Essayist David Sedaris brings the house down at the Garde

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The only thing more entertaining than reading David Sedaris’ hilarious writing is hearing Sedaris read it aloud.

So it was when the essayist read some of his works to a full house at the Garde Arts Center in New London on Saturday.

His delivery was the perfect vehicle for his wit. He knew when to lean into a shrewd observation or clever line. In one story, he amusingly adopted the confident, slightly loud voice of Lonnie, a guy who taught Sedaris and his sister Lisa how to shoot guns at a range in a strip mall — and who kept mistakenly calling Sedaris “Mike.”

Over the years, Sedaris has developed an enthusiastic following for his writing. His breakthrough was “Santaland Diaries,” in which he wrote about his brief time as an elf at Macy’s. He read it on NPR in 1992, and his fan base grew exponentially. He has penned numerous collections since then, including “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.”

At the Garde, Sedaris mostly refrained from recitations from past publications. Instead, he dipped into his new book, “Calypso,” which is out in May; touched on diary entries that are published in “Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)” and an upcoming release; and offered up two essays he is still developing. For those latter two, he made notes on the printouts, explaining later that he likes to mark what inspired an audience response or what he realizes he might want to cut.

Introducing one essay, he said that his husband, Hugh, had suggested Sedaris cut it from “Calypso,” believing that nobody would want to hear it. Sedaris’ response? “I knew I had a hit on my hands.”

And, based on the audience reaction, he certainly does. The piece centered on what wackily inventive and just-plain-odd insults that residents of various countries hurl at bad drivers. Most of those insults can’t be repeated in a family newspaper (which is a shame, because they are a riot — make sure you read the essay when “Calypso” comes out). But here is one we can reference: a Bulgarian told Sedaris, “In my country, you say to someone you hate, ‘May you build a house from your kidney stones.’” This is, Sedaris noted, essentially wishing someone “an eternity of gut-wrenching pain.” Sedaris explained that he had suffered through three kidney stones that were excruciating. “The thought of passing enough of them to build an entire house — even if it was just big enough for a termite to live in — is unfathomable.”

What in lesser hands could seem stream of consciousness becomes a somehow sensible if slightly Alice-in-Wonderland journey with Sedaris. His tale about his cracked tooth wound its way through Australia and Japan, and through Sedaris getting a spray tan and eating in a tiny, cat-plagued restaurant. Somehow, it all hung together.

We know that Sedaris’ writing is droll, but he was quick with a little improv, too. When a repetitive metallic banging could be heard inside the Garde while Sedaris was reading, he finally looked offstage and said to someone, “It sounds like there’s a robot walking backstage.” He heard an answer and said, incredulously, “The boiler?”

Thank you to the Garde for (presumably) turning off the boiler for the remainder of the night so the crowd could listen to Sedaris unimpeded.

Sedaris’ presentation was simple: he stood behind a podium onstage, read his essays and talked to the crowd. He is 61 but looked much younger (which is amazing, because, as he has written, he and his siblings sunbathed with great determination when they were younger) and exuded a sparky energy.

He wore quite an eye-catching ensemble. Sedaris referenced a piece be wrote for The New Yorker about the, shall we say, quirky clothing he loves to buy when he’s on trips to Tokyo with his sisters. And that’s where he bought his Saturday outfit: a white button-down shirt that went all the way to his ankles, a blazer with a cut-out back, and what he said were clown shoes. “I look good,” he drawled. (During the Q&A section of the night, someone asked how much the shirt cost, and he replied it was $340, which caused some gasps in the audience. “When you’re rich, that is how much stuff costs,” he said, prompting hoots of laughter.)

It was lovely to see that the very successful Sedaris is generous with sharing the spotlight with writers he believes are deserving. He had Cindy House read one of her essays, serving as an opening act of sorts. And Sedaris read a bit of Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Homesick for Another World,” touting this collection of short stories. He said he usually recommends a book during his talks.

That’s a very nice touch.


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