Bass Hall got a little crowded on Thursday night.
And it wasn’t just the near-capacity audience of about 2,000 who turned out to see humorist, essayist, playwright and radio personality David Sedaris. It was also all the people (and even a few animals) he made so vivid with his stories and wry observations on the human condition.
There was a steady stream of friends and relatives, who especially enliven Sedaris’ care-free days at the North Carolina beach house he has dubbed the Sea Section to keep up with neighbors who had given their get-aways punny, coastal names like Dune Our Thing. But there were also plenty of strangers and brief acquaintances, such as the (sort of) doctor who removed a benign tumor from Sedaris in El Paso. Or the kid he gave an iPad, to help him while away his time while recovering from kidney surgery. And then there was the turtle for whom Sedaris saved that extracted tumor as a snack.
If all of this sounds completely reasonable, then you are obviously a Sedaris fan. His stock in trade is turning both the banal and the outrageous into deliciously bite-sized morsels of humor. Like a good standup comic, he observes life and distills it into laugh-evoking memoirs without passing any judgment about whether what he sees and experiences is totally weird or deceptively ordinary. It is all fodder for Sedaris’ sense of humor and talent for story-telling that Mark Twain would probably envy, if he had a radio.
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Sedaris read two stories — one previously published in The New Yorker magazine and another work in progress. The first told the story of his highly dubious decision to have a woman he met while signing his books to remove his tumor, and his doomed, Don Quixote-like quest to feed that discarded body part to a favorite snapping turtle back in North Carolina. The other focused primarily on life at the Sea Section, where his favorite games are Sorry and berating a young niece who plays the board game with all the subtly and compassion of a band of Huns sacking a village.
All of these stories rolled along so smoothly that it created the danger of missing how artfully they were crafted in terms of the placement of guffaw-worthy gems and the cleverness of how the stories folded back in on one another.
He followed these stories by reading a series of brief diary entries from his 40 years of jotting down the moments that would eventually fill pages in books and magazines, and hours on NPR. The stories were the albums, and the diary entries were the singles that were as quick and catchy as Abba hits.
One slightly odd aspect of Sedaris’ two-hour show was that, as diverse as his topics were, one of the few continuing threads was disease and body parts. There was the aforementioned tumor and kidney. We also heard about a horse with scoliosis. And even his beloved turtle was identifiable by a distinctive growth on his head.
At the show’s end, Sedaris had the lights brought up for some Q&A. In shows such as this, the queries from the audience are usually cringe-inducing. But let’s hear it for the NPR types. They ask good questions instead of just making fawning testimonials to the headliner.
The performance was opened by fellow writer and humorist Akhil Sharma, who read from his book, Family Life. Despite the geographical differences (Sharma spent his early years in his native India), his approach matched Sedaris well. When he told us that, as a child, he believed that his father had been assigned to his family by the government because he seemed to serve no purpose at all, it might have been Sedaris talking.