david sedaris in lil ol’ ithaca

Taughannock Falls

Apparently David Sedaris likes Ithaca.

DAVID SEDARIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PEOPLE THAT I’LL NEVER MEET, second only to Hillary Clinton. Last night at the State Theater marked the first time I’ve seen him in person, and I was more than a little excited.

On Sedaris’ second day of a thirty-six day tour, the show appeared to be close to sold out. Security personnel hovered in every corner – in case someone rushed the stage for a hug? I’ve seen hug attacks happen before in seemingly civilized venues, once at an assembly at my all-girls Catholic high school when a pile of my peers tackled a morning show DJ who came to encourage our chocolate drive sales. You can never be too careful.

“No photographs,” the introducer announced, “and turn off your cell phones.” In response, I pulled my iPhone from my bag and snapped Sedaris’ picture. From the front row of the balcony, my view included the top of his balding head.

$44 per ticket was a lot of money to pay to hear an author read for an hour and a half. Dinner and drinks for two at the Trumansburg Pourhouse costs less, as does a day pass to the Grassroots Festival, and that buys you ten hours, multiple musicians, priceless face time and unbeatable people-watching opportunities.

What is it about Sedaris that leads us to hand over our money – and our hearts – to him? The universality of his topics combined with the ability to turn everyday occurrences into outlandishly funny moments results in stories that quickly draw in the audience. We envy his ability to say inappropriate things out loud that we would not dare whisper.

Two of his readings at the State were from his forthcoming “bestiary,” a collection of fables about animals, though as Sedaris put it, “Fables have morals.” He also shared excerpts from his diary and a piece on the angst of airline travel, where he translated stewardess-speak for the layperson, the underlying meaning of the request “Your trash?” being a judgment: “You’re trash.”

Sedaris’ appeal is as much about his presentation as about his writing. His dramatic pauses drive home punch lines. He knows this, and throughout the show, he jotted on his notes each time the audience laughed, which happened after almost every sentence. We laughed because we expected to laugh, because he’s David Sedaris. Even the things that weren’t really funny left us chuckling, like rats with pancreatic cancer or a dog who gets hungry when he smells burning flesh.

The woman seated beside us was infected with this anticipatory laughter, snorting uncontrollably throughout the reading, when Sedaris read benign sentences like, “He shakes the crumbs out of his mustache,” or “The bull terrier had creepy eyes.” If I wrote those lines, no one would laugh. Nor would they find it humorous if I said a woman left her teenage son in a burning house. Sedaris’ stories are as dark as they are comical.

But the main reason I think we all love Sedaris is that it feels he’s like one of us, but funnier, a regular curmudgeon who swears and complains a lot and checks his watch every ten minutes. During the question and answer period at the end of the show, when asked what animal he would cast himself as in a fable, he said a muppet, or a snail. To another question he quipped, “If I had a beach house, I’d name it Sea Section.”

We related even more when he said he visited one of our gorges. “If I were here longer, I’d go to…” Sedaris paused dramatically, and we waited, to hear his answer. Taughannock Falls? John Thomas Steakhouse? Rasa Spa? And he finished his sentence like a true local:  “…Pudgies and Cobblers Cottage,” he said. “These are prize winners.”

-Amelia Sauter