Last Night: David Sedaris at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

David Sedaris

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami

Better Than: Being Engulfed In Flames

Near the beginning of his set at the Adrienne Arsht Center, David Sedaris gave a shout-out to the teenagers in the crowd, a thank-you so cynical and absurd -- and yet so perfectly accurate -- that it could only be described as Sedarisian.

"Instead of taking bong hits in a stolen car or getting pregnant in a neighbor's tool shed, you came here," Sedaris said, "to listen to a middle aged man read out of a book."

That, in fact, is exactly what hundreds of Sedaris fans packed the Arsht Center for on Wednesday night. And they had a damned good time, thank you very much.

Reading mostly from his unpublished or soon-to-be published works, Sedaris painted the crowd into his bizarre and hilarious life, from shopping for bulk-sized packages of condoms (in a box the size of a "cinder block") and strawberries at CostCo with his brother-in-law to dressing the dead bees at his home in France in tiny tin-foil suits of armor and naming the rabbits in the backyard after jaunty-sounding French words like "tiles" and "moist."

Appropriately for a show held during the third and final presidential debates, Sedaris tackled politics in his second piece, a pending article for the New Yorker that tries to pin down who exactly remains an "undecided" voter. The only appropriate analogy, to Sedaris, would be if a flight attendant approached with in-flight service and offered either "the chicken, or human shit. Full of broken glass." Whoever these "undecideds" are, Sedaris said, would have to ask, "How's the chicken cooked?" before making a choice.

If there was a stumble in the show, it came when Sedaris read a story from a series of animal "fables" he's says he's been working on. The tale of a cat and a baboon trying to relate over a massage was funny, but it lacked the punch and true sense of the everyday ridiculous that Sedaris has shown an unmatched talent for pulling from his own life in his classics "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "Naked."

Fortunately, for most of the show that's exactly where Sedaris stayed, with stories of Sri Lankan cab drivers planning to take their young children to all seven continents to get in the Guinness Book of World Records, a college teacher who enjoyed saying "Nicaragua" and "Latina" in a Spanish accent way too much, and Sedaris' decision to write in former California Gov. Jerry Brown for president when he was 19 because he'd heard Brown liked to smoke pot.

"Humor is what happens when we're told the truth quicker and more directly than we're used to," Sedaris said, reading from 'Braindead Megaphone,' a book by George Saunders that Sedaris recommended to the crowd.

When the truth is as outrageous as it seems to be in Sedaris' everyday life, that's doubly true.

Personal Bias: Ever since reading the classic story in "Me Talk Pretty One Day" about trying to communicate about Easter traditions in multicultural French class with no common language -- the result were statements like “the son of your father died on two morsels of wood," describing Jesus' death -- I've been a sucker for Sedaris' tales of trying to communicate in France. A story about a friend trying a little too hard to sound French nearly killed me.

Random Detail: Sedaris took some questions after the reading, and revealed his dream job if he couldn't be a writer: taxidermist.

By the Way:: Despite signing books before and after the reading, an hours-long line stretched around the Arsht Center lobby at the end of the night. Those fans want their autographed books, apparently.

-- Tim Elfrink

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