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The Missouri Review 30.1 (2007) 72-89

A Conversation with David Sedaris
Lania Knight

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David Sedaris

David Sedaris first came into the national spotlight in 1992, when Ira Glass asked him to read for Morning Edition on National Public Radio. At the time, Sedaris was living in New York City, working as a house cleaner. He read "Santaland Diaries" for NPR, an essay that [End Page 72] chronicles in meticulous, hilarious detail his odd experiences working in green tights as a Macy's elf.

Since that first reading, Sedaris has written the best-selling books Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice and several collections of essays, including Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. His radio pieces air on National Public Radio's This American Life, and his essays appear regularly in The New Yorker and Esquire. He also writes plays with his sister, Amy Sedaris, creator of the Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy. Along with David's partner, Hugh, they collaborate as "the Talent Family" on plays that have been produced at La Mama, Lincoln Center and The Drama Department, in New York City.

Sedaris recently edited an anthology to raise money for 826NYC, an organization dedicated to tutoring youth in Brooklyn, modeled on the successful 826 Valencia project in San Francisco. He currently divides his time between residences in New York, France and England and is working on his next book. Twice a year, Sedaris goes on lecture tours in the United States, reading his new work to audiences across the country. This interview took place on April 17, 2006, at a coffee shop in Wichita, Kansas, where he gave a reading that evening at the Orpheum Theater.

INTERVIEWER: I've heard you say that you're not the funny person in your family. Amy's funny. Your brother's funny. When did you figure out that you were funny?

SEDARIS: Oh, I'm not really. I can do things with paper sometimes, if you give me some time. But no, I'm observant. I know how to tell a story. You meet some people who don't know how, and they'll say, "It was me and Philip [End Page 73] and Elizabeth, and we were at dinner. No, wait, wait, 'cause Mark was there. Was Mark there? Or did Mark come later? I think Mark came later, with Tony . . ." And the audience is already gone.

Hugh and I argue about storytelling. He'll say, "Now, that's not true. You left out half the room. . ." He's talking about people who didn't contribute to the story. I would get rid of a lot, so we can move there quicker.

INTERVIEWER: Is writing plays with your sister Amy similar to writing your own essays and stories?

SEDARIS: No. When you're writing a story, it's completely private. You're struggling with it on your own. The way my sister and I work on a play is like this: three weeks before opening, we get together with a cast; we have a script, we read the script out loud and then throw the script away. And then say, "Fuck. We're opening in three weeks." Then you just start from the ground up all over again. You write a brand-new act and, practically still wet from the typewriter, you're bringing it to the theater and a group of people are reading it aloud.

It's important to listen to people when you're working on a play. There's a part of you that wants to say, "I stayed up all night writing that, goddamnit, and you're going to say it." But then someone like David Rakoff comes up with a line, and so what if you stayed up all night. Sorry you wasted your night. What he just said is funnier than—

INTERVIEWER: —what's on the page.

SEDARIS: Right. So that wins. We're going to go with that. We call ourselves "the...


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