Calypso is the latest offering from humorist and New York Times bestselling author David Sedaris. The North Carolina native now lives in England and is among the latest class of inductees into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His book tour will bring him to The Palace Theatre in Stamford on April 11.
For those who only know you for your writing and haven’t seen you live, what can they expect?
Oh gosh, I’m not the best person at selling myself. I just read out loud. It sounds so dull. I just stand in front of people and read out loud. But one thing I’ve added to just standing in front of people and reading out loud is I’ve really put a lot of effort into my wardrobe now.
I saw you with the clown makeup on This American Life.
Whenever I see clowns I just always think, “Gosh, that guy looks good.” And so, I dress like an absolute clown now. The makeup is a little hard because it’s hard to get off when it’s a lot. If you touch your nose and then you touch something it gets all over the place. But that was my idea to add the clown makeup for that This American Life thing, and I thought it was a really good one. I’m really excited about this jacket I just bought to wear on this tour. It’s a pink sportcoat, and over the pink sportcoat is a plaid sportcoat, so it’s two sportcoats at the same time. But the second one is plaid, like a madras, and one half is one pattern and the other half is another pattern and it just hangs in tatters. It’s like a clown was attacked by a tiger.
How does one become a humorist?
I kind of feel like it’s a term you need to age into. I rejected it for a long time because it seemed like the kind of thing you would call a guy who has a cardigan with patches on the elbows. But now I have a cardigan with patches on the elbows.
Do you have a time limit for this interview?
No. My boyfriend [Hugh Hamrick], we got to the United States on Friday and I bought a box of chocolates for his mother. He went to the post office to mail them and I gave him my Apple Watch so he could get steps for me. So I have no idea what time it is.
We know your stories affect the audience. What effect does reading these stories have on you?
I never thought of writing as cathartic. But it does help me make sense of the world. Over all these years, I’ve gotten used to looking at an event and then maybe connecting it to another event and thinking how I could turn it into an essay. I came to the United States because Hugh and I are buying an apartment in New York. We had to meet with the co-op board. And they don’t give you a lot of lead time. Then I got news at the same time that my father was dying in the hospital. So we flew to North Carolina. And this is my father all over. My father’s 96 years old. The second he hears that I spent a fortune buying last-minute tickets to the United States, he gets better. He gets better! When we get to North Carolina, I’m already thinking, “Oh good, I can write a story that takes place in the hospital.” He’s back at the home where he lives.
So he’s OK now?
Yeah, he’s getting better, but I’m so glad that I went. And of course I’m gonna write about it. My father and I had this conversation, and it was really, really hard for him to talk. He and I have been at each other’s throats all of our lives. And he said something to me, and I was like, “What did you say?” If it was in a movie or something you wouldn’t believe it. And that could be a challenge. Making the truth sound like the truth. Sometimes the truth just sounds so unbelievable. Luckily I had a room full of witnesses. It’s hard for me to believe when I read that out loud in front of an audience that I’m not gonna feel something. My sister Tiffany committed suicide a number of years ago. I wrote this essay about it that was in The New Yorker, and there’s a point in the essay when I say to my father, “Why do you think she did it?” And for some reason that one line, out of all the lines in that essay, it just kills me. It kills me to read that question. So I think, oh no, that’s coming up in two paragraphs. So I have to think of something else. So I think, gosh, what if I painted my door a different color at the house in London? What if I painted that orange? Would orange be a good color for that door? And then I just think of that until I’m through it.
Do you have a personal experience that would make for a great essay or story to tell but it’s just beyond your comfort zone to put it out there?
Oh yeah. It’s a writing assignment in class: the most difficult thing to write about, write about that. And I just don’t have the guts. I know exactly what it is. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the person still being alive. They were asleep. [Laughs] Maybe one day. I don’t know. And I don’t know if it’s that I don’t have the skill to do it. But you know, it’s always the most difficult thing to admit; that’s the thing that everyone’s going to relate to. Because you’re not alone.
April 11 | 7:30 p.m.
The Palace Theatre | Stamford