Renowned humorist and New Yorker contributor David Sedaris took to the stage at the Staller Center on Thursday night for an evening of side-splitting humor dug from the innermost corners of his personal life.
“My daughter actually brought [Sedaris] to my attention,” audience member Adrienne Woodduck said. “He has such a dry sense of humor. I love the way he can just say the most disgusting things and remain so nonchalant.”
After being introduced by longtime friend and opening act Jeffrey Jenkins, Sedaris opened the evening with a tongue-in-cheek trigger warning, letting his audience know something vulgar was in store.
The essay he began to read just after was a collection of insults people say while driving a car, usually after they’ve been cut off.
After years of touring around the world, Sedaris compiled an international database of driving insults.
From the Dutch, there were disease-ridden jests like “cholera sufferer” and “cancer whore,” which could be switched out in any given situation with “cancer slut.”
In Bulgaria, they say “may you build a house from your kidney stones.”
“Those Bulgarians don’t fool around,” Sedaris said. “Though no one can come close to the Romanians.”
Dubbing them “the champions of cursing,” Sedaris let loose a plethora of Romanian invective. “I s*** in your mother’s mouth” was among the most common curses, but other mother-directed insults made the cut as well. “I f*** your mother’s dead,” and “I f*** your mother’s Christ,” and perhaps the worst of all, “I drag my balls across your mother’s memorial cake.”
By this point in the show, everyone who wasn’t in shock was in stitches.
After loosening up the crowd with his opening piece, Sedaris’ next reading focused on his aging father. While not lacking in laughs, Sedaris’ essay touched on themes of frailty and mortality, and seemed to eek humor out of his father’s idiosyncrasies in old age as an alternative to sadness. Sedaris reflected on growing old multiple times in the show, adding vulnerability and heart to a mostly-funny mixture.
“The secret to dad’s longevity isn’t diet or exercise or even genes,” Sedaris said. “He’s just late for death.”
After the show, Jesse Hayward, an audience member and IT technician working in Stony Brook, commented on the structure of Sedaris’ performance, arguing that the comedian softened the blow of his more serious material with a whimsical opening piece.
“He knows where to sprinkle the humor to keep you involved,” Hayward said. “I thought it was pretty interesting how he worked in his more serious stuff, I think the jokes at the beginning were maybe just to reel people in.”
Following the piece about his father, Sedaris’ last piece of the night also reflecting on aging, specifically his fear that he might one day defecate himself while on one of the many flights he takes during his tours. In his typical style, Sedaris spoke of the possibility, even calling it “the ultimate disgrace,” as casually as if he were reading the day’s
“You have to kill yourself,” Sedaris said. “I believe I’d smash my glasses and cut open a vein, because there’s no coming back from that.”
Apart from his usual essays, Sedaris spent time reading excerpts from his new book “Theft by Finding,” a collection of diary entries written over the past 40 years. Sedaris has written 157 diaries in total, and has made a career out of their humor and insight. His first appearance on NPR on Dec. 23, 1992 was an eight-minute reading of a diary entry and it earned him overnight notoriety and a job offer to write for Seinfeld.
Sedaris’ diary entries touched on his observations and musings about everything from dating, to accidents, to toenails.
“Feb. 5, 1982, I stepped on a nail,” Sedaris said in one example. “Afterward I had to pry it out of my foot, I mean it was literally all the way in the board. Now my foot is swollen…on the bright side, it has taken my mind off my inflamed penis.”
Sedaris’ diary anthology, “Theft by Finding,” is available online and in bookstores everywhere. Jenkins’ retrospective book on Sedaris’ diaries, “David Sedaris Diaries: A Visual Compendium,” was just published on Oct. 10, and can be found on Amazon and in Barnes and Noble.