It was a lovely evening to be sure. Mr. Sedaris was absent when the evening, for my wife and I, began at Kiku, a new sushi restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. This was my meal:
If you’re into sushi, the fish was very fresh and the portions were ample. If you’re not into sushi, thanks for reading the last sentence anyway.
The rest of the evening was more David Sedaris-centric.
If you’re not familiar, David Sedaris is a writer that has been described many ways: Essayist, Memoirist, but most notably, Humorist. Being a comedian myself, that last moniker is what I love most about him. And ever since I read “humorist” as it pertains to David Sedaris, I’ve noticed that it is never casually replaced with “comedian” as it pertains to, say, me. It wasn’t until I began to enjoy David Sedaris that the difference became clear.
If, in a group of people, you refer to yourself as a “comedian,” people generally assume that a) You’re zany, b) You have a joke ready if they require further credentials and c) Despite (a) and (b), you’re probably unemployed. On the other hand, if you refer to yourself as a “humorist,” people are intrigued; like when Indiana Jones calls himself an “archaeologist.” You just know whatever he’s hiding is much sexier.
Not that David Sedaris is calling himself a humorist (his pubicist and publisher did that), but David Sedaris’ writing is a cut above. Telling a joke is one thing, but writing a joke is something else. It requires a personal rhythm and deeper intimacy for words on the page to make you laugh out loud, and that’s what his essays do for me.
I was curious as to how they would translate when he read them live.
The crowd was very N.P.R., and I don’t say that as a pejorative. For a moment, picture the people that you know that listen to Public Radio. You probably know at least one or two. They’re your friend(s) who consistently have good wine, aren’t up on the local sports team and always have a GREAT garden. Now imagine a couple thousand of them packed into Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater.
Listening to N.P.R. is generally a solitary activity; they rarely pipe it into your local mall. So when many N.P.R. listeners are dropped into the middle of a crowd of other N.P.R. listeners, the collective intellectual enlightenment combined with claustrophobia can be paralyzing. Typical concert etiquette, like that of the theater bars, bathrooms and Rock Show Enthusiasm, is often completely lost on them. Thankfully, it wasn’t that kind of concert.
Sedaris’ readings were all new, and often, as the audience reacted, he would reach into the breast pocket of his shirt, retrieve a pen and mark his manuscript. While noticeable, at no point was it ever distracting. Later he mentioned that, after a show, he would make re-writes.
As the show concluded, he announced that he would have a book signing in the lobby of the theater which was good because, frankly, I’d been counting on it. Waiting in line with two books tucked under my arm, I was a kid again, waiting outside of County Stadium for a glimpse of a ball player and, if I was lucky, maybe get an autograph somewhere on my cap. When it was my turn, I placed the books on the table while every question and comment and every review of every essay I had read became: “Hello, Mr. Sedaris.”
As he signed both books and I was too terrified to make chit-chat, suddenly the act of requesting an autograph became profoundly absurd. Here I was, asking this man to write his name, in his own hand, on my book because…
I didn’t know. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why an autograph is valuable.
I’ve signed a few autographs myself; perhaps after a ComedySportz matinee for a kid who thought that someday I would be really famous and he could say he knew me when because I scrawled my name on a blank piece of paper that would have been just as well served by his own childish doodlings. I’ve done CD signings for WKLH where I’m one in a row of much better-known local celebrities. Once, after signing my name, a woman picked up the CD case, looked at me and said with seemingly genuine curiosity: “Who are you?” That’s when I starting signing “Burt Reynolds.”
I guess it comes down to proof. Proof that David Sedaris and I briefly shared a space, a word, a moment in time. It meant that while others (many, MANY others) have read his words, he had taken the time to add a couple more to the books in my possession. He gave me this:
Honestly, I could have done this myself and you would be equally impressed if you were impressed at all. But I didn’t; he did. And it was pretty cool. And then my wife and I went home…after an Evening With David Sedaris.