Literary rockstar David Sedaris on YouTube critics, gay marriage and writing about friendly pedophiles
SUNDAY WITH SEDARIS
David Sedaris speaks at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium, 6400 Hillcrest Ave on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
April 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets, $25-$65. Sold out.
Acerbic and openly gay, David Sedaris may be considered America’s funniest writer. In his latest collection of essays, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" (Little, Brown), the North Carolina-raised humorist details cringe-inducing experiences: fighting with people on airplanes, wearing fake (women’s) nylon-padded underwear and even a bizarre, brief friendship with a neighborhood child molester.
These days living in France and England, Sedaris returns to the U.S. for a speaking tour. On Sunday, he stops in Big D for a sold-out gig at McFarlin Auditorium — the rockstar appearance of this year’s Arts & Letters Live series.
Sedaris recently chatted about his Gawker-alleged advances towards male fans and marrying his boyfriend, Hugh Hamrick, in order to save money.
Years ago, you mentioned that you had started — but didn’t finish — writing an essay about befriending a neighborhood child molester. That story now appears in "Flames," so, how did you find your way to completing it? Well, it helped that he died.
I didn’t have to worry about him being hurt by the story, but even then it took me a few years to write. Someone was commenting, "Why is it you have sympathy for a child molester but you have no sympathy for a woman who wants to swap seats with you on a plane?"
And I thought, "Well, the child molester never did anything to me, he was always nice to me." But I think often you have to get a certain distance from a story in order to write about it.
Now that you have mined most of your life for material, how do you go about filling up the well with fresh experiences for stories? Ever turn to Craigslist? No, I don’t know anything about it. I got my very first e-mail last year — the first one in my life.
The Internet is so new to me. I didn’t realize you could just go on and lie about people. I can get on a computer right now and write "Michelle Obama said to me she hates Jews."
Somebody called me the other day, "Oh, there’s that thing on Gawker that you try to pick guys up during your readings."
I’ve never done that — ever, ever, ever!
When I go on tour, I will have gifts for teenage girls because I’m always honored when they come, and it’s fun to make a big deal out of a teenager. I take the shampoo and conditioners from my room. I’ll often talk about how pretty she is, like, "It must be so good to be you," and "you’re what guys in prison dream about."
But a guy? I won’t talk like that to a teenage boy because I don’t want it to be weird or uncomfortable. Early on, I saw somebody on a book tour try to pick someone up from the audience. They respect you and are in awe of you, so it would be weird to put any move on them. Plus, I’m involved with somebody. So I was appalled because I’ve never done a thing like that.
Anything else online that’s surprised you? I went on YouTube to hear Billie Holiday, and then it said, "What do you think of this?"
It’s Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" in 1955.
What do you mean, "What do you think of it?" Who the fuck cares? Are you going to give a thumbs-down?
And then someone commented, "Oh, she needs to take singing lessons from Diana Ross, there’s somebody who knows how to sing."
Then someone below that responded, ‘Shut up, asshole!"
And the other person said, "You’re an asshole. You shut up."
I didn’t know that stuff existed! It’s like talking during a concert — Shut the fuck up! Billie Holiday is singing!
During the James Fry controversy over fabrication in memoirs, an article in The New Republic lumped you in as one of the guilty. Your thoughts on that, a year later? That writer is an editor at Outside Magazine: He fact-checks and fixes grammar in stories about camping.
He went to North Carolina with my book "Naked," and this was a book in which a cat is hit by a car, dies, comes back to life and speaks English — and that’s the book he’s fact-checking.
He came up with things, like, I got the building style wrong in the mental hospital where I volunteered when I was 15. I don’t really feel like he came up with anything. If it was a story on the styles of buildings, of mental hospitals in the United States, then I think that would be pretty glaring, but people don’t read me for that. I’m a humorist. So I guess I was surprised.
You have homes in London and France, where same-sex civil unions are legal. Do you keep an eye on the gay marriage struggle here in the USA? I guess it’s one of those things where when people oppose it I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I watched this Chris Rock concert, and he was talking about how people say gay marriage threatens the sanctity of straight marriage … but Michael Jackson got married. There are shows like "I Want to Marry a Millionaire."
How sacred can it be?
It’s just something I don’t understand the opposition to. I don’t understand how, if two lesbians want to exchange bad poetry on a mountaintop, that would threaten the marriage of the people who grew up next door to me in North Carolina. I don’t get it.
Will you and Hugh get hitched? We’ve been together for 17 years. I know straight people who just don’t see the need to get married, they just live together, and I think we’re like that. That said, if you handed me a piece of paper and said you can save 18 cents by signing this piece of paper, I would sign the piece of paper.
In France right now, they have civil unions, but Hugh and I haven’t done it yet. So if I were to die tomorrow he would have to pay 60 percent inheritance tax on our apartment. It would go down to 30 percent if we had a civil union. It saves money, so I would do it because it saves money.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2009.