Sedaris delivers laughs during Syracuse talk

Best-selling author David Sedaris engages a Syracuse University audience with his satirical humor and real-life experiences.

Humorist and best-selling author David Sedaris kept audience members in a constant state of laughter Tuesday by combining his penchant for humor with storytelling and personal life experiences.

“This is your time to suck.”
- David Sedaris's advice to a college-aged writer in the audience.

A line of Syracuse University students and Sedaris fans formed outside Schine Student Center more than 90 minutes before  the 6 p.m. event. When the doors finally opened to Goldstein Auditorium, people quickly filled their seats while Sedaris quietly autographed books in the back of the room. Once the lights went dim, he took to the stage with roaring applause from the sold-out audience.

Sedaris told three different stories standing behind a podium and, at one point, he read entries from his personal journal. He only spoke briefly between his readings. Once was to offer a Korean copy of his book Me Talk Pretty One Day to the first Korean student to come up to him when he was signing books at the end of the night. Another time, he recommended the book, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler and read an excerpt from it.

The first essay Sedaris read, titled “I’m Not Running For President,” he wrote at the time Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he would be a Republican candidate. The candidate in Sedaris' essay offered suggestions on how he would fix the nation's problems.

“Half of our country is suffering from drought and the other half suffering from liberal crybabies,” he said. “I say we gather the union works on parched corn fields, strip them of their bargaining rights and water the crops with their tears.” Roars of laughter came from the crowd.

Sedaris has written the best-selling novels Barrel Fever, Holiday on Ice and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, as well as collections of personal essays, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed In Flames.

He also is a contributor at The New Yorker and has penned six plays with his sister Amy Sedaris under the name “The Talent Family.”

Sedaris’ second reading was his essay “Memory Lapse,” which is going to be published in next week’s “The New Yorker.” The story recalled his trial and tribulations with swimming at a Raleigh, N.C., country club, which led to a bigger point about his relationship with his less-than-compassionate father.

“My dad was like the Marine Corps only instead of tearing you to pieces and putting you back together; he just did the first part,” he said.

His father once told him that everything he touched turned to crap and Sedaris told the audience that “proving him wrong was what got me out of bed every morning and when I failed it’s what got me back on my feet.”

After he read his final essay, “That a Boy,” he read entries from his diary that ranged from discussing the cruelness of the “comments” section on websites to ridiculing an app called “Is My Son Gay?” that lists questions for parents to ask themselves to find out their son’s sexuality. Sedaris in turn created his own app “Is My Son Straight?” and even he couldn’t help but laugh at himself.

Sedaris then opened up the floor for a Q&A session with the audience. He revealed that his father was an SU alumni and praised the university’s writing program.

Syracuse was the first stop along Sedaris’ 52-city tour, and the 1,500 tickets for the University Lectures series event were nabbed in a little more than two days last month.

Although the event was sold out, there were empty seats in the balcony. According to Esther Gray, senior administrator for academic affairs, the attendance for the event ended up being a little more than 1,200 people.

“I came at 10 (minutes) after 5 (p.m.) without tickets and there were probably 30 people ahead of me,” writing junior Jayme Brown  said. “I was nervous at first, but everyone on the line got in. I was almost not going to come because I thought I wouldn’t get in, but there was plenty of space inside.”

Gray, who has been organizing the University Lecture series since it began 11 years ago, believes Sedaris was an excellent speaker to have because it was educational for people, especially aspiring writers, to see how “someone like Sedaris’ mind works.”

“Normally we have pure lecturers, amazing people, but lecturers,"  Gray said. "It’s nice to have a night to laugh. Everybody’s got enough on their plate these days. Whether you’re fighting to find a job or a student trying to pass midterms, it’s nice to have a night off."

Art history freshman Brooke Baerman has been a long-time fan of Sedaris and agreed that his lecture kept her laughing.

“Hearing him read his work is so much better than reading them for yourself because he has the perfect inflection in his voice that makes his stories even better,” Baerman said.

One of the last questions an audience member asked in the Q&A section of the lecture was if Sedaris had any advice for young writers who felt discouraged about their work.

Sedaris' advice to the 21 year old was pure and simple: “This is your time to suck.”

See the replay of live updates and Tweets during Sedaris' talk.

Response to "disrespectful"

We appreciate your input, Jeff, and acknowledge how our decision might be seen as problematic given the requests of Mr. Sedaris. The photographer was not from The NewsHouse but rather the official University photographer whose photos we requested as part of our coverage. Since this lecture was a rare and sold-out campus event, it was important to try to fully document his appearance especially for those unable to attend, which is why we made the decision to publish the photograph. We take full responsibility for that decision.

-Katrina Tulloch, Asst. Executive Producer 


I find it pretty disrespectful of you to post a picture in your article after he explicitly stated ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHY. It is amazing that someone representing Newhouse would do this because every single person that was there last night knew that photography was not allowed. When your photographer took his shot, Sedaris immediately scolded him and was so distracted that he lost his place for several seconds. This is pretty poor behavior on your part. What do you think Sedaris would say if he saw this article that is associated with the University?

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