The first thing you notice about David Sedaris is his voice. High-pitched and squeaky, it seems more befitting of a nervous prepubescent boy and incites giggles as soon as he opens his mouth.
Luckily for Sedaris though, his voice wasn’t the only thing drawing laughs at his reading at the Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts in Morristown, N.J., on Thursday night.
The best-selling humorist and author of books like “Naked” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day” read only new works on Thursday, including an essay from his currently untitled new book to be released in June. Sedaris playfully solicited possible titles from those in attendance.
He also presented pieces from an essay slated to appear in The New Yorker in a few weeks and a piece for National Public Radio’s (NPR) “This American Life,” to which he has been a long-time contributor.
Sedaris’ delight in the absurdity of everyday life was readily apparent in the works he read, as he skewered everything from pretentious pronunciation of foreign words to his flatulent Greek grandmother.
In his first piece, he hilariously mimicked an art professor he once had who insisted on enunciating words like “Nicaragua” and “Chicano” with an affected Spanish accent. Sedaris recalled the glee in which he would ask the professor pointless and irrelevant questions, just to be rewarded with another pompous uttering.
“So professor, in your opinion, which Latin American country has the best coffee?”
The sarcastic Sedaris also harped on a former neighbor who used to provide him with ludicrous anecdotes, including a remedy for crib death.
He spun this tale into an essay about a house guest with the same propensity for linguistic pretension, who visited Sedaris and his partner Hugh at their house in France. The guest objected to Sedaris’ naming garden rabbits with ludicrous French adjectives, like the word for chagrin, and insisted on showing off his skilled French whenever given the chance.
Sedaris ended the story by revealing his new name for one of the rabbits who never seemed to leave, in memoriam to his house guest – “Thank fucking God he’s gone.”
Sedaris’ irreverent and unfailingly accurate descriptions gained big laughs from the audience as he compared a cantankerous old woman’s jaw to a “drawer pulled out” in a voice akin to gravel being stepped on. A Polish man distraught at the death of his mother had “hands like frying pans,” and Sedaris envisioned his dead mother with a potato for a nose.
In the essay about the Polish man, Sedaris explained being stuck next to the sobbing man on an eight-hour flight, and his uneasy reaction to his fellow passenger.
Caught in an uncomfortable situation, Sedaris tried to ignore the man’s unrelenting sobs by watching the Chris Rock movie “Down to Earth,” which caused him to dissolve in inappropriate laughter, which he tried to unsuccessfully stifle.
This scenario caused him to remember similar situations at the family dinner table years ago, when he and his brother and sisters, who include “Stranger’s with Candy” star Amy Sedaris, would ache with suppressed laughter at their elderly Greek grandmother, who would unconsciously and loudly fart to the hilarity of her grandchildren and fury of Sedaris’ father.
“My father kept a metal spoon next to the table to hit us with. Some nights the spoon was covered in blood and a mixture of hair,” Sedaris recounted.
After his reading, Sedaris answered a few questions from the audience, on subjects ranging from whether he would ever write serious work to the character of Vicky Buchanan from “One Life to Live,” whom Sedaris worships.
At every reading he recommends a book, and at this stop it was Richard Yates’ “The Easter Parade.”
“It’s just so depressing,” Sedaris said. “Maybe I’m not doing a good job of selling it.”
He then signed books for his adoring fans, many of which queued up and down stairs for a chance to meet the author, who chatted amiably with each fan for a few minutes and waited almost three hours until the last book had been signed.
Sedaris grew up in North Carolina with his large Greek family, who are mentioned frequently in his memoir-style essays that recount his eccentric life and personality in Sedaris’ self-deprecating and exaggerated voice. He became popular after reading his essays, “The SantaLand Diaries” on NPR, which chronicled a job he once took as an elf at a department store.
His most recent book, 2004’s “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” was number one for nonfiction on The New York Times bestseller list.