Edinburgh Fringe 2013
An Evening with David Sedaris shows how this American transplant to the UK has honed his social critique and observations of the human condition, making him one of the world’s pre-eminent humorists.
Perhaps more suited to the Edinburgh Book Festival, An evening with David Sedaris sees him reading excerpts from his new novel, a recent article for the New Yorker and extracts from his diary. It is done very much in the format of a literature festival reading, but its presence in the comedy section of the fringe programme is soon justified by the wit of his writing, and his off the cuff responses to audience questions.
I have only recently been introduced to David Sedaris, having read his novel Naked in the last few weeks – embarrassing myself hugely by belly laughing on various forms of public transport. As most of David’s work is autobiographical, from Naked I knew a lot about his family and about Sedaris himself, and this did give me cause to wonder whether Sedaris’ show would be a bit baffling to those who didn’t know him. The many references to his family were backed up by what feels like a deep personal knowledge of the quirks of his father or idiosyncrasies of his various sisters, making me (and seemingly the rest of the audience) laugh with what felt like a deeper understanding.
However, I am sure that whether a David Sedaris addict, or hearing him for the first time, this night at the EICC would have been wholly enjoyable for everyone who attended. He began by reading an article he had recently written for the New Yorker. It was a keenly observed treatise about middle age, growing older and family, drawn again from such personal experience that you marvel his sisters are still talking to him, as he regales the world with witty stories about their womb linings and mysterious pills that cause the sleep-eating of a nutrition bar made of flies. I for one am glad they still are, or that Sedaris doesn’t care, as there is great joy to be found from listening to him spin these tales with such humour and skill.
Perhaps the best part of the evening was the latter part of the show, where David read us extracts from his diaries. I have a certain sense that paying to hear an author read articles or books you have possibly already read is not great value for money, so it was gratifying to be given a unique insight into this man’s quite twisted yet very witty mind. He told us jokes that he had collected on his book tours, and also commented on some peculiar people he met whilst touring the parts of America where anti-abortion billboards are more numerous than anything else. It was interesting to hear his astute observations about both British and American culture, and comparisons of the two – living as he does in Sussex, and having been absent as an American resident for the last fifteen years.
There is definitely the element of a good stand-up comic in Sedaris’ work – a commentary on our very familiar world, yet with a wry twist that makes you want to jump up and shout ‘yes, I wish I’d thought of that (and also said it in such a concise and pithy way).’ The way he writes, his easy style, self-deprecation and apparent honesty, is hilarious and refreshing. It has made me want to go out and buy all of his other books and though I know I will get some odd looks as I guffaw on the train, frankly I do not care.