David Sedaris is known to readers for his books of essays and short stories (frequently New York Times bestsellers), to radio listeners for his segments on NPR, and to television viewers for his visits to late-night talk shows. He also makes frequent appearances onstage, where he reads from his work, as he’ll do April 19 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. (For tickets, call 953-3368 or go to vanwezel.org.) We caught up with him one night by phone from his home in West Sussex, England.
Tell us a little about the show you present.
I go on tour every fall and every spring, about 40 cities each time, and typically I read at least four new stories out loud. I write down the name of every town I visit and what I read there so I don’t repeat myself, but I’ve never been to Sarasota so I’m wide open; I can do what I want.
Is the David Sedaris we see onstage different from the offstage one?
If anything, you have to remind yourself to be yourself, because that’s what got you where you are. I’ve met famous people where, suddenly, I’m not being myself. I’m trying to be someone they might like. It never works out.
I learned a lot by going to other people’s readings, starting back in the late ’80s. I remember paying $5, which was so much money to me, to hear a woman read, and she said something like, “Do you want the story I got $150 for from Playboy or the one I got $75 for from [another publication]?” I thought that seemed so unprofessional, like she didn’t care. I like to be prepared. And if you’re wearing a tie, people know you took it seriously.
What else have you learned about public readings?
Don’t let them see your papers. They’ll think, “Do I have to listen to all that?” Don’t say, for example, “I have 10 reasons for being depressed,” because then they start counting. Just say, “Here are some reasons why I’m depressed.”
What’s the difference between being a humorist and a comedian? Just that a humorist has it written down on paper?
I’m not sure, really, but I do notice that piece of paper protects me in a lot of ways. I’ve never been heckled.
When did you first know you were funny?
Growing up, people in my family were funny, so I was no funnier than any of them. But when I was in art school I read something I’d written out loud to a painting class, and people laughed. And I realized, “That’s what I wanted.” I just never thought I’d make a living out of it.
Is there any subject matter you won’t write about?
A. I’ve been keeping a diary for 40 years, and that teaches you what you’re interested in. I realized when I looked back over it that there was nothing about sex. I’ve never felt comfortable writing explicitly about sex. Or bathroom stuff. I mean, I might say, “This happened to a friend of mine,” about something like that. But that’s different. It allows the audience to be comfortable or relate; you’ve taken yourself out of the equation.
What do you enjoy about living where you do in England?
I just got back here today from the United States, and I did what I do every day. I went out and collected about 80 or 90 pounds of rubbish. A stranger stopped me in his car and thanked me. I was happy to do it.