David Sedaris: The Secret to Getting Along with Your Family
David Sedaris: I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR, and Terry Gross was interviewing [late-night talk show host] Jimmy Kimmel. He told her that he and his sisters used to come home from school and find their mother on the floor, motionless, as if she had fallen all the way down the stairs. She was pretending to be dead! She would keep it up until Jimmy and his sister started crying. They fell for it again and again. Terry asked him how his family could stand him, why they're even still talking to him, given how often they are the butts of his jokes. I shouted to the radio, "Because they have a sense of humor!" People are always telling me they love reading about our "dysfunctional family," but I think, "How is it dysfunctional?" Maybe there's one sibling out of six of us whom nobody really talks to, but that's pretty normal. The rest of us are in touch with each other all the time.
LH: How is your dad doing?
DS: He's 90 years old, and he goes spinning four or five times a week. He does all of his own shopping and cooking, and he never forgets anyone's name. He lives by himself in the neighborhood in North Carolina where we grew up—everyone his age is dead except him. They all sold their houses and moved into retirement places. It's people in their 50s—my age—who are his neighbors, and they're crazy about him.
LH: And he doesn't mind when he is the subject of your stories, like when he starts bugging you to get a colonoscopy even though you were only 21 at the time?
DS: Money means a lot to my Dad. Basically, he doesn't mind if I'm making money off doing it. That I'm making money doing it makes him proud, even if I'm making money writing about him sitting in his underpants hitting me over the head. He'd be: "Attaboy! Good for you. You figured out a way to make some money."
LH: Are there certain comedians who've inspired you?
DS: I used to buy Bill Cosby's comedy records, and later on, George Carlin's. These days, I like the podcast WTF with Marc Maron. He's a comedian who interviews other comedians, and what makes it good is that no one just does shtick on his show—they just talk shop. It's exposed me to a lot of people I wasn't familiar with before.
LH: Is there one comedian who's had a really significant impact on you?
DS: I'd have to say Whoopi Goldberg was a huge influence. I had a videotape of her first Broadway show, and I bet I watched it 75 times. What I liked about it was that she's such a great performer that it didn't really matter if you were totally blind—you still would've gotten everything. It was the stories she told and the way they were monologues but [that] they always came back around. Every one of them had meat to them. It wasn't just that she was funny. My sister Amy was in Second City, so I would go to Second City shows and laugh and laugh and laugh, but afterward I wouldn't remember anything about them. But in Whoopi's stories, there was some sorrow stuck to them, which made them more memorable—that moment when the story turned and you had to ask yourself questions. You felt like you were entering the story, not just witnessing it. It had never occurred to me before then that a person could make a living reading out loud. She made me realize that although I'm not an actor, and [that] I could never do what she does onstage, I can do what I do onstage.
Next: The book he reads over and over again