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David Sedaris brings wry humor to Salt Lake

Published April 29, 2013 7:28 am

Interview • Charm and generous laughs fill his new book Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As one of the most well-traveled writers currently in the business, you'd expect David Sedaris to have an opinion on hotels.

"I don't like the [Manhattan] hotel I'm in at all. There are slamming doors everywhere," he said, making his way through the rounds of phone interviews early this month. "But don't you dare stand between me and the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City. There's no place like it. It's like a four-star motel. Everywhere else people would treat it as campy, but there's no place I'd rather be than the coffee shop in Little America."

Writing about your own author readings, and travels, draws attention to the writer's supposedly charmed life. Sedaris admits this is a bit narcissistic, but it's a task he executes with all the charm, aplomb and generous laughs of his previous writing collections in his new work, Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls. Throughout the collection, Sedaris reveals his rare political side and turns even a mundane trip to Costco with his brother-in-law into an uproarious meditation on suburban manners. In others, such as the opener on the joys of French dentistry, the 56-year-old Sedaris begins to show his age, but never at the expense of generous laughs.

"I don't mind being cranky, but I'd hate to think I'm not subtle anymore," he said.

What compelled you to write the books' "monologues for teenagers"?

I just feel so honored when a teenager comes to one of my readings. It's just such a square thing to come to a reading with your middle-aged parent. I had really good teenage gifts last night. They'll get less good as the tour goes on. … I'm nice to everyone whose book I sign, but I'm much more interested in the lives of teenagers, and so glad they came.

A lot of these essays deal with technology, such as you holding out on buying an iPhone until they're "equipped with a Taser." How would you explain your relationship with technology?

I don't have a cellphone, because if I did I wouldn't be able to judge people who take up the whole sidewalk while talking on their phone. The second I do that after buying a cellphone, I can't judge people who do that. And I love being able to judge people who do that.

Also, if I had a cellphone, and you had to call me, you'd be calling me in Europe. I just don't think that's fair to people. Besides, no one ever calls me. Once, in London, our phone went out and I didn't even notice that it didn't ring. I've a few friends who call me, but they're friends I made in the 1970s. You know how it is. When you're in a relationship you don't try that hard to make friends anymore.

You and your boyfriend recently moved to England. Why the change? How is living in England different from life in France?

It wasn't as if we packed up and left France. We still have an apartment there.

When people go to France on vacation, they get this very romantic idea of a nation with two-hour lunches and great food. But just try living there. It's very hard to make plans because everyone's on strike all the time. We call Air France "Air Chance" because they're always on strike.

In London you don't even know it's Sunday. I hated the Sundays of my youth, because Raleigh, N.C., was a tomb. That's exactly what Paris feels like on a Sunday. It gives me that feeling I had when I was a child. I wake up on Sunday and I just want it to be over.

Some people say they like it because it's a day you can concentrate on what's really important. That's subjective. I can't bear that stifling Paris environment. I was in Paris last week and it looked like all the buildings were crying.

It's really interesting how inferior Americans like to feel alongside the French. Never underestimate the willingness to feel inferior to the French. It's the same in England. I don't know a single French woman who doesn't talk about her weight. English women put their daughters on diets and French women put their daughters on diets, too. French children are by and large so well-mannered because their parents beat the s—- out of them.

London, on the surface, is a lot harder to love. But it's a more international city. So international I get to practice my Polish. There are so many Swedes, Poles and others in London that whatever language it is you're trying to learn, you can learn it with people in London. I don't mean to sound like I'm breaking up with Paris and now talking crap about it, I just prefer England right now.

Do you ever feel you want a break from being funny?

When I turn a story, that's expected. But if you didn't know who I was, and had dinner with me, you'd think, "Man, that guy asks a lot of questions. What's up with him?" That's what people probably think when they leave my company. It's just my nature. It runs in my family. If you met my family, you'd be exhausted.

Have any of your feelings about the book's essays on the Tea Party or U.S. politics changed after Barack Obama won re-election?

No. What I like about the Tea Party is that I just love people who, again, are just so sure of themselves. … I'm completely fascinated. When someone puts on a tricorn hat and starts yelling, I just can't listen to them enough. I'm more inclined to ask, "Feel free to talk me out of it, but this is what I think." I'm just fascinated. You throw in an old hat on top of it, and it's even better.

I didn't want the Obama essay to seem dated. It really was true that the French acted like Obama was the president they wanted to elect. Every president in France went to the same college. It's always a white guy who went to the same school, so please don't complain to me about how racist Americans are. You would not want to be an Arab or Moroccan immigrant in France, but they love to talk about black-white relations in the United States.

A lot of my political feelings are shaped by, or a reaction to, people overseas. Everyone in England asks, "What the hell is up with you people and your goddamned guns!?" I just tell them that in America you need a semi-automatic weapon. You need it to shoot your television. Have you ever gone on YouTube to see that? There's clip after clip of people either shooting their television or their toilet in an open field. It's like a genocide of appliances by people acting like they're 12-year-olds with semi-automatic weapons. What do people need those weapons for? Well, that's what they need those weapons for. It's this destructive fear that, if you don't shoot your television, it will come back to life and hurt someone else.

Where do you believe the future of humor resides?

That's actually a really good question, because every day people become more sensitive. … E-mail has also changed everything. It's allowed people to complain about their seat being hard, or not enough ice in their drink.

You're now 56 years old. Is it easier, or harder, to write as you grow older?

I think I'm a better writer as I get older. The stories in this book are better than the ones I wrote 15-20 years ago. It hasn't gotten harder, but sometimes I wish I could go back and rewrite things I wrote 10 or 15 years ago. I'd rewrite the story about all the nervous tics I had as a kid ["A Plague of Ticks" in Naked]. I'd shorten that. I'd rewrite the title story in Me Talk Pretty One Day. My French teacher did all sorts of terrible things, like stabbing a Korean-American student in the eye with a pencil and telling her to wake up and go back to Seoul. But what I didn't mention was that most of us really liked her, but it would have been a much more difficult story to write, but also much better.

bfulton@sltrib.com

David Sedaris

When • Sunday, April 28, 7 p.m.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $25-$52.50. Call 801-355-ARTS or visit http://www.arttix.org for more information.