The concert hall is packed out with an audience hungry for some Sedaris. Write just his surname and it sounds like an art rock band, so it’s perhaps unsurprising he strides on stage in an outfit comprising labcoat style Japanese jacket, and culottes flapping round his calves. Wander round town like that as a diminutive American tourist and you’ll get some funny looks, any of which the writer will have a snappy comeback for. But tonight he’s here to address the faithful.
I’ve read some David Sedaris, heard him on the radio, and consider myself an enthusiast. Or at any rate, I did until the show. At this point I’m feeling nuances in our relationship that would suit one of his pieces, which he’d chart with precision, humour, and candour. Put it all together and his is the sort of writing that the word ‘wry’ was meant for.
Sedaris writes wry stories about his travels, his family, his friends. They’re elegantly written pieces which he brings to life just so when he reads them and slip down like a well-made gin and tonic, dry with a zing that will leave you wanting another. His style is spare and accessible, and he inserts his viewpoint with subtlety for the most part. When it works you’re left smiling, and with a sense that he’s identified something you’ve experienced a version of in your own life.
For all the skill though, I get the sense empathy is in short supply with Sedaris. He’s good at depicting people the way they seem to him – less adept when it comes to communicating their experience of being them. That shortcoming pops up a few times, most notably when he notes his skill at differentiating between similar looking people of colour. That segues into a clumsy and audience-pleasing bit about how maybe people aren’t guilty of microaggressions but are instead assumed to be prejudiced without evidence. It’s a view that doesn’t take into account the experience of people frequently led to the conclusion they’re seen as interchangeable by the response of those who encounter them. Sedaris is no bigot, but the response of his audience – well over 90% white and middle aged - suggests broad support for his slightly Daily Mail-tainted view of political correctness.
Mostly though, Sedaris is a highly talented and hilarious writer great at capturing moments we’ve all got equivalents of. Family holidays. Awkward meetings. The impact of death. The frustrations of compromise and the delight of getting your own way, even if come-uppance is sure to follow. Just be prepared for the occasional hint of a curmudgeonly Morrissey among the crowdpleasers, though Sedaris lacks Mozza’s malice.
David Sedaris was at The Royal Concert Hall July 20th 2018.