Fri, June 12, 2015
David Sedaris greeted me warmly as I approached the signing table. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, brandishing a rough cardboard bowl. “There’s a whole pile of them backstage!”
It was a disposable vomit bowl, the kind they give you in hospital.
Sedaris’ audiences are used to being asked unusual questions. Rather than sit like a grinning automaton signing books, he prefers two-way communication.
At previous dates in this tour, he has been asking, “Have you ever been stabbed?” Some responses have already made their way into the show.
People tend to discover the Grammy-winning writer and performer in one of two ways. They hear him reading his work on Radio 4, or they are converted by word of mouth from other fans.
He inspires enthusiasm in his readers, and a desire to share that enthusiasm with others. He walked onstage to thunderous applause from the capacity audience, almost deferential in his greeting and acknowledgement of his welcome.
He read two of his most recent pieces, both centring around family get-togethers at The Sea Section, his beach house in Emerald Isle, North Carolina.
His trademark, slightly sideways view of events is shot through with a poignant account of the changes time has brought to his 92-year-old father. The family curmudgeon has developed, somewhat unsettlingly, into a genial, welcoming family man.
What has not changed, however, is his fascination with all aspects of his family’s health. He still asks intrusive medical questions – but now that age is making him forgetful, he asks the same question multiple times a day.
‘Don’t you think he’s a bit… odd?’
I was expecting the drily witty, rather deadpan delivery I’m used to from radio and audiobook readings. That was certainly there, but so were the aspects you only get from a live performance – the quirk of an eyebrow, the twitch of a smile. His warmth, and pleasure in his audience, were very evident.
We also enjoyed extracts from Sedaris’ diary. He has been keeping a diary for 40 years, and a selection of the entries is about to be published under the title Theft By Finding.
Those he reads out on tour typically cover jokes told to him by audience members, odd snippets from newspapers, and accounts of his litter-picking.
He and his partner, artist Hugh Hamrick, moved to West Sussex several years ago, and Sedaris was so horrified by the litter in the hedgerows that he began collecting it up and disposing of it. He has become so well known for this that his local council has even named a rubbish truck after him.
Most of his neighbours appreciate the difference he is making, but some are yet to be convinced. One woman asked Hugh, ”Don’t you think he’s a bit… odd?”
With a wry delight, Sedaris reports that she didn’t think he was odd when he came across her lost mobile phone, and returned it to her.
Buck House garden party
His campaign to clear up the roadside verges also resulted in an invitation to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. His description of it included the thoughtless disposal of numbers of small cardboard ice cream tubs, by attendees who could not be bothered to find a waiter to whom they could return them.
I half expected him to say that he had collected them up himself.
Having already signed books from 7pm to 7.30pm, he read and took questions without an interval from 7.30 to 9pm. Shortly after 9pm, he was back at the signing table, where he would stay until the last fan said goodbye.
His Radio 4 series returns later this year, and I heartily recommend listening.
How else will you find out about the audience member who removed a fatty lipoma from his side, and returned it to him so that he could feed it to a snapping turtle?