Celebrity Series of Boston Presents David Sedaris
Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 7 pm at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston Celebrity Series of Boston: 617-482-2595 or www.celebrityseries.org
David Sedaris seems to be the antithesis of celebrity in our celebrity-crazed society. Slight and bespectacled, he evokes Wally Cox, the television actor/comedian from the 50s and 60s. He strolls nonchalantly to a lectern on the bare stage of Symphony Hall, casually dressed in shirtsleeves, necktie, and khakis. It is somewhat surprising that he is accompanied by a young woman and a gray-haired man. What’s this? David, with an entourage? No, it is David taking advantage of a slice of life to purvey humor while playing matchmaker for Brooke, new in town and friendless, and Kevin, a good-looking 49-year old single (“I can’t for the life of me figure out why”) homosexual from Maine. After sharing some biographical notes about the pair, David says, “I’m pimping ‘em out,” and then goes on with the show.
There is little that is off-limits when Sedaris puts pen to paper, but not all of his subject matter is fit for polite society. Based on that and the waves of laughter emanating from the audience in jam-packed Symphony Hall last night, I’d venture to say that the polite folks stayed home. He does a continuing riff on the theme of colonoscopies and his father’s obsession with urging him to get one. “He works it into every conversation we have,” and even requested that David’s Christmas gift to him be the scheduling of the test. You’ll have to imagine the images he conjures up with graphic, albeit hilarious, language when describing the procedure, drawing from a deep well of euphemisms.
In his essay called “Understanding Owls,” he talks about the phenomenon of collecting and subsequently trying to rid oneself of vast stores of things of a like nature. Using his sister Amy as an example, when she got a pet rabbit, people began to buy her rabbit items although she insisted that the rabbit itself was enough. “This is what happens when you tell people that you like something. Nothing could stem the tide of crap.” After his boyfriend Hugh painted a mural of birds and purchased a book about owls, they began acquiring tsotchkes. David expounds on a visit to a London taxidermy shop where he hoped to procure a stuffed owl for Hugh as a Valentine’s Day gift. The taxidermist showed him several other items from his special collection that were hidden from public view and were mostly from the Homo sapiens species, causing David to remark that the proprietor “looked into my soul.”
David and Hugh reside off and on in Paris which provides rich fodder for “Dentists Without Borders,” a story featured in The New Yorker last month. He recounts his ongoing relationship with his laid-back French physician and his more satisfying encounters with his French periodontist, all by way of illustrating the gloriousness that is socialized medicine, to belie the sticks and stones heaped upon it during the American health care debate. Many of David’s essays have foreign settings (Amsterdam, Japan, Korea, Australia to mention a few) and take the audience on an international, verbal tour, laced with local customs and the author’s idiosyncratic points of view.
The most entertaining portion of the program is David Reading entries from his diary, what I would call the “lightning round” of the humorist’s repertoire. His datelines include such diverse locations as Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; and Perth and Melbourne, Australia. He talks about the people he meets at book signings and the unusual inscriptions he comes up with in an attempt to write something different every time. As he regales us with these quick strikes of levity, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quote: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train,” and imagine that is how Sedaris can tolerate his touring schedule.