Talking trash with David Sedaris

Humourist David Sedaris has kept diaries for 40 years. Often, he records events of no particular consequence.

“I just write about small things. For example, I saw a really big toad that had been run over by a car on the side of the road next to a turtle that’d been run over by a car,” said Sedaris, phoning from the island of Maui recently.

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“I would never wake up and say: ‘Oh, nothing happened yesterday; I guess I’ll skip writing my diary today.’ I can’t skip it.”

Sedaris’s diaries fill more than 150 hand-made notebooks. Early on, he wrote them by hand. In the 1980s, he starting typing them. At the end of a season, Sedaris has a booklet bound. He makes his own covers and includes pictures.

These private jottings will be shared in Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 to 2002), to be published on May 30. The book includes overheard conversations, gossip, chats with strangers and oddball musings. Sedaris says he’ll likely read from it during his Tuesday-night performance at Victoria’s Royal Theatre. He’ll also share stories — typically self-deprecating — about his life and travels.

Not many authors rent 1,440-seat theatres for personal appearances. But then, Sedaris is no ordinary author. He has sold more than seven-million copies of such humour collections as Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. His pieces can be heard on NPR radio’s This American Life. Nominated for Grammy awards three times in the spoken word and comedy album categories, Sedaris is probably America’s best-known humourist.

A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, he now divides his time between homes in London and West Sussex in the south of England.

Sedaris’s writing is defined by a sharp eye for telling details and a keen sense of irony and absurdity. One of his diary entries from the mid-1980s, when he was a young man living in Chicago, takes note of the curiously formal conversation of a “blind black fellow” in an IHOP restaurant. Sedaris’s deadpan humour is already apparent.

“Tonight a Bill Withers song came over the sound system, and the one guy said to the other: ‘It may interest you to know that we can expect a new LP from this gentleman in the near future’,” he writes.

Another IHOP entry concerns a customer who wore a “stocking hat” and a red floppy hat at the same time. The waitress, Mary, was rude to the man and made him pay in advance for his meal.

“Had she had trouble with him in the past? Did it have anything to do with his two hats?” Sedaris wonders.

He says the best diary entries are indexed and sometimes find their way into his essays.

“I’m probably not going to index that I saw a flattened toad yesterday,” he added. “Because it really doesn’t feel that important.”

The weather was balmy during Sedaris’s stay in Maui. However, he complained of too much sunshine and beaches. What Sedaris was interested in talking about was the trash he was finding on his walks.

He likes to take a long walk every day, no matter where he is. And usually Sedaris picks up trash along the way, as a kind of public service. On some days, he’ll pick up litter for five hours.

“Really, I’d love to have my grabber here in Maui. And a bag. Because I’m still walking. I’m going to walk at least 12 miles today. And it seems wasteful [not to pick up the garbage].”

Sedaris has come across plenty of peculiar items on his garbage walks. For a while, he regularly came across soiled underpants.

“And I think they all belonged to the same guy. Because he must have a — I don’t know — a 55-inch waist They’re always briefs. And there’s always [fecal matter] in them,” he said.

Another time, Sedaris discovered a bag containing 50 pornographic DVDs. “I was like, I’m going to tell a couple of people about this. And they can come and get them. Because it’s a shame to waste. It wasn’t my kind of thing, but it’s a shame to waste something like that.”

However, his friends weren’t enthused about the prospect of free pornography.

“Isn’t that crazy? And I said to them, too, Christmas is coming! And you’re going to know people. You could give them these DVDs. They’re going to act like it’s a joke gift. Ha ha ha. But they’re going to be really glad they got them. But no one took me up on that.”

Sedaris does a lot of reading tours. Sometimes, to liven them up, he engages in unorthodox interactions with the audience.

For instance, while signing a book, he once asked the fan if he’d ever defecated in his pants. The man replied that he had not. However, he said his girlfriend once had. She was sitting across from him on the front seat of their car.

“She just got a little too relaxed and s--- her pants in the front of the car,” Sedaris recalled with a laugh.

“I said: ‘Are you still together?’ I would break up with her. I couldn’t be with anyone like that. He said: ‘No, no, we’re still together.’”

The week before the interview, Sedaris did a reading in Los Angeles. The lobby was too small for a book signing. So the writer, who likes to meet his readers, volunteered to take tickets before the show.

The celebrity ticket-ripper asked one woman who she had come to the show with. The woman pointed to her companion, who was ahead of her in line. Like many of the people streaming in, this woman didn’t recognize Sedaris.

“She went up to her friend and said: ‘God, what kind of question is that?’ I though, ugh, I don’t want you in my audience if you’d be so rude like that to a ticket-taker.”

Sedaris said he’s had a few hecklers over the years. In 1986, he was asked to serve as MC for a Chicago event. It was an evening in which people’s homemade rock-and-roll videos were screened. Sedaris decided it would be fun to read segments of one of his stories between each presentation.

“Right near the end of my story, someone yelled out: ‘This is boring!’ I should have realized when I got up there it wasn’t the audience.”

Another time, also in Chicago, an audience member in her 80s took umbrage with the profanity in one of Sedaris’s stories.

“She said: ‘Enough with the language, enough with the four-letter words. It’s disgusting. I didn’t come here to be disgusted!”

Sedaris decided he wouldn’t respond with a putdown, in deference to the woman’s age. “But I knew the audience was on my side,” he said. “She had obviously just wandered in there.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

 

What: An Evening with David Sedaris

Where: Royal Theatre

When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: Start at $58.50 (250-386-6121)

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