David Sedaris: Interview

But I don't get the sense that you went to Tokyo because it would give you a better backdrop for a story, or if I go do this, it will lead to a good piece... You aren't putting yourself in situations to lead you to a story.

The last time I did that, I did it when I went to the nudist colony. But in the book, I couldn't say, 'Oh, I went to a nudist colony because I wanted something to write about,' because that would draw too much attention to me as a writer. And if you draw attention to yourself as a writer, people will say 'You call that writing?!' So, I didn't want to do that. So then I had to be false in my motivation, and make it sound like 'Oh, I just wanted to be comfortable with my body.' That's one of the reasons the whole thing didn't work out.

And I'm at my happiest reading you when you're at your most uncomfortable. When you're at your angstiest, that's when it's best for me as a reader. I don't know if that's representative of your fan base, that the more miserable you get, the happier we'll all be.

(laughs) Well that was something that when I went to the medical examiner's office, when I just started writing for Esquire, they said I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I always wanted to see a lot of dead people. And I knew there was no way I could get in on my own. So, I went and I saw dead people, and I was very happy. The problem was that I had to write about it, and I wasn't ready to write about it. But they were ready to publish it.

Oh, OK... When I read about you being there in the book, I was like, why is this happening? Why is he there? I don't think you ever explained that part, you're just getting up in the morning and going to work with the dead people...

Yeah, right.

I actually wrote obituaries for two years, and I'd become friends with all the funeral directors and the coroners, so they were always like, 'If you ever want to see an autopsy, just let us know... as long as it's not a murder, because then you'd have to be on the list of people in attendance and it would be read in court... but otherwise, come on in.'

Did you?

No, I never got to do it and totally missed that opportunity.

My problem was that I had to turn around and write about it. And I did, for the magazine, but I wasn't happy with it. So, I thought, I'll write it again my own way. But as I get older and as I get closer to my own death, I look back on it all differently. But I feel perfectly within my rights to write about it again. And again in another 10 years if I feel like it.

But that was the last time I did something expressly for a story. Some people are really good at it. Like my friend David Rakoff I think it really good at it. I'm just not. And people always want to send you places. Like, a magazine called one time and wanted me to stowaway on a ship, and that's just goofy to me.

And you write sort-of in memoir, and you're a gay author, but you seem to avoid all the clichés... you've never done the classic coming out story, having a crush on a boy in school...are you specifically avoiding those because they're played out?

Because my family was really pretty cool... I feel like I did write a coming out story, but it's four pages long. It was in my last book. I was very lucky, my family was like, 'Oh, OK.' There's really not that much to say about it.

For some people that's a whole book.

But some people have really good stories. Their parents kick them out of the house, they get sent to a religious training camp or something like that. But for me, it wasn't that big of a deal.

And are you joking at all when you say you expressly quit smoking because nice hotels banned it?

It's the only reason I quit smoking.


The *only* reason I quit smoking.

It just doesn't seem to be enough to curb an addiction...

Well, I started this book tour on June 2 and I've not had a day off yet. Today, my flight got in late, and I had two radio interviews, I rushed to get here, and I don't know how long this will go on tonight, but I'm staying with my best friend in San Francisco... and in Austin, Texas, the schedule was even worse. But, if I can go back to the Four Seasons, I can do it.


(laughs) But if it's a lesser hotel, I just can't. But I couldn't smoke part-time. Like hotels that went non-smoking would say, 'Oh, you can go out on our patio...' But, if you're a real smoker, you're not going to go out on the patio. You smoke all the time. You're not going to be comfortable going outside every 10 minutes, so I couldn't live like that.

But, really, it's the only reason. If I got cancer tomorrow, I'd start smoking again, if I knew that I'd never have to stay in another hotel. I'd start smoking again. I love it. It was one and a half to two packs a day, for 30 years. But in terms of traveling and these tours, it's made things much, much easier.

But how much time do you have to be public "David Sedaris"?

Two months out of the year. And my normal life isn't anything like this, it's just a Jekyll and Hyde.

How often do people come up to you and ask if you're David Sedaris?

In Europe, it never happens. In the United States, like, you know... I was on a plane the other day, and this woman turned around, and I thought she was going to say, 'Would you get your fucking knees off the back of my seat?' Instead, she said, 'I tried to get into your reading last night, and I couldn't. Would you sign my copy of your book?' At the airport people come up to me... I think it's because I was on Jon Stewart's show and when you're on TV, you're more public that way.

And what is with the knees on the back of the seat in planes? You mention that in the book, too.

If I'm in my seat, and this is the seat in front of me... I put my knees on that seat (he demonstrates using the store manager's desk as the seat in front of him, almost pulling his knees up like he's curling into a ball). And then people are like, 'Do you mind?!'

So, sometimes I wait until we liftoff to do it, because their seat is going back anyway, so they won't notice it as much. But then when you get tired of doing that, you've got to e-e-e-e-ase off, because you don't want them to feel their seatback move. So, you have to do it slowly. (laughs)

But when I go home, I'm a foreigner. I'm the lowest life form. And in my village in Normandy, nobody cares that I wrote a book. Nobody. The books come out in French, and I give them to my neighbors as a courtesy, but they don't read them.


msquared's picture


Kudos on catching a chat with David Sedaris! 'Twas interesting. I REALLY need to read some of his books, though...

“Never forget! The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

ACCgirl's picture


I've only read Me Talk Pretty One Day and I absolutely loved it. Been meaning to get back to this author and read more. He's such an intelligent man - a wonderful observer of human nature. :-)