On Sunday, Nov. 7, David Sedaris returns to Benaroya Hall for the first time in two years for an evening of readings and comedy, in support of his latest book, “A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020).” Sedaris’ annual visit is one of the most reliably entertaining tickets in town — his readings of essays, book recommendations and off-the-cuff audience Q&A sessions provide more laughter for the dollar than just about any other performance in the Seattle arts events calendar.
Sedaris must have really missed Seattle during the pandemic, because he can’t seem to stay away: He just announced that he’ll be returning to Seattle in January 2022 for a weeklong stand at Broadway Performance Hall, where he’ll be performing intimate workshop readings from his forthcoming essay collection, “Happy-Go-Lucky.” We talked on the phone about his Seattle visits and much more in early September, the day before Sedaris was set to begin his book tour.
This pandemic has marked the longest you’ve gone without doing a reading tour in something like two decades, is that right?
Was it a relief to not perform for a couple of years, or is it a relief to be back to performing?
I remember when my spring 2020 tour got canceled, I had just heard from Ann Patchett, who was supposed to go on a book tour of her own. And she said, “I don’t want to be the reason that people congregate and get sick.”
And that had never occurred to me. That was the last thought from my mind. I was furious when things were getting canceled. I was like, “These cowards, how dare they?” It never occurred to me that people would gather in my name and then get sick and I would feel guilty.
Anyway, it’s been absolutely awful. On the one hand, [Sedaris’ boyfriend] Hugh and I have never spent so much time together, and we got along really well. It was really wonderful to spend time with him. It was great to be able to spend a whole lot of time with [Sedaris’ sister] Amy, and then there were friends who I kind of lost touch with, and it was great to spend a lot of time with them. We had dinner parties anywhere from two to four nights a week.
It was a lot of socializing and a lot of really good times with some pretty great people. But I’d trade it all for an audience.
Really? Wow. Does that feel healthy to you? No judgment, I’m just asking.
Well, I have a bottomless need for attention, and there’s not an amount that would fill the hole. When people say to me, “Oh my God, you’re going to, like, 70 cities. That must be awful.” I only say, “No, it’s not, it’s actually great.”
When I finish a tour, I’m just counting the days until the next one. I can’t wait to be in a hotel again.
Well, I’m happy for you. I do not understand it, but I’m happy for you. I want to talk a little bit about your most recent book, “A Carnival of Snackery,” which you’re touring to support. This is the second volume of your diaries, and it picks up in 2003. The earliest entries in the book are now a little under two decades old, and they talk about airport security theater and the war on terror and things that were in the front of everyone’s minds back then. When you were rereading these entries, did they feel recent to you, or did it feel like a long time ago?
It felt fairly recent. There’s always something going on at the airport. You know what I mean? It’s been ages since you could just breeze in and out of the airport.
It was good to remember how much we hated George W. Bush. When Trump came along, I would have given anything for George Bush. I think so fondly of George Bush now: “Oh, that kindly painter.”
I’d forgotten how impassioned we were about politics, with people saying things like, “Mitt Romney is a fascist.” Mitt Romney is so far from a fascist! I would’ve been delighted if Mitt Romney had been the president instead of Donald Trump. I think it’s always interesting when you don’t see what’s coming.
You’ve just announced that you’re coming back to Seattle in January for a week to do a series of readings, and I was wondering if you could explain what that’s all about.
I have an essay collection coming out in June, and there are bound to be a couple of essays that need work. Usually what I do is I go and I spend a week in a relatively small theater — like 200 seats, 300 seats — and then I just pound on these essays. I’ll read them out loud and go back to my room and rewrite them, and read them and rewrite them, and just try to pinpoint how to fix them.
I learn so much from an audience. One thing I can’t bear is to publish something that I haven’t had a chance to read out loud. So, there are a number of things that I published over the past year and a half but I don’t know how they work, or even if they work. They were in The New Yorker, or they were in The Guardian, or they were published here or there, but I’m really interested to see if they’re funny or not.
So that’s what I’ll do during that week. The essays will be a lot different at the beginning of the week than they are at the end.
When you’re in front of 2,200 people, you’re not going to read something that needs a lot of work, just because you don’t want to let people down. But if there’s 200 people in the audience and they know that they’re attending a workshop, then that’s a different thing.
This interview is scheduled to run in the Oct. 31 issue of The Seattle Times, so I think I’m legally obligated to ask: Do you like to dress up for Halloween?
No, I never really was that into it. I knew people who really worked on their costumes and they did a great job and I just felt like it’s just never anything I was very good at, so, I just left it to people who were good at it.
But I don’t think that it’s right to be sexy at Halloween.
No, I think you’re supposed to be scary. To put a silver wig on, that’s not scaring anybody.
Do you have any advice for anyone who’d want to dress up as you for Halloween?
I would be pretty easy to dress as for Halloween, really. But you can forget about using magic markers to put big gaps between your teeth because I got braces during the pandemic, so I don’t have gaps between my teeth anymore. So, that’s what I’m going to be debuting on the tour. It’s a huge difference. I was always so embarrassed and so ashamed that I’d cover my mouth when I spoke. I just wanted teeth that were unremarkable, that somebody would ask you, “What are his teeth like?” And you’d say, “I don’t know.”
And that’s what I wound up with. They’re appropriate to my age and I didn’t have them sandblasted while I was at it, but I got those invisible braces and it was great. It was the perfect time to do it.
And you look at yourself in the mirror now and you’re like, “That’s a perfectly unremarkable, age-appropriate set of teeth.”
I had not stood in front of the mirror with my mouth open in probably 40 years. It was a genuine phobia. I couldn’t do it. If someone took my picture and they said, “Smile.” I would smile, but with my lips closed.
But when the dentist finished and my braces were off, it’s the craziest thing, I forgot how to smile. I don’t know how to smile. So now I’ve been working on my smile. I stand in front of the mirror and I work on my smile and it just looks so fake. I can’t make a sincere smile anymore. It’s going to take years of practice to figure out how to do that.
Sedaris returns to Seattle at the Broadway Performance Hall for a series of workshops from Jan. 5-11. Details: sedaris.boldtypetickets.com.