David Sedaris came to Stanford and made a series of rather “raunchy” jokes. Armine Pilikian was lucky enough to hear them first hand.
I knew that David Sedaris was hilarious. I knew that he was brilliant, engaging, eccentric, and had exquisite vocal chords. But I had no idea that David Sedaris was downright freaky.
I say this primarily in regard to his zany diary entries and answers during the Q&A session. But we’ll get to that in a moment. That all came in the second half of the talk.
For now, the first half. He was delightful. More than delightful. The Napoleon of wit. One really sagacious dude. He straddled humor and wisdom with elegance and pitch-perfect inflection. You know his titles: Barrel Fever, Naked Holidays on Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day. You know he talks about everything from family to animals to working as a depressed Santa-elf at Macy’s. He’s made an art of complaining, and a living out of it too. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
He told three stories. The first was an airport melodrama, about a teenager who was a dreadlocked baby-daddy, wearing a T-shirt that said “Freaky Mothafocka.” A random woman starts to complain about said hooligan, and Sedaris wants to say: “Listen, I’m with you on most of this. But before we continue, I need to know who you voted for on the last election.” If she were being petty and judgmental, Sedaris noted, he’d help her complain all day. But if she were tied to a conservative agenda, he’d have to side with the freaky mothafocka.
His second story was about how he sucked at swimming and a whole Ben & Jerry’s carton’s worth of daddy-issues. When he was about to start a swimming race: “It occurred to me that one of us had to lose. That I could do that, for these people.” It was interesting to see Sedaris in this light, as just another teenage boy searching for his dad’s approval, and throwing rope from a car window with his sister’s Barbie attached whenever he didn’t get it.
The third story was about his love for oral hygienists, because whenever they tell you you’ve got gum disease, you get to leave the office feeling tragic and important. Then he rips on French healthcare—“The doctor said, ‘Oh that’s nothing. A little fatty tumor. Dogs get them all the time.’ I thought of other things that dogs have that I don’t want.”
At this point, I was thinking, ladies and gentlemen, what a wonderful evening. Splendid. I should’ve had my mother on speakerphone. Then he whipped out his diary entries.
These were vuuulgar. Don’t get me wrong. I know vulgar. I went to public school. I rode in a bus stocked with pervy adolescent males. I can safely say I’ve heard all there is to hear. But the presence of peno-centric jokes has a totally different effect on the psyche in this situation. You can practically feel the squirming of teachers, directors, and stuffy elderlies who came to this event expecting the academic treat of a lifetime, sprinkled with tender epiphanies. That’s not exactly what they got. But frankly, a zesty Monica Lewinski joke seems like it’d be much more useful at dinner parties.
Was he doing it to be shocking? Rebellious? To see if he could get away with it? Meh. Maybe. I think he’s just a fascinating and disturbed guy, and who can blame him? He’s a comedian. A successful one, no less. Nothing is sacred. Everything is fucked. Abortion, poop, diabetes, Helen Keller—all totally reasonable subjects to discuss.
An aggressive woman once came up to him after a reading, and asked him to sign a book for her daughter with: “Explore your possibilities.” He kept the word explore. Just changed it to, “Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls.” Unfortunately, he will not be making this the title of his next book, but then again, not everyone cares for owls.
According to David Sedaris, he currently lives in a village called Faggot Stacks. It’s located between the two villages of Balls Cross and Titty Hill.
Armine Pilikian (’13, English / minor in Symbolic Systems) was the Editor of the Literature and Film sections of the Stanford Arts Review. She keeps it real.