(Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide 18 January 2020)
The Varnished Culture initially knew David Sedaris as the brother of Amy Sedaris, the author of the most sublimely hilarious hospitality book of all time, I Like You. David has shot ahead of his precocious siblings through sheer output, and a rather endearing sensibility. Open one of his books at random – Calypso, say, or the funny-sad Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (we’ll never try to be rude about Jazz again), and you can see a humour that is gentle and yet sharp, generous and yet angry. (In Calypso, he recounts how his partner and he like to have guests stay – at one of his many houses – but it’s an act, where they pose as the ideal couple. When a lady friend stays and witnesses David losing his rag, he recalls: “after she left I considered having her killed. “She knows too much,” I said to Hugh. “The woman’s a liability now and we need to contain her.”‘)
On last Saturday evening, this small and modest man wandered onto the empty stage before a full house, stood behind an old-fashioned lectern, and read from notes for two hours. Sounds banal, right? Particularly when he comes across as part Woody Allen, part Truman Capote, in a gruesome coat and clown culottes. But the wisdom of his words, the humour in his observations, and the humanity in his voice, won everyone over. He began with a think piece of the type he presents on a US news opinion programme (self-censored) in which he deconstructs the new world of forbidden words – “R”, “N”, “T” etc., and shared two embarrassing examples of misunderstanding – one where a lesbian carried-on with a man for some hetero-action, which guilt-free affair crashed when he used the “L” word – (“Love”), the other where a lady at a signing told Sedaris her partner shied away from the “C” word. “C**t?” inquired David, reactively. “No….Commitment” came the appalled response.
Sedaris delved into his bulging folder of material and pulled out gems at random. All were funny and thoughtful. You don’t need to sign-up to his Lib-Lab, anti-Trump weltanschauung (he’s brilliantly referred to Conservative bow-ties as ‘the pierced eyebrow of the Republican Party’) to love his act; his act would be lovable, one feels, if he were an unrepentant Stalinist or friend of Harvey Weinstein. (As we continually remind ourselves, having read The Righteous Mind, opinion does not = character. And we are none of us, as a former Australian Prime Minister so wisely yet wrongly said, the Suppository of all Wisdom.)
Sedaris took some questions at the end of his performance, but first he selected some poignant and riotous extracts from his 2003-to-date diaries, which will form the sequel to his ‘Theft By Finding; Diaries 1977-2002.‘ He gets a lot of material from book signings; the rest from the world on-line and at large (he likes to visit two countries he’s not seen each year, and recently has shown a predilection for the former eastern bloc). We liked his take on people presenting at hospitals with an object wedged up their bottom, due to some weird ‘accident’: he posited that if he soaked his naked body in oil and held 2 greased pepper-shakers in his hands as he tumbled down the complete stairwell of the Empire State Building, he’d still arrive in the lobby with an empty rectum. And we also liked his ex post facto mea culpas – he genuinely regrets his occasional offhand rudeness, when frazzled or tired, in response to bland cheesy inquiries such as “How’s Your Day Going?” – and he had some pretty devastating accounts to offer as to why we should not forget that we’re all members of the human race and that each of us has our own crosses to bear.