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David Sedaris: “What do I write about now?”


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David Sedaris
Photo by Ingrid Christie
Short Profile

Name: David Raymond Sedaris
DOB: 26 December 1956
Place of birth: Binghamton, New York, United States
Occupation: Writer, humorist

David Sedaris' new book, Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002), was released via Little, Brown & Company, and its German translation, Wer's findet, dem gehört's: Meine Tagebücher und ich, is out now via Karl Blessing Verlag.

Mr. Sedaris, how funny was your day today?

I had fun visiting Munich, it was fun trying to speak German to people. But so far, nothing really funny has happened today — but the day’s not over yet!

Do you get tired of people expecting you to be funny all the time?

You know, I was signing books last night and I was talking to somebody and I wasn’t saying anything funny. I just was asking them if they lived far from the theater or something like that — and they laughed at everything. And I think sometimes people get it in their head that they’re going to laugh, so they just do it because that’s what they told themselves that they were going to do.

Do people try to be funny around you as well?

They do, but it doesn’t always work. About five years ago, I was on a tour in America and I was going to 40 cities. I asked people to tell me a joke when they came to get a book signed but the problem was that a lot of times I would sign a book and we’d have a talk for a minute. And then they would say, “Oh wait, I have a joke. A black person and a Chinese... No, is that Chinese or is that Japanese? Okay, a black person and an Asian person and a Jewish man are going to the bank — or no, is it the post office?” And it would just take so long, so I had to stop!

“Sometimes the best things come from not anything big really happening.”

Did you at least get to hear any good jokes?

What’s the difference between a Camaro and an erection? I don’t have a Camaro. (Laughs) You have to say it like that so it sounds like you do have an erection. Discretely. Here’s another one: What’s the last thing you want to hear while you’re blowing Willie Nelson? I’m not really Willie Nelson. (Laughs) So yeah, I did get some good jokes.

But even if not, it’s those everyday interactions that form the basis for your kind of non-fiction work.

Sometimes the best things come from not anything big really happening. I feel like if your life is too adventurous, I feel like you only have a certain amount of time to pay attention until whatever it is you’re doing becomes normal and you stop seeing it. When I go on tour, at the end of every day I’ll say, “What do I write about now?” I will have talked to hundreds of people, I will have been on two airplanes that day, I will have lived this whole life but… When it’s new, you notice everything but then it becomes normal to you, and you stop paying attention the way that you should.

Is a cross-country flight really something you want to remember?

Actually, I once met a guy on an airplane, and he started talking to me and he had a big plastic bag of Euro coins. And he said, “This is exactly $70 worth of coins.” He said, “I go on the Internet and I buy change. I can buy a one Euro coin for 80 cents because people go on vacation and then they have all this change and they sell it on eBay.” So this guy buys change online, and then he goes on vacation with these bags of coins.

“Nobody wants to know everything about somebody.”

Come on…

It’s true! (Laughs) And if he goes out to dinner, and let’s say his bill is 38 euros, he pays in 20 cent pieces and 10 cent pieces and pennies. So you know… It’s funny, If you were not interviewing me, and we had just met. I would have asked you 30 questions so far. And you would be thinking, “What is up with this guy? Why is he asking me all these questions?” People like being made to seem interesting. And people like to answer questions, to talk about themselves.

But there’s also a limit. Small talk on an airplane is different than interviewing someone.

Of course. I think it’s just knowing what to keep to yourself. Sometimes I like it better when I don’t know that much… Nobody wants to know everything about somebody. I mean, I don’t even want to know everything about Hugh, my boyfriend. I don’t need to know everything about him!

Do people still surprise you?

Sometimes. One thing that comes to mind is that I have a friend in England — and he and I go out and pick up rubbish together. And that’s what we talk about: rubbish. That’s what we’ve talked about for years since we met. But then I found out he voted for Brexit! I tried to understand him. I don’t — but I tried. So that was shocking to me… But sometimes I’ll do things to surprise people.

What kind of things?

Once I met a woman one night at a reading and she worked making coffee somewhere and she had studied French at school but she had never been to France. And so I said, “ Well, I’m going to buy you a ticket to France.” And so I bought her a ticket to France!

“I think in your life there’s a moment when the door opens — and you need to walk through the door then.”

Really?

And then I talked to her later and she said, “I couldn’t wait to come home from France.” She said, “Everyday I was there I just wished that I was back home in Reno, Nevada on my front porch. And my boyfriend picked me up at the airport when I came home and we went right to Walmart and we bought a bottle of Jack Daniels.” I expected she would go to France and she would say, “I’m not going home. I’m going to stay here. I’m going to change my life,” because that’s what I would have done when I was her age. But to the people that I’ve offered that to it’s like, “That’s okay, I’ll just stay.”

It’s easy to get comfortable in the life that you know.

Yeah, so it takes a certain kind of person… I think in your life there’s a moment when the door opens and you need to walk through the door then. You can’t say then, “Well, I’ll go through it two years from now. I’ll do it, I’ll save up some money...” Because by then the door will be closed. I feel very fortunate that there was something in my character that I wasn’t afraid to go through the door when the door opened. I was just talking to Hugh today and I said, “I really want to move to Germany. And I want to try it. I don’t want to be finished.” I love moving. It’s such an adventure and it’s such a great feeling to just pick up and go, you know… I can do whatever I want.