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All in the funny family

In the 32 years he’s maintained a daily diary, David Sedaris estimates he’s only missed 40 days.

In the 32 years he’s maintained a daily diary, David Sedaris estimates he’s only missed 40 days.

“It’s not that my life is interesting. It just became a compulsion after a while,” said the 52-year-old American author, humourist and NPR regular on the phone from his Albany, N.Y., hotel room. “Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll realize that the loaded potato soup — that was a special of the day in the restaurant downstairs — wasn’t really that important in the scheme of things.”

Finding a kernel in even the most mundane of situations seems commonplace in Sedaris’ writing. His latest collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed In Flames, contains autobiographical stories as apparently minute as keeping up with his fast-walking boyfriend Hugh, to the grandiose three-month trip he took to Tokyo to quit smoking.

“I figured, what if I go to Tokyo and it’s not as hard to quit as I think? That way I’ll still have all that stuff about Japan,” he said. “(The story) wasn’t full enough of information on Japan to work as an interesting Japanese story, and quitting smoking wasn’t really that hard, so it didn’t really work as a ‘quitting smoking’ story. So, I just kind of joined the two together.”

Sedaris is also known to join humourous stories about his loved ones with his own musings, but said he feels the private tales are neither very candid nor written at the expense of his family.

“I feel like I write about my family with affection and that that comes through. My family sees that, so it’s always interesting to me when others don’t.”

He gives the example of A Shiner Like a Diamond, a story from his 1997 anthology Me Talk Pretty One Day, in which he writes about his sister, Amy Sedaris, wearing the bottom half of a fat suit home for Christmas to spite their image-conscious father.

“I said in the story that Amy was the prettiest girl in my family,” he said. “But, I have other sisters and people they know would say, ‘I can’t believe what your brother wrote! You’re nice looking too!’ It’s something my family was fine with, but that people outside my family took as an insult.”

Usually the butt of jokes by her own hand, Amy is a comedian too, best known for portraying the character Jerri Blank on her television series Strangers With Candy. But David was the catalyst for Amy’s comedic potential, bringing her to Second City while living in Chicago before the pair relocated to New York.

“It was something that made sense for that moment in time, when our careers were just starting and we were all in New York living a few blocks from each other,” he said. “It was one of the happiest times of my life. I don’t know that I could repeat it.”

 
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