About 1,000 people filled the Iowa Memorial Union’s Main Lounge on Wednesday for various snapshots of humanity with author David Sedaris.
“I don’t have that much to say about anything,” he said as he opened the night. Those who believed him were in for a shock as the humorist read five pieces with diverse subject matter and style, ranging from essays to monologues and his famous diary entries.
Sedaris’ second selection, a four-year-old essay about the 2008 presidential election, garnered the most enthusiastic audience reaction of the evening. As he introduced the selection, the author noted that he doesn’t usually read older works when he tours but broke this rule in light of Tuesday’s general election.
It was an expert reading of his crowd, which broke into applause two separate times as Sedaris skewered conservatives and prognosticated that while America would never elect a black president “half of America would elect a half-black president.” A third and final burst of hand clapping came after the openly gay Sedaris opined, “If you don’t want to marry a homosexual, then don’t,” with listeners’ extended response seeming almost self-congratulatory in one of the few states where same-sex marriage is legal.
What Sedaris did on stage Wednesday night wasn’t merely reading; it was a performance. He made measured changes in his tone, diction and rhythm to not only inhabit, enliven and distinguish the cast of characters in his works but also to convey changes in those characters’ dispositions. None of this is news for people who have become familiar with Sedaris through his frequent appearances on NPR, but for those who only know the author through his seven books, Wednesday night’s show could have served as a revelation.
Sedaris also incorporated occasional gesticulations, like slightly wiggling his pinky to mime waving to a pixie on a maple leaf (maybe you had to be there) to bring audience members with him as he recounted a propofol-enduced haze during an aforementioned colonoscopy. The result was a 90-minute vacation into Sedaris’ world of skewed views, a planet not unlike our own, only with more misanthropy.
It’s a testament to Sedaris’ genuine affability, on display as he transitioned between pieces, that the audience was fully on board as his tales wandered through a jungle of touchy topics, from race and visual impairments to cancer and a carnival of the scatological. The only time the audience pushed back was during a monologue, slated for inclusion in Sedaris’ forthcoming book, when the protagonist mocked her father for crying at his wife’s death, eliciting a scattered reaction of a few groans and a gasp.
After he finished reading, Sedaris gamely participated in a short Q&A, demonstrating his true warmth and gratitude. Sedaris’s observations about life abroad and listening to Pandora were sharp with a cadence evocative of Andy Rooney, though it’s apparent that Sedaris, unlike Rooney, gets the joke.
If the applause as Sedaris departed the stage is any indication, Wednesday night’s crowd got the joke as well.