Even my mom likes David Sedaris.
In fact, it's difficult to imagine a single person who's read David Sedaris and doesn't like him. Well, perhaps that's stretching it -- he's a gay American man who now lives in France, so it's possible the Freedom Fries folks would have some reservations.
No matter. With four best-selling books -- Holidays on Ice, Barrel Fever, Naked, and Me Talk Pretty One Day -- as evidence that he's tickling the funny bone of more than just a niche audience, it's a fair guess that even these pillars of 'Merican values would be hard pressed to repress their chuckles if strapped to a seat at a Sedaris reading.
There are three things, primarily, that make his books work so well:
1) His genuinely weird and completely neurotic familial past, and his willingness to mine its darkest corners to retrieve a laugh. His prank-mad sisters, his probably-an-alcoholic mother, his redneck younger brother Paul "The Rooster" Sedaris, his neurotic packrat father, his evil grandmother -- none escape.
2) Sedaris has absolutely no qualms about divulging even the most theoretically embarrassing parts of his past and personality, and continually self-deprecates: "It turns out that I'm really stupid, practically an idiot. There are cats that weigh more than my IQ score," he says in his essay "I Used to be a Smart Guy," describing the first time he took an IQ test.
3) He has delusions of neither change nor grandeur. In an essay on an oft-frequented subject, he writes of the long period of his professional career spent sweeping up after people. On his eventual transition to housecleaning, he remarks, "Yes, it was unskilled labor, but, for what it's worth, I did very little sweeping. Mainly, I vacuumed. Oh, but that was years ago. Two years ago, to be exact." So much for artistic distance.
Beyond his dapper intellect and rapier wit, what further sets Sedaris' writing apart is the lack of the pretense that has become so common in his field. There's no meta to his work, no guile -- it's lucid and breezy. His apparent intuitive sense of what makes for an amusing read is what carries him through.
Frequently called a modern-day Mark Twain, Sedaris lives up to the comparison; by all current signs, he definitely has the wit, and certainly could have the lasting appeal, though of course, only time will tell. He's certainly already joined the ranks of, say, Thurber, in his baffled, usually inappropriate, reaction to everyday scenarios.
Above all, Sedaris holds the distinction of being both accessible enough for a lowbrow audience and witty enough for a highbrow one. He's omni-brow, writing for Esquire and The New Yorker, yet still frequently appearing on The David Letterman Show.
With any luck, Sedaris will be reading a few sneak previews from his forthcoming book at his Pikes Peak Center, one-night only appearance. If his new essays in Esquire and The New Yorker are any indication, he's still strip-mining his youth for the usual ore and buffing off the recent past.
But worry not. The schtick is as good as ever.
-- Brian Arnot