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Q&A: David Sedaris on Profanity, Book Tours and the YMCA

'It's important to read at book stores, because it's free,' says the best-selling author

May 10, 2013 8:30 AM ET
David Sedaris
David Sedaris

David Sedaris, America's favorite Southern ex-Santa, is once again a best-selling author. The 56-year-old's latest work, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, tops The New York Times' Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction list for May 12th. Checking in from the road – he's in the midst of a 55-day national tour – the humorist told Rolling Stone he writes new material every night, passages of which he's testing on live audiences. Crisscrossing the country for two months isn't everybody's idea of a vacation, but according to Sedaris, this hectic schedule is "everything I ever dreamed about."

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Can you tell us about your new stories?
I wrote one about this person I know who shits in her hand, because she doesn't like to make a splashing sound. That, to me, is completely fascinating. If that's not interesting to you, I can't help you.

What have you learned on this tour?
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a reading at a college. It was in a ballroom, and the lights didn't go down as much as I would have liked for them to. I could see into the first few rows, and they had a seat set up for the dean. One of my biggest laughs comes from using the word "cunt." I say, "What do we want? A cure for Tourette's. When do we want it? Cunt." I thought, "Well, the dean's there, so I'm not going to say 'cunt,' and I'm not going to tell dirty jokes." Afterwards, I thought, "I didn't tell my jokes because of him, and he didn't like me anyway!" That's what you get for changing your material for one person.

How do your lecture and tour appearances differ?
When you go out on a lecture tour, you're meeting people who can spend 200 bucks on an evening out. I think it's important to go to book stores, though, because it's free. You don't have to buy the book if you don't want to. I remember being the person who couldn't afford a ticket to anything. When I moved to Chicago, there was a bookstore in my neighborhood. Maybe I couldn't afford a new book, but I'd get a paperback. Or maybe I wouldn't get anything at all. Maybe I'd just sit there and listen. And it was fantastic.

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You've been known to sign books for up to four hours. What's that like?
When I'm signing books, people always say, "This must be awful." And I think, "People are waiting in line to tell me how much they love me. What about that is awful?" It's all I ever dreamed about. If you go on a book tour and there are four people in the room, that's really hard. But if there are 400 people, it's the easiest thing in the world.

What's the one aspect of your show that has the potential to change every night?
Sometimes, when I'm in a really great hotel, I'll do a commercial for them. I always do a commercial for the YMCA if they let me go swimming. I'll get on stage and talk about how great the YMCA is. But I've never done a paid commercial – it's always my own idea.

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