosis
He lovingly described a sweet old lady, then upon seeing her anti-gay marriage bumper sticker, declared her a “brittle old hag.”
Certified therapy horse wearing socks
His sister working with a contractor named Mike Hunt (think about it for a minute) and his unintentionally hilarious phone messages
Several incredibly raunchy, hilarious jokes that he collects from people who come to his book signings – what a great way to gather material! Sorry, waaaay too blue for this forum, but be confident Sedaris is not just a white-shoe wit. He could hold his own on a Comedy Central roast or go head to head with Chris Rock.
In the brief Q&A, Sedaris qualified some of the earlier material about his father by explaining that he needed a foil and he found his father worked well for that purpose. In real life, he had a warm and close relationship with him. Sedaris, being a generous man to boot, gave a long plug for fellow writer Tobias Wolff’s book “The Barracks Thief” and read some short passages.
Sedaris is an accomplished writer and a great performer. Great gig indeed!
Review by Bowtie, Senior Comedy Correspondent