Friday, February 23 , 2018, 7:14 am | Fair 45º


Review: David Sedaris Hits the Funny Bone of Arlington Crowd

Humorist spends quality time with his fans, during and after the show

David Sedaris at The Arlington Theatre on Friday night was many things — understated, painfully honest and wrenchingly funny. Those of us who have read his work — or even more so, heard it in his own gently rough and intimately low voice — were not surprised at this. What did come as a surprise, seeing him live for the first time, was how generous he was with his fans.

David Sedaris
David Sedaris

In his writings, he generally colors himself as something of a loner or even a misanthrope, so it was interesting to see him giving such thoughtful answers to questions posed by audience members in the question-and-answer segment at the end. Not only that, but those who waited in the considerable line to get a book signed by him afterward were apparently engaged in a leisurely chat and often asked to tell him a joke, to be later shared with other audiences.

Not only this, but at the close of the show, he highly recommended Tobias Wolff’s novella, The Barracks Thief, reading a passage from it. He said he always chooses a book to promote on his tours and advised the audience to get this book before purchasing any of his own.

Of his own work, he read a selection from his new book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, which, like any fable, offers us insight to the human condition through the actions of common animals. But with his own twist, of course.

The squirrel attempts to impress the chipmunk while out on a date by telling her he likes jazz. Having no idea what this “jazz” is, the chipmunk covers her ignorance by pretending to like it, too, but later is tortured by thoughts of what this could be that she’s professed an interest in. Under pressure from her family, she breaks it off. But later in life, she finds out that jazz is a sort of music and wistfully reflects on what a beautiful thing it must be.

He also read from Memory Laps, a longer piece about being on the country club swim team as a kid and wishing for approval from his hard-edged father. He describes his father’s harsh words and constant disappointment, but finally tells us he “wouldn’t trade his father for anything.” He appreciates that he had this force to push against, to allow him to grow and improve. An essay on learning languages, one of his funniest topics, and several smaller bits in journal-entry form rounded out the program.

With these, Sedaris proved again and again that he is one of the most brilliant humorists in this country today. His genius is in his blatant and unflinching candor. He is not afraid to confess less-than-charming character traits, which we not only recognize in ourselves but that connect us in that universality of human experience.

We feel less alone when we hear his description of pushing past a couple standing side by side on the moving walkway at an airport, because “some people have tight connections to make.” He goes on to reveal that he doesn’t, but “well, some people do.” This righteous indignation is a sentiment we can all identify with, if we are honest with ourselves.

This is the brilliant foundation of his writing — as much as we may laugh with delighted disbelief at his run-ins with his fellow humans, either real or imagined, deep down we know those same thoughts are tumbling in our own heads. And that we would do the same, if we had the nerve.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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