Books + Comics

David Sedaris Is As Awesome As Everybody Hoped

One of the greatest writers of our time weighs in on eating buttons and dispensing free condoms.

I heard that you wish someone would ask you how much money you make. So how much money do you make?

[Laughs] Whenever I go to a school group I’m always surprised that no one asks that question, because that would be the first question I would ask! So I can’t answer it, but I always thought someone should at least ask. I’m so surprised it took somebody this long!

Is it weird having to answer people’s questions about work you’ve written about yourself?

I never read anything about myself. Anything. So I think that really helps, in a way. Because I think if I did read things that came out of my mouth, I would never open it again. I would think, “Oh my god, I can’t believe how stupid I sound.” Like my brother was interviewed one time, and he read it, and he said, “That’s it, I’m never doing another one.” If you really wanted to be that much of a control freak, that’s a full-time job. You wouldn’t be able to do anything else!

Even if you heard a review was positive, you won’t read it?

Nope. I feel like if you read the positive ones then you have to read the negative ones, too. So I just don’t read any of them.

You write about some weird people. Are you concerned with not making fun of them, or trying to keep it fair?

I always think that if you’re going to make fun of somebody, it helps to make more fun of yourself. I was reading something from my diary recently: I was in a hotel and I ran in [to the coffee shop] to get a quick coffee, but I hesitated for a moment and this woman got in line in front of me. And she looks up at the board and says, “A latte. Now, is that the same thing that Barbara likes to get? The one with the whipped cream?” And I’m behind her thinking, Oh, fuck. That’s the last person you wanna be in line behind! And so I do kinda make fun of her, just because she’s one of those people that ask the guy at the counter, “So, did you go to college? Where did you go? ’Cause my son went here, but he’s not working yet, but I tell him, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day!’ Are those lids different sizes? How do you keep them straight?” And I’ve got steam coming out of my ears. But, in the end, it’s just about what a complete jerk I can be.

This is a stock teen-magazine question, but that’s why I think it can be very telling: if you could tell your teenage self anything now, what would it be?

I would tell my teenage self, “You were right!” You know? Whenever a story comes out in The New Yorker, I’ll open the magazine, put it on the table, walk by it as if I just happen to be walking by, and I’ll think, Wait a minute! Is that my name? There’s my name on the cover of The New Yorker! And it says—oh look! Table of Contents, my name is there! And — oh look! On page 43, oh, there’s my name! And I always want my teenage self to see that. But, of course, my teenage self never will. But I guess all the advice when I was a teenager—well, not all of it, ’cause my mom was a pretty great person—was like, Don’t be yourself. Fight your instincts. Become somebody else, because what you are isn’t good enough. I mean, every young person goes through a phase of trying on different personalities, but I think in the end I came back to myself. And I think that I was right to do that.

I read that you keep a diary every day. Do you ever reread it?

I’ve been keeping a diary for 35 years. At the end of every season, I print it out and make a cover for it and I put pictures in it—it’s pretty elaborate for something that no one’s ever seen. I go back to the diaries all the time. If I’m working on a story, it really helps. I can go back and look things up and look up names and details. Writing in my diary is a compulsion at this point.

Are you ever worried that you’ll run out of stories and weird things that happened to you?

No, because all you really have to do is be alive and be observant. When I first started writing, it was a question of writing about big things. My mother died—that’s a big thing. I was a really horrible performance artist—that’s a big thing. My grandmother lives with us, that’s a big thing. But as I get older, it’s more like making something out of nothing and I actually think those make for better stories.

The story “SantaLand Diaries” is like, you worked as an elf, and in When You Are Engulfed in Flames it scales down so much it’s about a spider.

Yeah! I guess that’s the thing. It just all depends on how you write about it. I think I’m a better writer now than I was when I wrote “SantaLand” because that’s so choppy to me. The last time I reread it I was mortified.

I think we’re about done. Thank you for doing this.

May I ask you a question?

Yes.

I love your blog. [It said] you went to Japan. Are you familiar with 45 RPM?

No!

It’s a Japanese clothing company. They have like 12 different stores in Tokyo and each one sells different things. And it’s Japanese, so everything is really nicely made and it’s crazy expensive. It’s not as bold as Comme des Garçons, but it’s almost like hippie clothes. Anyway, I didn’t know if you had ever written about or seen those.

When we went there, I was really homesick. I had never had Subway before in my life and then we got it twice in one day. It was really pathetic. But we did go to one store that was tiny and it was all imitation ’50s Americana.

There’s a lot of that there. Did you meet Rei Kawakubo?

I met her when we went there a couple years ago. She’s terrifying.

Is she?

Yeah. I’m just intimidated by her because she’s one of my heroes. Where does your interest in fashion come from?

My sister Gretchen has always had a good sense of style. It was never prescribed. She never looked like anyone else, and I always admired her confidence, and the ease with which she combined things. When she was a teenager Gretchen subscribed to Vogue, so that was when I first started reading about fashion. This was in the mid-’70s, when Yves Saint Laurent was doing his gypsy thing. I always liked to keep up, but after leaving my parents’ house I was too broke to afford magazines, so I’d read them at the library. Then I moved to New York, and on recycling night I’d go through the trashcans in my downtown neighborhood, and come away with all sorts of things: L’Officiel, Harper’s Bazaar, the now defunct Mirabella, British and Italian Vogues, you name it. [My boyfriend] Hugh and I moved to Paris in the late ’90s. We had a friend who worked for Givenchy, and she’d sometimes give us tickets to the shows. This was back when Alexander McQueen was the designer, and it was like going to a fantastic circus.

I’ve just always liked knowing what’s out there. Clothes are interesting to me in the same way that buildings are. Most interesting, I think, are the Japanese designers. I like looking at things at the Dover Street Market in London. It’s mainly Comme des Garçons, and everything appears to have been made by elves. In Tokyo I love a company called Kapitol, and another called 45 RPM. It’s basically hobo clothing, but with nicer fabrics. What I like about Japanese stuff is that it’s generally not about looking sexy. It’s good clothing for older people who like having a little secret: special lining inside their pockets, or really big buttons. ♦

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40 Comments

  • christinachristina January 10th, 2012 3:10 PM

    “And I said, “I would be ashamed to look a child of mine in the eye and tell him or her that I passed up a deal like this.” My whole schtick was that it was just a really good price so I said, “I really need those cards on the table.” And not one person complained.”

    lovelovelove.

  • ShockHorror January 10th, 2012 3:15 PM

    I found out about him from his radio show on 7.

    He’s so funny and wonderful, and this interview makes me like him evne more, thanks Rookie!

  • Susann January 10th, 2012 3:16 PM

    Such an interesting and inspiring interview! Great!

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com/

  • marimba_girl January 10th, 2012 3:27 PM

    I now love David Sedaris even more than I did five minutes ago!!! His books are so hilarious, I always think that people assume I’m crazy when I read them in public because I cannot stop laughing.

  • Mollie January 10th, 2012 3:57 PM

    I have the abortion postcard, but I’m too selfish to send it. I loved meeting him!

  • Claire January 10th, 2012 4:01 PM

    Holy crap. Just when I thought Rookie couldn’t possibly get any more awesome. David Sedaris is a frigging legend.

  • suburban grrrl January 10th, 2012 4:02 PM

    All of David Sedaris’s stories about his Dad and his yiayia are SOOOO true it’s hilarious. (I’m partially Greek too)

    The Sedaris family puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional”

    http://sub-urbangrrrl.blogspot.com/

  • Maddy January 10th, 2012 4:05 PM

    I would really like to see that book cover. I’ve never thought about diabetic owls before. This was a great interview! I like that he asked you a question.

  • cherrycola27 January 10th, 2012 4:07 PM

    Words can’t express how much I love David Sedaris. He’s so great.
    I met him last year and he was so much fun. I love his voice. He told us all that he was trying to get as many jokes as possible, so if we had one then tell it to him when we met him. I told him THE WORST JOKE and he had a little machine that made a “wah wah wahhhh” sound that he played for me, then he told me a funnier joke. :)

  • insouciant January 10th, 2012 4:14 PM

    First off, I LOVE DAVID SEDARIS SO MUCH so when I saw this I literally squealed with delight. All time favorite author. Second, I’ve gotten a gift from DS before!! I went to a free book reading that was promoting Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, afterwards I waited in line until midnight (over 6 hrs) to meet him. We exchanged jokes, played with a funny little noise making machine, he offered me some of his dinner because I was so hungry, told me I was “absolutely enchanting”, and gave me a little gift, which was just a little card that simply reads, “STOP TALKING”, which he told me to give to someone who I really wanted to just shut up :) He talked with my friend and I for a good 10 minutes, so yes, David Sedaris really is as awesome (if not more) as everybody hoped.

    • Claire January 10th, 2012 4:26 PM

      That is so awesome. I have to say, I’m a little jealous…but who wouldn’t be? (:

    • Maddy January 10th, 2012 8:53 PM

      That is really awesome. To have a cool, famous person offer me their food! (and not be creepy)

    • marimba_girl January 10th, 2012 10:30 PM

      Also crazy jellie!!!

  • Genevieve January 10th, 2012 4:26 PM

    Love this interview!! So jealous you got to hang out with him! Gave Holidays on Ice to a random friend for Christmas and he absolutely loved it. My family listened to the SantaLand Diaries online on Christmas together, it was wonderful. And I just introduced my friends to Amy Sedaris in Strangers with Candy last night! Everybody was cracking up the entire time. Brilliant amazing family.

  • BrandonF January 10th, 2012 4:36 PM

    Great article, Tavi. I can’t think of anyone better to interview David Sedaris than you. I’ve been a fan for many years and have read everything he’s written, but I actually learned a few things here that I didn’t know. Congrats!

  • Stewart January 10th, 2012 4:44 PM

    I love him so much…
    I went to one of his signings last year- by the time I got to the front of the line it was after midnight. We talked about personal hygiene and he gave me a bottle of shampoo from his hotel room.
    I have get to meet a cooler human being.

  • MissKnowItAll January 10th, 2012 4:48 PM

    Squirrel seeks chipmunk. SO EPIC!!!!

  • fizzingwhizbees January 10th, 2012 5:26 PM

    Oh my god I’m in love with him. Now I’m sad that I’ve never been to one of his signings so I can get a gift!

  • Laia January 10th, 2012 5:31 PM

    i LOVE LOVE LOVE this.

  • Hedwig January 10th, 2012 5:32 PM

    ahahah best!

  • Avery January 10th, 2012 5:34 PM

    He is my favorite… Can you amazing people interview Amy? I can’t get enough of this family. He is better than pancakes.

  • GagaMcQueen January 10th, 2012 5:36 PM

    David Sedaris is my favorite author of all time. THANK YOU ROOKIE!!

  • caro nation January 10th, 2012 5:42 PM

    I first read Me Talk Pretty One Day on a roadtrip New York, and engaged in heated contention over the validity of Bonnie in City of Angels with my mother. Then we arrived, and met a woman in Manhattan who, if not exactly Bonnie, was very, very, close. Maybe even an exaggerated version. It was exhausting and intriguing at the same time, and I have trusted Mr. Sedaris ever since.

  • Jo January 10th, 2012 6:10 PM

    just in case i wasn’t already sure i loved rookie & david sedaris (jk, i was) this pretty much seals the deal. LOVE this article!

  • HBF January 10th, 2012 6:55 PM

    Perhaps too cliché to ask, but I’m DYING to know when I can plan to devour his next book!

    Also…saw a delightful one-man play of SantaLand Diaries in Boulder, Colorado a couple years ago. Sedaris’ awesomeness was well represented.

  • Louise January 10th, 2012 6:57 PM

    Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod. I FREAKED OUT. David Sedaris is fantastic.

  • Guan January 10th, 2012 7:03 PM

    I love the part he talks about fashion. How fascinating it would be if This American Life has an episode on fashion! oh and when are you gonna interview Ira Glass?

  • fung-eyed January 10th, 2012 7:33 PM

    sick interview tavi !

  • hillarwee January 10th, 2012 8:23 PM

    This pissed me off. As much as I adore David Sedaris this was a little too much of a back and forth between between people needing justification for/feeling ashamed of feeling like they are the shit. Congrats for getting “cool” down to a science guys. Excuse me while I get my PF Chang’s takeout and become middle America enough to be your literary material.

  • Adrienne January 10th, 2012 9:39 PM

    CRUMPETS! It’s David Sedaris! Thank you thank you for this amazing interview. I’m listening to his narration of Santaland Diaries now. :)

  • Jamie January 10th, 2012 9:45 PM

    my heart is erect and throbbing with love for him

  • TravelShark January 10th, 2012 10:29 PM

    This interview makes me like YOU more! Can’t I subscribe to your feed? I don’t see RSS anywhere…help….

  • smilingrottenflesh January 10th, 2012 11:49 PM

    “for older people who like having a little secret: special lining inside their pockets, or really big buttons.”

    yes! those little details excite me also, always looking for special nuance in pieces.

  • lilghostie January 10th, 2012 11:59 PM

    i like that he says i thought art history was basically flash cards. that’s my major in college and sometimes i still think that

  • leraje January 11th, 2012 1:37 AM

    i like that at the end he admitted his fondness for tavi’s work. this interview had two-way fan action!

  • ghostworld January 11th, 2012 7:06 AM

    “surrounded by many boyfriends”. Tavi, you so kewl.

  • Izzy January 11th, 2012 3:01 PM

    I really need to read some David Sedaris now!

  • Eleonore January 12th, 2012 3:29 PM

    how can we write to him?

  • neon_rattail January 15th, 2012 9:34 AM

    Ugh, he is THE BEST. I love everything he does and I want him, his sister Amy and me to be triple best friends. So jealous you got to interview him!

  • back2thepast January 30th, 2012 6:59 PM

    Loooove me talk pretty one day!!!!! Oh my yes I love this man. I love reading rookie instead of doing homework