David Sedaris was walking in downtown Richmond on Wednesday after finishing lunch at Salt & Forge when a stranger approached him.
“This guy came up to me and he said, ‘There he goes!’ ” Sedaris said. “Looking at me, ‘There he goes!’ And I just thought, what does that mean? I don’t know what that means. I wanted to say to him, ‘What does that mean?’ I wasn’t doing anything. I was just walking.”
Sedaris was onstage at the Carpenter Theatre in a black jacket with rips down the back — a look Sedaris described as “a rabbi who was mauled by a tiger” — wrapping up a show by taking questions from the audience of nearly 1,800 people who’d spent the past 90 minutes laughing every few seconds.
The story, dutifully transcribed, isn't funny. But when David Sedaris tells it, in that voice that could easily be mistaken for a middle-aged woman named Judy, people giggle.
The best-selling author and radio personality, who first rose to fame after reading a story on public radio about being a mall elf, has made a living off his neurotic, often self-deprecating brand of humor.
One story was about how his taste in clothes makes him an easy target for mockery, noting how he’s been compared to Stuart Little, Bea Arthur and Bozo the clown. Sedaris, who once went onstage for “This American Life” dressed as a clown in a button-up with a necktie, Hulk Hogan hairdo and top hat topped with blue netting, said he sometimes wishes he could be a clown every day. “Whenever I see a clown, my first thought is always. ‘He looks good.’ ”
But he can never decide on a permanent terrifying smile or a permanent terrifying frown.
Sedaris pulls at a thread of an idea, winding it out a few beats beyond the easy joke with the thought, “Where does it end?”
His story about Virginia’s political scandals hit the obvious comedic beats: “The governor couldn’t remember if he was the one in blackface or the one in the Klan robe until he remembered he was neither, but he did wear blackface once while pretending to be Michael Jackson. ... To people of my age who grew up in the South though, the news is not that shocking. And while expressing our outrage, a lot of us are wondering, ‘What pictures of me could possibly be out there, taken at parties in the ’70s or ’80s?’ ”
Then he looked ahead 30 years. What are we doing now that will make young people shake their heads in surprised disappointment?
“How might we look at those who dressed like convicts for Halloween, or wore drag, or were witches?” he said. “By the end of the century, might books be yanked because they use the word fat to describe a person? Could ugly and pretty be seen as unforgivably offensive? What about stupid or crazy? It’s a safe bet that all the terms we use now, African American, Native American, Latino, transgender, will be as outdated as Negro and Indian.
“All that will remain are those damn photos.”
After the show, Sedaris signed books for fans who had made the mistake of buying his hardbacks instead of his audiobooks. The line lingered past 10 p.m.
Sedaris is traveling the country reading selections from his books, diaries and other commentary; Tuesday he was in West Virginia, Friday he’ll be in Chattanooga, Tenn., and on Saturday he’ll perform in Memphis.
There he goes.