If you’ve laughed when reading David Sedaris’ humorous essays in The New Yorker, or enjoyed his brief appearances on television talk shows, you may still wonder how entertaining he can be for 90 minutes, onstage with nothing but a podium, a glass of water, a mic and a sheaf of his writings. But Sedaris proved in his debut performance at the Van Wezel Performing Arts hall on Wednesday night that he can hold a crowd by reading aloud from his often very personal work—and indeed that his timing and delivery can add some punch and poignancy to his words.
The entertainment started with his appearance itself, as he took the stage wearing a bow tie, a shirt and jacket, and shorts that he said were actually made from two different pairs for an unusual style statement. “I think I look fantastic,” he said to the audience, before launching into his essay, “A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately.”
That piece, which originated back in 2015, starts with the candidacy of Donald Trump but also wanders into the internet conspiracy theories of an old family friend who believes that Hillary Clinton was a longtime member of the Illuminati and a fight with his Republican father, who defends Trump’s famous “locker room talk.” Responds Sedaris, “I’m in a locker room five times a week, and I’ve never heard anyone there speak that way….and if I did, I’d never think, ‘That guy should be my president.’”
The satire on Trump continued with an excerpt about a fall Sedaris sustained on Christmas Day 2016 at his home in England, when he fractured several ribs. “I realized I might die before Trump assumed office,” he said, “and I thought, ‘That won’t be such a bad thing.’” In a stage whisper, he added, “I don’t like the president.”
But the evening wasn’t all about Trump. Sedaris also touched on the eccentric family his readers will be familiar with in “The Silent Treatment,” where he explores why he and his father (who’s now 94 years old) were never really able to talk to each other. There’s laughter here, in his descriptions of himself as a trouble-making 11-year-old, but there’s also a softer emotion, as he and his father do manage to form a bond over listening to jazz together.
Sedaris rounded out the evening with excerpts from a diary he’s been keeping for 40 years, the first half of which is being published very soon in a collection titled Theft By Finding. (The second half, A Carnival of Snackery, awaits.) Before taking some questions from the audience, Sedaris also recommended a book by a fellow New Yorker writer, Larissa MacFarquhar, titled Strangers Drowning (advising his audience that, while he was signing books in the lobby, the one they really should buy is MacFarquhar’s), and also highly recommended a downtown barbershop where he’d had his hair cut that day. Asked by an audience member if he’d ever move to Sarasota, though, Sedaris demurred, citing “the excessive heat and humidity. I grew up in North Carolina, and I can’t take that anymore.”