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Read up on: David Sedaris

Five works you need to check out by the deadpan humourist

Susie Anderson Sydney Opera House

Well known for his regular spots on NPR and contributions to The New Yorker, David’s prolific portfolio can be a daunting approach for even the most culturally cluey amongst us. Here’s your insider guide to David’s oeuvre.


This American Life

David’s distinctive tones have been gracing National Public Radio in the States for some years now, but it’s his regular contributions to podcast This American Life that may resonate most with Australian audiences. There are dozens of episodes featuring his deadpan, poignant insights on the everyday, but a good place to start is the acclaimed ‘Santaland Diaries’. This recollection of his holiday job working at Macy’s department store as a Christmas elf established his long-standing relationship with NPR and brought him to the ears of listeners all around the world.

The Talent Family

Many of the most hilarious moments of Sedaris’ work are borne out of his memories growing up in a family of five siblings in Raleigh, North Carolina. David’s sister Amy is known for her acting roles in Strangers with Candy and voicing Princess Carolyn on Bojack Horseman. Sharing a similar comedic bent, they have collaborated on a series of plays over the years, written under the moniker The Talent Family. Amy and the other Sedaris siblings feature prominently in David’s stories, most particularly in the collection When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

A key moment in the Sedaris trajectory was his move to France with partner Hugh in the late nineties. The collection Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) centres on this chapter of his life and David’s attempts to set up life in France. Parisians being as they are, David finds life in the French capital a series of humiliations and near-humiliations. In one particularly enlightening episode, David (begrudgingly) takes This American Life’s Ira Glass on a tour of his favourite spots in the city.


“For the first 18 years we were together, I'd give Hugh chocolates for Valentine's Day, and he'd give me a carton of cigarettes. Both of us got exactly what we wanted, and it couldn't have been easier. Then I quit smoking and decided that in place of cigarettes I needed, say, an 18th-century scientific model of the human throat.”

A competitive gift exchange between David and his partner Hugh leads to a most unexpected place. This standout essay from the 2013 collection Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls recounts the couple’s quest for gifting one-upmanship – all in the name of love.

The New Yorker

David’s regular contributions to The New Yorker combine musings and critique of modern life in the very best way. While the world waited to see the outcome of the US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, Sedaris patrolled the highway for garbage. iPad in tow – to see the Court’s outcome – he reflects on his closeted childhood and the prospect of marriage to his partner Hugh.

“It occurred to me while standing there, cars whizzing by, that the day I marry is the day I’ll get hit and killed, probably by some driver who’s texting, or, likelier still, sexting,” he wrote. “‘He is survived by his husband, Hugh Hamrick' the obituary will read, and before I’m even in my grave I’ll be rolling over in it.”


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