David Sedaris @ Powerhouse Arena
Amy Sedaris is a thief. Not of the applaudable Robin Hood-esque, Wynona Rider mold. No, she’s a petite Carlos Mencia with a more convincing Mexican accent. Amy Sedaris, author of my heretofore favorite insult, stole the insult word for word. This comes verified and fact-checked from an unimpeachable source: a non-fiction author.
David Sedaris had been signing books for nearly five hours when I stepped up to request an insult. My plan was to incite some sibling rivalry, show him what Amy Sedaris could do with cutting words. Your sister, I explained, penned my favorite insult to date. Plus, if we can trust page views, “I’d call you a cunt, but you lack the warmth and depth,” is the most popular insult I’ve received to date, according to Google.
The insult sounds familiar, David said. Very familiar.
According to her brother, while that insult did come from a Sedaris, it was actually David who came up with it.
He remained unperturbed when I lowered my phone to show him the insult. In fact, David seemed much more interested in trying on my glasses and finding out where he could buy a pair, but chalk that up to a professional’s composure. He shook off the betrayal and channeled his inner turmoil into crafting new and better insults with which I could build a new Pantheon of Favorite Insults.
Both Sedaris siblings inspire rabid fandom in their followers. Amy probably has the advantage in passion and number from her role on Strangers with Candy, but I suspect David’s flock feels closer to and more invested in (and possibly more vicarious value from) his literary career.
While Amy appeared happy enough signing books for hundreds of fans at Barnes & Noble a few years back, she never outwardly approached the level of interest and focus that David aimed at his fans. It was as if he was reflecting the adoration of his fans back at them. Speaking to him became less about his more interesting life and all about yours. Where did you get those glasses? I like them. May I try them on? How much did they cost? Do you like them on me? Here, try mine. What do you think?
What do I think? I think I know why people like me are willing to walk to the Powerhouse Arena in a funny-if-it-weren’t-me torrential thunderstorm, with no guarantee that he’d truly sign books for everyone who came. I think I understand how 500 people could trade a weekend afternoon to talk to him for five minutes.
Sedaris speaks, intently, with what appears to be full attention, with each and every person in line, for anywhere up to ten minutes give or take. Which maybe doesn’t sound so impressive on its face. But imagine you had to meet, greet, shake hands, and generally be “on” with a few dozen of your girlfriend’s old high school buddies. Have a cold? Tough shit, get dressed, we’re going. Having a shitty day? Fuck you, get in the car, they’re waiting.
Oh, and they can’t wait for you to sign their old yearbooks. Some of them bring one book for each year of high school. Some bring multiple copies of the same yearbook, to sell on ebay (for some reason). And you have to be convincingly happy to see them, or else they’ll go on the internet and tell the world (and your girlfriend) about that time you were so drunk at a party you mistook a beer cooler for a toilet and shit yourself on it.
Now imagine you had to repeat that, over and over, in a different city every other day, sleeping in hotels and riding around in rented cars for days at a time with people you maybe met once at your girlfriend’s birthday party a few years back.
I’d be the lede on the local nightly news by the third week. “Mysterious hotel fire kills five.” But David sits calmly, laughs easily, and even though I couldn’t see a suspicious bulge on his thigh, he never once stopped for a toilet break. I’d call him a machine in powering through hundreds of signings, except he’s never robotic in his interactions. He chats, entertains, and signs with grace and skill. And a deceptive speed.
Before you know it, the conversation’s over, your books are signed, and it’s the next guy in line’s turn to stretch out in the warm light of Sedaris’s attention.
I walked away from the table feeling giddy. I’d gotten my insults and been charmed out of my metaphorical pants. I approached the serpentine line still stretching back to accommodate another hundred or so fans who’d come like I had: sans ticket, believing a stranger’s promise.
A middle-aged woman made way to let me pass and caught my eye. Though there’s no way she was taller than me, I felt as if I was looking up at her as I passed. I must have been unguardedly ecstatic, because her face lit up when I walked by. “Good for you,” she said. “Good for you.”