“What do you know about Fresno?” an audience member called out during the designated question session following David Sedaris’ buoyant reading Thursday at the Saroyan Theatre.
“I know it’s an agricultural center, and I know it does not have a nice hotel,” said the beloved writer, who has a knack for selecting concrete details in his writings (and offhand quips) that tickle a listener in their specificity. Big laughs all around.
It’s one thing to read Sedaris’ words to yourself. But as anyone who almost crashed his or her car while laughing at the author’s now legendary recitation of “The Santaland Diaries” years ago on NPR can attest, listening to Sedaris read his work puts it on an entirely different level. And listening to him live is, well, such an extra-rich experience that it has approximately the same physiological impact as eating an entire can of frosting. (At one point in the reading last night, Sedaris had a line about “the history of frosting,” and now all I have to do is say the word to smile.)
This auditory enrichment was made obvious to me by Sedaris’ first selection at last night’s reading, a rollicking send-up of the airline industry. I remember reading the story, titled “Standing By,” when it was appeared in 2010 in The New Yorker, and thinking it was very funny. But to hear Sedaris deliver it — describing such flight-attendant secrets as how they like to pass gas at loathsome passengers while briskly marching down the aisle — turned the experience into a communal chortle fest. I’ll never hear the phrase “your trash” — or is it “you’re trash”? — as the attendants make their last pass through the cabin without thinking of Sedaris.
The evening was a jolly affair, with Sedaris regaling the half-filled Saroyan (I was surprised he didn’t get a bigger turnout) with everything from his pet theories on dessert (straight men would never agree to split a piece of pie with another man at a restaurant, although buffalo wings seem to be OK) to disgusting Bulgarian curses about one’s mother (he got in trouble for repeating that doozy while signing a reader’s book).
But not all is frivolity in Sedaris’ literary world. He shared a new story titled “Company Man” in which he describes a reunion of him and his sisters at his home. How many years will they still be able to get together before mortality strikes one of them down? Sedaris told the Fresno audience he read that story 10 days ago in Charlotte with one of his sisters in the audience. And he cried.
That’s what I like so much about Sedaris: the brittleness of his world, the depth that goes far beyond easy laughs. His words resonate even when the giggles subside.
FROM FACEBOOK: Sedaris is famed for the pithy things he writes at book signings. (My colleague Joshua Tehee got the scoop in his recent phone interview with the author.) Here are a couple from the Fresno signing. Have a signing to share? Email me.