Last night I had the distinct pleasure of attending An Evening with David Sedaris, a benefit for scholarships at California College of the Arts. Seeing Mr. Sedaris in person only amplifies the unique character that he is, a charming and unassuming little man who sweetly talks about everything from his impending colonoscopy to the taxidermied owl he bought his boyfriend Hugh as a Valentine’s Day present.
David Sedaris first found success through reading his essays for NPR‘s The Morning Edition. From there he went on to become an award winning and bestselling author of multiple books. Right now he is promoting his newest book entitled Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, which instantly landed on New York Times Bestseller Fiction List. If one has only seen his sardonic humor in print without hearing him or seeing him perform before, they will undoubtedly be surprised that such a dark and often twisted humor is coming from this man with a voice that radiates innocence. Such a strange paradox is partly what makes him all the more intriguing.
The night started with a VIP cocktail party at the Berkeley Art Museum, where lead donors were able to meet fellow sponsors as well as Mr. Sedaris himself. He was unfortunately a bit late to the party due to a delayed plane flight. After this we walked a short distance to Zellerbach Hall (which was sold out) for the reading. Sedaris read from a variety of sources: his personal diary, an article he had written for The New Yorker, as well as other new and unpublished material that he had written.
In his story “Understanding Understanding Owls,” Sedaris showed off his morbid humor by recounting the time he went to a taxidermist shop in search of a stuffed owl, only to be shown a few mummified body parts, including the head of a 14-year-old girl that had been carefully preserved in a Tesco grocery bag. While the encounter with this taxidermist made Sedaris uncomfortable, he also admitted that he was torn by intrigue. In another story that was untitled, he spoke about the idea of people living until they are 200 years old. He believed this person could easily be his 89-year-old father who still made it to spin class three times a week and badgered him more and more incessantly about getting a colonoscopy.
The reading was followed by a short Q&A session, and when no one immediately raised their hand with a question, Sedaris eased into the Q&A by asking the audience if they had any advice to help him prepare for his upcoming colonoscopy. Somehow he did this with all the charm in the world, and he’s probably the only person who could pull this off in such a modest way. From there people asked him a few questions, such as where he got his humor from, what his favorite television shows were, and whether his boyfriend Hugh was happy about stuffed owl Valentine’s Day gift. Sedaris thought he got his humor at least partially from being in a big family where he was forced to talk fast and be quick if he wanted any chance of being heard. His favorite television shows ranged from Breaking Bad to RuPaul’s Drag Race(he was rooting for Sharon Needles in case anyone is wondering). And yes, Hugh was happy with his gift.
Since this evening was dedicated to raising money for the California College of the Arts, Sedaris made sure to speak about his positive experience attending art school in Chicago, where he was a student of current CCA president Stephen Beal. He stressed the importance of the arts and with sadness pointed out that there was a serious lack of funding in this field. The night ended with a book signing and time for anyone to come up and speak with him personally. It isn’t every night that a comedian is witty enough to bring humor and important issues together in such a harmonious way, and such a comedian should be celebrated.