Poking fun, with love

For the next few days, I am going to write about my favorite humorists. This is my effort at reminding myself that there’s still lots of stuff in life that can make me laugh (with pleasure, not hysteria).

I’ll begin with David Sedaris. I was introduced to him by an ex- colleague who gifted me Me Talk Pretty One Day (easily the best gift I’ve ever received). I’ve been hooked ever since. Sedaris will be no stranger to regular readers of the New Yorker, or to listeners of NPR.

For the uninitiated, here are a few links where you can listen to the author. Warning: Do NOT attempt to listen to these recordings at work, or at any place where falling off your chair while searching your memory for something, anything to make the laughter stop can get you into trouble. After that build-up you’re bound to find anybody unfunny, but here goes anyways:

Readings:The sex of French nouns, Excerpts from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
To sample his writing, read Turbulence.

For the most part, Sedaris writes about himself, his family, life in North Carolina, his boyfriend Hugh and their adventures in France (the author & his partner split their time between France & the US, or used to till the last piece I read). It’s a real pleasure to listen to Sedaris because he delivers everything in a vaguely regretful monotone, which somehow makes situations and characters funnier. My all time favorite piece is ‘Jesus Shaves’, a hilarious account of Sedaris’s painful attempts at learning French. ‘Santaland Diaries’, an account of the author’s short-lived career as a supermarket elf is a close second.

I’m a sucker for self-deprecatory humor, and Sedaris is about as self-depreciating as humorists can get. He doesn’t bother with elaborate plots, or verbal pyrotechnics. His characters are drawn from life. But the effect is somehow not unlike PGW – both excel in developing a cast of characters that you come to love over time. His sisters, his lovable but weird parents, one very interesting brother, his rather sweet boyfriend (I suspect he says only the nicest things about him for obvious reasons) – you meet them all in different essays, and reading a new Sedaris piece is like catching up with a much loved and somewhat goofy family.

Humor can be caustic. Sedaris blends his with acceptance and love. Having grown up with Wodehouse and Thurber, I think I’m used to my humorists being nice people (or writing like nice people). Sure, I enjoy the more caustic kind, but poking gentle fun is somehow so much more fun.

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