David Sedaris is a small, unremarkable-looking man, but he knows how to make an entrance. When the Riverside Theater went dark and he came on stage Saturday night, my first thought was, "Is he auditioning for an AC/DC video?"
He wore long shorts and sneakers, paired with a white button-down shirt and red tie. Though he delivered all of his nearly-two-hour show from behind a podium, he did come out to show the audience that no, he was not wearing a skirt. He wore dark blue culottes, or "bell-bottom shorts." An avid shopper, he now owns three pairs, much to the dismay of his boyfriend Hugh.
The culottes serve as a perfect segue into the first of two New Yorker essays Sedaris read. "The Perfect Fit" tells of a recent trip to Tokyo with Hugh (who is barely an afterthought in the story) and his sisters Amy and Gretchen. Amy Sedaris is also well-known for her comedy, and the essay contains no shortage of humorous antics on her part. The focal point of their trip was shopping. David and his sisters love to shop. And buy. They especially love clothes, and they especially love hysterically bizarre clothes.
Sedaris described, often putting his hands in his pockets and swiveling side-to-side so his culottes twirled – much the way young girls make their party dresses twirl – about his calves, purchasing a pair of trousers that come up to his nipples. The button fly is a foot and a half long, and when he puts his hands in the pockets, they disappear up to his elbows. He also purchased a denim smock ("It is not a dress") that snaps down the front. And down the back. He also owns a black t-shirt that hangs past his knees and makes him look "like a hand puppet."
Following the Tokyo trip essay, he read from another essay, "A Modest Proposal," centering around his mixed reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. He was, of course, thrilled at the victory for equality, but he himself does not believe in marriage and has a particular loathing for weddings.
Sedaris then read bits he pulled from the diaries he's kept for several decades, which are being compiled for his next book. He skipped all over in time, from his recent decision to continue with his show in North Carolina after the passage of HB2 and donate his fee to Equality North Carolina (though he did lament all the "gay stuff" he can no longer buy with that fee), to a 1993 visit with Phyllis Diller at her house, to his genius idea to pay two young women at one of his book signings five dollars to take his Apple Watch and walk for 20 minutes, so he could maintain his perfect week.
The thing that makes these anecdotes so much better live than simply reading his books or essays is his delivery. Sedaris has his own radio show on the BBC, and has been nominated several times for Grammy awards for the audio recordings of his books. I laughed through nearly the entire show, along with the rest of the audience. Several times, I had to remove my glasses to wipe away the tears. I've always enjoyed reading Sedaris' work, but it rarely inspires an actual LOL, let alone to the point my eyes water.
Sedaris ended the show with a book recommendation. He does this on every tour and has recommended everything from darkly comedic novels to essay collections. Tonight he recommended "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America" by Jill Leovy. It is true crime journalism that, Sedaris says, reads like fiction, following one detective trying to solve the all-too-common murders in South Central Los Angeles.
Sedaris gave a few examples of the "heartbreaking" stories in the book of people "disfigured by grief" – stories that make the book so powerful he recommends it to his audiences. It sounds like a gripping and important book, and I plan to pick it up next time I'm at a bookstore. It was, however, an odd note to end a comedy show on.
He did take a few questions from the audience after his book recommendation, which lifted the mood a little. But it was far from the jubilant feelings of a half hour previous. With so much of comedy being about timing, I left feeling he could have timed his recommendation better. Sandwiched it between his two New Yorker essays, perhaps, or saved a few of his funniest diary entries for a finale.
Odd ending note aside, when I got home and looked in the mirror, my eye make-up was a mess from wiping away all the tears of laughter. For me, that's a sign of a well-spent evening.