Book readings are awful, pretentious things. Unless David Sedaris is behind the podium. Sedaris, The New Yorker’s go-to humorist, packed the Smith Center last Thursday, which is particularly impressive considering the last time I covered a book reading for the Weekly, only the author, our photographer and I showed up.
If any entertainer ever held an audience in the palm of his hand, it was Sedaris. He said, “Thank you so much for coming,” and everybody cracked up. Then he said that he was about to read something he’d written for an upcoming Ira Glass live show, and everybody burst into applause. Then he read the story’s first line: “To those who don’t travel often, the Courtyard Marriott might seem like a nice enough hotel.” Huge laugh, no punch line necessary.
His fans aren’t crazy, though. We’re conditioned. We knew the humor was right around the corner, and we couldn’t contain ourselves. We were right. It was.
The story about the Courtyard Marriott coffee shop was hilarious. It also happened to sum up my entire existence: Waiting in line to buy coffee behind two incredibly obnoxious (though somehow well-meaning) older people who, apparently, have never purchased a hot caffeinated beverage and need all kinds of coaching to make it happen. And then, after they finally place their order, we look to the barista for empathy (i.e., “Those two took forever, huh?”) only to find the barista is on their side.
If that essay were read at my funeral, I’d be fine with it.
And that’s the wonder of Sedaris: Everybody connects with his stories, whether he’s talking about a human taxidermy shop or a French dentist. He’s just like me, we think. And he’s famous! Hooray for us! That’s why we wait in line for three hours, after his reading, to get a book signed and to say hello.