Wednesday, October 29, 2008

David Sedaris @ SF Opera House

There is one category of literature that has always escaped my appreciation -- the humorous memoir. I just don't "get it." Maybe it's presumptuous of me, but it's never seemed like much of an accomplishment to set one's absurd stories down on paper and trumpet them as somehow more compelling than (say) the absurd stories you hear every day from everyone that you know. I hear a lot of good stories day in and day out; my attitude is that you'd better have some damn good stories to justify my shelling out bucks when I've got plenty of friends and acquaintances who can regale me with entertaining stories for free.

David Sedaris is the bestselling memoir author whose wit has been compared to Mark Twain. Now, that's some f---in' praise you don't want to be throwing around lightly. After all, Twain is the guy who wrote, "Clothes make the man; naked people have little or no influence on society.")
I've heard Sedaris read numerous times on NPR and never really got much out of his stories; he always seemed more like Jerry Seinfeld than Mark Twain..."observational" humor about the foibles of family and friends. Sedaris adds florid language to Seinfeld's mundane insights, and the result is a literary elevation of Jerry's episode-intro sketches. But that's just one man's opinion; the fact is, Sedaris sells more books than just about anyone other than Oprah Winfrey, and lots of my friends swear by him.

So I finally took the opportunity to see one of his live performances at the Opera House, where he read a series of essays about mundane events that culminated in -- brace for it -- a lengthy description of a shopping trip he made to Costco.

In fact, I thought it was telling that the funniest bits of his performance were his re-tellings of jokes other people had told him. (Like the couple he met on a book tour, a Hindu man and his Jewish wife, who joyfully declared that they were "the Hin-jews.")

That's good stuff.

But maybe I'm just a playa-hater...I may well be the one NPR-listener in America who just doesn't get it.


Rob said...

First Iron Man, now Sedaris. If you start hatin' on Barack now I'm'a have to come up there an' smack you.

Daniel Morris said...

I'll be voting enthusiastically for Barack, but I have strong doubts that he is the man to lead the free world in the event of invasion by an aggressive extraterrestrial race.

Kristen Salvatore said...

I'll admit that Sedaris' writing has grown less laugh-out-loud funny over the years, but I still think he tells a great story. I disagree with you on the fundamental point, anyway: Finding the funny in the everyday is a gift, but retelling it in a way that doesn't make your audience want to off themselves is a real rarity.

I would also like to note that my word verification for this comment is "hissesse".