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Hugh Hamrick

Never Read with a Monkey

Best-selling author David Sedaris is many things: hilarious, thought-provoking, generous -- but above all, he's empathetic. "I was in a small bookstore in Boston ... and they had speakers set up because there were people out on the sidewalk. I felt bad. I wouldn't want to be on the sidewalk. But it was especially bad because I had a monkey. Don't ever try to read with a monkey; they get all the attention."

Sedaris explained his position. "I do work with an organization called Helping Hands. They train monkeys to act as slaves for quadriplegics. They brought a monkey to my reading and she could sign books, and one of the things they're trained to do is turn the pages for quadriplegics. So I'm reading," Sedaris continued, "and the monkey is sitting next to me on the table turning the pages on a book so it looks like she's following along. At one point I was reading and I thought, 'God, I've never gotten laughs at this point in the story before,' and I look over and the monkey has crawled underneath her little blanket and is like a ghost, just hovering. I didn't even want to read. I just wanted to watch this monkey because everything she did was cute."

Named Humorist of the Year by Time magazine in 2001, Sedaris has written five novels, collaborated on a number of plays with his sister Amy, and is a regular contributor to The New Yorker, GQ, and Esquire. Furthermore, his spoken-word albums have earned him two Grammy nominations.

Sure, he's funny. He's hilarious. But underneath the humor (much of which is self-deprecating) lies a pathos and an eye for the small, seemingly inconsequential moments that speak volumes of the person, family, or situation. It's these small touches that keep his readers coming back for more and make his essays more than just funny stories. His books shoot to the top of the best-seller lists as soon as they're released, his appearances frequently sell out, and his book signings attract hundreds of people.

Even though Sedaris is in the midst of a grueling book tour, he still finds time to contribute stories. In this case, it was a piece for The New Yorker. Sedaris hadn't been too thrilled about the piece when he first received the assignment. Then he spoke to a friend who had been asked to be an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. She told him she was considering just calling back and politely declining the opportunity. "But then," Sedaris said, "your younger self taps you on the shoulder and says, 'What are you fucking thinking? The New Yorker asked you to write something! You can't get out of it. That's what you dreamed of your whole life.' I told my friend that you can't let your younger self down by getting out of something like that. You sort of have to do it."


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