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What David Sedaris Teaches Us About Middle Age

My husband and I went to see David Sedaris on Friday night. He was doing a reading of his work at Cadogan Hall here in London. (The last time we went...

My husband and I went to see David Sedaris on Friday night.

He was doing a reading of his work at Cadogan Hall here in London. (The last time we went to Cadogan Hall it was to see Garrison Keillor. I think you know you’re middle-aged when you start spending your weekends attending events headlining NPR personalities. Must add it to my list…)

If you aren’t familiar with Sedaris, have a listen to Santaland Diaries – a diary of his Christmas spent working as an elf at Macy’s – which catapulted him to overnight fame. When it was first broadcast, this essay generated more requests for tapes than any story in Morning Edition’s history except the death of veteran sports caster Red Barber.

If you are familiar with Sedaris, then you’ll know why we jumped at the chance to hear him perform live.

He didn’t disappoint.

He was funny, engaging, self-effacing and gracious.

He also told a bunch of off-color jokes. Apparently, during his recent book tour in the U.S., he started asking people who came up to have their books signed to tell him a joke. He has now collected some of the best ones he’s heard and uses them as part of his routine. He even asked our audience to tell him some raunchy gay jokes. (Sedaris is gay.) He feels like people are too abashed to tell him any.

Above all, however, it was really inspiring to watch someone who is clearly having so much fun in his chosen profession. At one point – while reading a new piece he’s written about why traveling to China has made him hate Chinese food – he actually cracked himself up and had to stop for a moment to regain his composure before carrying on with the reading. I loved that.

When author Frank McCourt died, I wrote a post about the joys of old age and how McCourt’s life is a great example of how it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Sedaris achieved literary success in his early 30’s, but somehow he’s never quite lost that air of the up-and-coming-guy who’s still shuffling around cleaning other people’s apartments and working as an elf over the Christmas holidays because he needs the extra money.

In short, he acts like someone who’s still waiting to catch his big break. And therein lies his genius and his charm. You get the sense that this is a guy who still doesn’t take anything for granted. Rather, he lives life by being a careful observer of it: by drawing out the humorous and the touching in the million little particles that make up every day, and by and finding never-ending ways to make himself laugh as he does so.

What a treat. We should all be so lucky.

David Sedaris by WBUR via Flickr from a Creative Commons license.

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  1. daryl boylan May 31, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    Sounds like fun — wish I’d been there. Instead, I was watching the new Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”. Not a great movie, but much fun watching actors have a field day. The lead, who looks nothing like Mr. Allen, was getting a big kick out of channeling him.

  2. Patricia May 31, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Oh this fellow can certainly make me laugh and laugh. I have had the privilege of hearing him 2 times in my life in person – it was wonderful. I had never heard the Santaland program before – thank you for the referral.

    We watched Garrison Keillor the radio man in red shoes documentary this weekend it just fit with scraping the house between rain showers and we were tired. Maybe that is how we know middle age most – we are often tired :)

    My husband will get the senior discount starting in July….hmmm maybe we are past middle?

    Always a pleasure Delia – Thank you again

  3. @TheGirlPie June 1, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    A terrific perspective on a valuable talent sharing a sublime approach to adulthood.
    man, I just love the way you express what you see and who you pay attention to — keep up the good works~!

    ~GirlPie

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