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[whitespace] David Sedaris
Nigel Parry

Naked Eyes: David Sedaris offers up scathing satire at UCSC on Sunday.

Playwright, author and retired elf David Sedaris has a Jerry Springer instinct for the twisted, damaged and bizarre

By Kelly Luker

BEFORE HE HIT IT BIG as an author and regular NPR contributor, David Sedaris planned to be a visual artist. Although he attributes his successful writing career to "lucky breaks," don't believe it. Nope, Sedaris figured out something early in the game: When you got an itch, find the best way to scratch it.

Maybe visual artistry could have done justice to his 20/20 insight on human nature. Maybe visual artistry (though it would have been an unpleasant visual) could have given him a platform to rip off his own skin and expose those warts and bruises to the world. But one thing's guaranteed--art would have played ugly stepchild to the way this man can string words together about you and me--and especially David Sedaris.

    It was a short distance from the school to our rented house, no more than six hundred and thirty-seven steps, and on a good day I could make the trip in an hour, pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox or touch whichever single leaf or blade of grass demanded my attention.
    --"A Plague of Tics," an essay from Naked

Definitely a few bricks shy of a load in his early years, Sedaris now manages to do the almost impossible--writing with gut-busting humor about his obsessive-compulsive disorder, his possible Tourette's syndrome, his alcoholic mother and a whole host of dysfunctional, disabled characters that populate his life. His is satire and wit at its darkest, but that's what makes Sedaris the antidote for the excruciatingly sensitive (and hideously tiresome) memoirists who have recently proliferated across the bestseller list.

While others plumb nonexistent depths for the Meaning of It All, Sedaris just watches, hits the "on" button of his interior tape recorder and gives us the belly laughs.

Sedaris found an audience after being asked to read his "The SantaLand Diaries" on NPR a few years back. Describing his stint working as a Santa's elf for Macy's department store, Sedaris writes of the mornings set aside for the sick and deformed children to meet with Santa.

"On that day it is an elf's job to greet the child ... and jog back to the house to brace our Santa. 'The next one is missing a nose,' or 'Crystal has third-degree burns covering 90 percent of her body.' Missing a nose. With these children, Santa has to be careful not to ask, 'And what would you like for Christmas?' "

Sedaris followed his 1994 collection of essays, Barrel Fever (which includes "SantaLand Diaries"), with another collection, titled Naked, in 1997. For a special treat, listen to this on audio tape--Sedaris has the kind of conspiratorial voice that makes you think you're getting the scoop over the phone from your best friend.

It's that voice--and delivery--that puts Sedaris in the top tier of "must-see" authors who cruise into town. At UCSC on Sunday evening, Sedaris will read from Barrel Fever and Naked as well as new work from the forthcoming Holidays on Ice, a collection of essays on our favorite time of year. Trust Sedaris to make a hangman's noose out of all that tinsel and tree lights.

David Sedaris reads on Sunday (Nov 8) at 8pm at UCSC's Performing Arts Mainstage Theater. The show is sold out. For info, call 459-2159.

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From the November 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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