David Sedaris (Merriam Theater, 15Oct 2011)

David Sedaris, walking in the rain

David Sedaris, a funny man, as pictured in the promotional poster

What They Said It Would Be:

From the Kimmel Center website: Today’s pre-eminent humor writer, David Sedaris, shares his highly sardonic wit and incisive social critique during an evening of laugh-out-loud storytelling in the Merriam Theater on Saturday, October 15, 2011. The NPR humorist and best-selling author of Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and the recently released Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary will discuss his latest topics of discourse.

How could anyone not love a live reading by David Sedaris?  His comic presentation included so many references to world travels that I left the show really wishing I knew even more about his life.  Sedaris’ various book tours and speaking engagements take him to many cities in the United States, yet his stories include many tales of his elegant and privileged life abroad in London and France.   Sedaris is certainly not describing the typical life experience of the common man, but even as a member of that lowly general population who is forced to live in one country and retain only a single place of residence, I still love his snarky observations and comedic stories of life on the road. 

I don’t particularly mind Sedaris’ frequent use of foul language, but I admit that I was surprised by the number of profanities—and the occasional in-your-face abortion references–that were featured in his readings.  Perhaps I just felt that Sedaris’ authorship is so engaging and funny that these shock-value moments just seemed unnecessary. 

My highlight moment of the evening was he told us about his fatty tumor.  That was pretty funny.


I’m a total poser here—I never read any of Sedaris’ books, though I’ve often appreciated his contributions to NPR.  I should confess that when I first heard him doing a piece on This American Life, I found him slightly annoying, probably due to the overwhelming “snark” content in his average reading.  Later, when I became more familiar with his trademark dry delivery and his willing embodiment of the “I’m truly an asshole” brand of humor (sort of like Larry David, only much gayer), I came around.  Today, I usually find his monologs and anecdotes pretty funny, if a bit repetitive in tone and pacing. 

We attended Sedaris’ live show as an anniversary outing, which seemed entirely fitting to our relationship—he’s an unabashed cynic who openly mocks pop culture and pop people (some of our favorite shared activities) and a loudmouthed liberal with a shockingly barbed wit (at least we’ve got the first part down pat).  All in all, it was a nice round-out to a day full of art, having toured a special exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art only hours before.

Unfortunately, given my late discovery of this event, I acquired two of the worst seats in the Merriam theater—upper deck, 2nd to last row.  The vertigo might have made some people sick (the Merriam is one of those classic theaters where a seat in the upper balcony feels like a perch atop a small skyscraper) but since this was spoken-word humor, it actually didn’t matter at all.  Bonus: our seats were all of 20 feet from the alcoholic beverage cart.  Winning!

Sedaris read and talked for about 90 minutes, no intermission.  His presentation was delivered from written notes read aloud, though I was never certain if the pieces were part of his recent book (the ostensible reason for the show), or just comic stuff tailored for the live tour.  The entire monolog was delivered from an unadorned podium and included zero special effects, props, or any other flashy touches.  This was straight Sedaris, no frills—you might as well have been listening to him on the radio, though I didn’t really expect anything else.

It was, indeed, pretty funny.  The overall tone of “I’m a liberal, I’m proud of it, and I’ve got a big mouth” was set in the opening moments, as Sedaris opened the show with a declaration that he has finally decided that he is not running for President, segueing  into a review of the circuslike Republican field of candidates.  This strong, audacious opening received approving roars of laughter from the entire room, though I couldn’t help but notice that the couple next to us was stony-faced for this piece, and much of the remaining show.  Hey—it’s Philadelphia, a city as blue as they come, so Sedaris was definitely in friendly territory. 

Other bits focused on less controversial topics, though the entire evening was unmistakably laced with a lot of items and issues that surely kill his appeal with the social conservative set.  As Tara mentions, much of his humor is pretty raw, relying on shock value and the “I can’t believe he said that” style of jokes.  Sedaris knowingly plays his soft-spoken, intellectual demeanor against his frequently crass and decidedly non-PC musings to great advantage—he’s made a career out of this single basic formula.  I didn’t find any of his jokes particularly surprising or off-putting myself, though if anything, I found his measured deployment almost predictable.  . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . abortion joke! 

Overall, it was a good time and a worthwhile experience.  Had it not been our anniversary, I doubt we would have willingly paid $60 (after fees) for a ticket, but all things considered, the show allowed us a chance to see a new (to us) venue and a comic mind who we both enjoy.



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