The man routinely described as the best living humorist in America, David Sedaris, was recently enjoying a plate of marinated salmon over greens while signing books in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois when a fan decided he wanted more than the writer's autograph. So he reached over and grabbed a handful of food off the Sedaris plate. Understandably, Sedaris was not best pleased. In fact, he was downright annoyed, which is not a common reaction from a writer who tends to regard the world in general with wide-eyed affection and his readers in particular with real fondness ("I always think it's a good policy to like the people who like you," he says with an almost straight face). It wasn't the hygiene issue that bugged him. It wasn't even the loss of the food, although he was a little upset about that ("I'd been looking forward to that salmon!") – it was the fact that the man was trying to cheat.
"He just did it because he wanted to be written about," recalls Sedaris, with the distaste of an artist discussing a plagiarist. "It was a gimmick, you know? So I ignored him because I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction." For a few moments, Sedaris's face clouds at the memory. "But then a woman came up to me later after I read the story about the rabbit and the unicorn" – in Sedaris's new collection, Squirrel Meets Chipmunk – "and she said, 'You know it's just wild that you read that story because I went to see my gynaecologist yesterday and he said my uterus is shaped like a unicorn.'" Sedaris leans back in his chair, clouds cleared and replaced with a smile of delight. "I mean, someone handed me a gold coin there."
This tale, like all of Sedaris's short stories and autobiographical essays, makes wider points beyond its classically Sedaris-esque world-righted-again conclusion. Just as "Go Carolina", from Me Talk Pretty One Day, isn't only about his school's failed attempts to cure him of his lisp but also about his youthful attempts to conceal his homosexuality; and just as "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat" in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is partly about animal testing but really an exploration of the cruel smugness of the homeopathic set ("I'm sorry to say it, but if you have a terminal illness it's nobody's fault but your own"), so this story about Sedaris's stolen dinner reveals why he is so popular – his delighted fascination in people's eccentricities (the real, not the faked ones).
His past five collections of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Holidays on Ice (1997) and Naked (1997) have all been bestsellers and have made celebrities out of not just Sedaris, but also the most frequent subjects of his essays: his siblings, his parents, and his boyfriend, Hugh. At a reading in London in March this year, Sedaris himself garnered plenty of happy applause, but it was Hugh who prompted gasps and camera phone flashes when Sedaris pointed him out in the audience, as though Mr Darcy had been suddenly summoned from the wings by Jane Austen.
The most unlikely subjects become hilarious in Sedaris's hands, such as the time his father threw him out of the house when he realised he was gay. He was, however, too embarrassed to say the word "gay", so the 22-year-old David assumed, with a shrug of fair-enough acceptance, that he was being ejected from the family home because of his fondness for his bong: "I guess I could have pinned him down, I just hadn't seen the point. 'Is it because I'm a failure? A drug addict? A sponge? Come on, Dad, just give me one good reason,'" he wrote in "Hejira".
Yet his delight in eccentricities is often undercut by a sharpness and a darkness that at times can be startling in a writer who enjoys such mainstream success. In "The Smoking Section", his essay about his eventual, reluctant, abandonment of smoking, he writes about how he was introduced to his favourite brand of cigarettes: "Just after she started chemotherapy, my mom sent me three cartons of Kool Milds. 'They were on sale,' she croaked. Dying or not, she should have known that I smoked Filter Kings, but then I looked at them and thought, Well, they ARE free."
That his stories are telling most of all in their detail is also shown in the saga of his pilfered dinner – the simple fact that he was eating it at a book event: "I just found that if I do an evening book signing I don't get back to my room until 2am, and then room service takes another 45 minutes," he explains blithely over cupcakes in a New York coffee shop. "So now I just bring my dinner with me." It is a rare author whose readers regularly queue until after midnight to get his autograph.
In America at least, Sedaris is in the tiny golden circle of writers – along with Stephen King and Woody Allen – who commands rock concert-sized audiences in venues such as Carnegie Hall, and whose fans shout their love for him when he walks down the street in New York. "And," adds fellow humorist and American-abroad writer, Bill Bryson, "he really ought to be as famous here in Britain as he is there. He is the funniest and most original American writer since SJ Perleman."
In fact, it was at least partly to escape fame that Sedaris fled America for Europe several years ago. "I mean, it's nice to be told that people love you, but you can't live like that and I can't write about it. So I had to go." To where people are rude to him? "Yeah," he agrees with a smile. His first refuge of rudeness was of course France, but he now lives in Britain – in London and in a recently bought house in West Sussex. "But I don't know what that means – West Sussex," he says, rolling the words with pleasure on his tongue, his lingering North Carolina accent rendering them even more foreign-sounding. "If someone bought a place outside New York I would know what that said about them. So it's weird not knowing what West Sussex says about us. But I also kinda like that."
Sedaris was born in New York and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, along with his siblings, Lisa, Gretchen, Amy, Tiffany and Paul. Everyone in the family, he says, had a role, and his was "the drop out"; it was the other members of his family who were funny, particularly his sister Amy and his brother Paul, who, if warned not to wear shorts at a fancy restaurant, would turn up wearing a thong. "And if it embarrassed me, he would think it well worth it."
Amy, also a successful comedian and writer, disagrees with David's self-deprecation: "We're all funny in different ways but he was the funniest, and I gravitated to him. If I had to learn about Julius Caesar for school, instead of just helping me memorise the whole 'Friends, Romans, countrymen' thing, he would create a talk show with all the characters for the play. He has always been an amazing storyteller, but he also makes you want to make him laugh because he is the most generous laugher you'll ever meet."
Sedaris knew he wanted to be a writer from the age of 25, when he read a collection of Bobbie Ann Mason stories; he attempted to fulfil his ambition by "writing a lot of bad Flannery O'Connor and Raymond Carver."
It would take almost another decade before he found success. In the meantime, he kept himself busy dropping out of two colleges, going to art school ("I know I didn't really want to be an artist, simply because I wasn't jealous of the other students' success"), developing a full-blown drug habit and finding "jobs that needed no skills", such as cleaning people's houses and working as an elf in a department store at Christmas.
He also wrote a diary and it was while he was working in his odd jobs that Ira Glass, a host on National Public Radio, happened to hear Sedaris reading from his diary in a club in 1992. Glass immediately hired him to read on the radio and suggested that he broadcast a longer piece about his life: Sedaris wrote about his time as an elf (published as SantaLand Diaries). Suddenly, he says, "I went from having 50 listeners to 50 million listeners." He still contributes to NPR.
He insists that he never puts himself in strange and unfamiliar situations just for the sake of writing about them. He does, though, love those initial moments when one is in a new place, that "too short space of time when your eyes are keenly and profoundly open" – such as when he and Hugh moved to Tokyo for a few months to help him give up smoking (the dislocation of the move did help him break the habit, although trying to learn Japanese nearly drove him back to it).
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk takes him to a terrain almost as novel as Japan. As the title suggests, it is about animals as opposed to people, plus it is Sedaris's first entirely fictional collection. Sort of. Ever since he was in his 20s, Sedaris, now 54, has carried around a notebook in which he records his observations. When asked how it felt to write a book without the help of these notebooks, he replies that it felt "kinda great! That said, there are some things in the stories that came . . . Like, one time this woman in airport security was just being horrible to me." Again, his face darkens and then, just as quickly, clears again: "And I thought 'I'm going to turn you into a rabbit.'"
Squirrel seeks Chipmunk is easily his darkest book, featuring baby lambs whose eyes get pecked out by crows and bears who are beaten and captured by circus owners. Yet it is still funny, particularly because it feels as though Sedaris is satirising the kind of sentimentalised anthropomorphism he often sends up in his essays (posters of animals wearing clothes are frequently cited as the nadir of humour).
"I've never been so unsure about the reaction to one of my books," he says. "What I like is that you can't categorise it. Someone suggested that it's bedtime stories for children who drink, and I thought that was just great."
But Sedaris has long been tough to categorise. While his early essays tend to be straighforwardedly funny, his later ones veer between comedy, darkness and something more moving. The member of his family who readers ask him about the most is his younger brother Paul (when I told friends I was interviewing Sedaris, four asked me to ask about Paul, and a fifth wanted to know what Hugh looks like). The essays about Paul are often extremely touching, such as "Baby Einstein", in which his brother finds out his wife can't have any more children.
Because of this ability to move between the hilarious and the heartrending, some critics have compared him to Mark Twain and James Thurber. Sedaris himself prefers to invoke early Whoopi Goldberg stand up routines and, in particular, the all-singing, all-dancing American TV show, Glee. "I love Glee. I cry all the time when I watch Glee because I don't know if it's satire or melodrama and that makes me feel like the writing is aware of itself, and that makes it OK to cry," he says.
A somewhat trickier issue about the categorisation of Sedaris's work arose in 2007 when the journalist Alex Heard wrote an article questioning whether Sedaris's stories are as true as he claimed. The fact that he wrote the piece for the New Republic – a magazine which became infamous when one of its reporters, Stephen Glass, was caught fabricating news stories – was ironic enough. That Heard pointed out that a hospital Sedaris describes as "gothic" in one story is actually "Tuscan revival" tipped the whole venture into self-parody. Although the furore has since died down it still upsets Sedaris. "I just thought, what do people think this kind of writing is? I'm not a reporter. Do I exaggerate? Boy, do I, and I'd do it more if I could get away with it," he says, his voice going just that little bit higher.
David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, which regularly publishes Sedaris, is far more sanguine. "As a magazine, it's important to find a way to publish what David does, or what Thurber did, or what many humorist-memoirists have done, which is to tell the truth even while pushing against the stubborn facts. Our fact-checkers do check his pieces and David cooperates with that. Still, I think readers understand that they should read David Sedaris with a different understanding than the way they read hardcore investigative reporting.".
"I just think," Sedaris adds, "that the people who say: 'That's not true' when someone tells a story at dinner are the people who didn't get any laughs when they told their story."
In any event, although he might confuse his architectural terms, he gets the important stuff right. Judging from the few instances his father Lou has appeared in the press, his son seems to have been captured him with little exaggeration. When Sedaris appeared at Carnegie Hall in 2002, a reporter from the New York Observer asked Lou whether he had ever expected to see his son playing Carnegie Hall. "Well," his dad replied, "I expected to see him cleaning Carnegie Hall."
There is one issue on which Sedaris has recently retracted: technology. Although he still doesn't have a mobile phone, he recently did what he promised he'd never do: switch from his beloved typewriter to a computer. However, he conflates the words "email" and "internet" and he can't quite figure out exactly what the white rectangular square in his hand is – "an iPod, no, it's an iPad, no it's an iPod". At one point, he needs to get an address from his iSomething, but finds he can't operate it ("Well, this is no good!") and so reaches for his trusty, battered notebook instead. After all, when the authentic option is there in his pocket, there is no need for anything else.
About the author:
David Sedaris (born December 26, 1956) is a Grammy Award-nominated American humorist and radio contributor. Sedaris became prominent in 1992 when National Public Radio broadcasted his essay „SantaLand Diaries.“ He published his first collection of essays and short stories, Barrel Fever, in 1994. Each of his four following essay collections, Naked (1997), Holidays on Ice (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), have become New York Times Best Sellers. Until 2004, his books had collectively sold 2.5 million copies. Much of Sedaris‘ humor is autobiographical and self-ironic, and it often concerns his family life, his middle class upbringing in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, his greek ancestry, various jobs, education, drug use, homosexuality and his life in France with his partner, Hugh.
„Me Talk Pretty One Day“ by David Sedaris is a collection of 27 short autobiographical stories divided in two parts. The stories tell about his childhood in a big family, his adolescence, where he discovered his homosexuality and his time he lived in Paris with his boyfriend Hugh.
In elementary school Sedaris has to attend a language training lesson because he can‘t pronounce the „s“ correctly. Because of that he becomes a very introverted boy with few friends. In the course of his childhood, David tries a lot of things to make them his hobby, but he isn‘t good at any of them. His parents are disappointed, but suddenly it turns out that his sister has a great talent in painting. David wants to get his share of her popularity too, but instead of being celebrated as well he starts to take speed to get ideas for strange art performances.
He finishes the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and gets asked if he wants to teach a writing class. But he fails again and spends the school year sitting around with a bunch of unsatisfied students, not knowing what to teach them. Sedaris moves to New York, but can‘t find a job. He spends his time with walks through the city, being jealous of other peoples houses and lives. Later he meets Hugh, who has a house in the french countryside and they start to spend their holidays there. After some years, they finally move to France completely and David lives a lonely life in Paris, having trouble to learn the language and meet new people.
About the characters:
David seems to be someone who isn‘t in line with himself. It‘s hard for him to find friends and meet new people and he can‘t find his talents, not to mention use them. All that makes him a shy person, with little self-consciousness and a strong leaning towards taking the wrong decisions. Already in the first chapter you learn that David didn‘t belong to the „cool“ kids at his school: „I started keeping watch over the speech therapy door, taking note of who came and went. Had I seen one popular student leaving the office I could have believed my mother and viewed my lisp as the sort of thing that might happen to anyone. Unfortunately, I saw no popular students.“
His insecurity doesn‘t change as he gets older and so he starts using drugs to master his life better. David seems to be the exactly right person to take drugs: Unsatisfied with the course of his life and himself and having a weak personality: „…where I discovered both crystal methamphetamine and conceptual art. (…) The moment I took my first burning snootful, I understood that this was the drug for me. Speed eliminates all doubt. Am I smart enough? Will people like me? Do I really look all right in this plastic jumpsuit? These are questions for insecure potheads. A speed enthusiast knows that everything he says or does in brilliant.“
David is a person who always wants to be liked, but because of this desperate attempts to make himself popular, he just makes everything worse. The first lesson with his writing students proves how far that inability goes: „They wrote their names upon their leaves, fastened them to their breast pockets, and bellied up to the long oak table that served as our commercial desk. „All right then,“ I said. „Okay, here we go.“ I opened my empty briefcase and realized that I‘d never thought beyond this moment.“
With his moving to France, you also learn about David that he is neither talented in learning a language nor tolerant for different cultures. He‘s the stupid ignorant American that you imagine when you think of an American. The fact that he is a writer made me think first that he isn‘t like that, but not all the writers can be cosmopolitan: „Of all the stumbling blocks inherent in learning this language, the greatest for me is the principle that each noun has a corresponding sex that affects both its articles and its adjectives. Because it is a female and lays eggs, a chicken is masculine. Vagina is masculine as well, while the word masculinity is feminine.“ It goes like that for half a page and I asked myself how closed somebody can be for a new language. The only thing Sedaris seems to have a talent for is making fun about his own incompetence.
Interpretation and own opinion:
The first story is also the one that gave the book its title. Sedaris tells about his time is school where he had to attend language training lessons because he lisped. The story is witty, especially the descriptions of his attempts to avoid the letter while speaking. Every paragraph has a good punch line, but the chapter hasn‘t. You expect something outstanding or at least interesting to happen at the end, but then you realize that the story is just told for the joke‘s sake. The only thing you get from this story is picture of young David, shy and an outsider.
The book goes on with a story about his music-loving father. He always wanted to make David play an instrument, but you soon learn from the story that David isn‘t blessed with the gift of music at all and the chapter runs into a list of funny descriptions of his former guitar teacher.
The chapters that follow are all of the same kind: Young David, unable to succeed in anything, but always taking it with good humor and the knowledge that he is a little bit different then the others. He is to shy to show his „non-masculine“ talents tough and stays an outsider who disappoints his father. Later, his sister is discovered as a great artist and David wants to be celebrated that way too. But he never uses his real talents in decorating things and sing and so he ends up with a group of methamphetamine-addicts doing strange performance art in an empty fabric hall. You somehow wait for an event that saves David, that makes him confident and shows him his abilities, but somehow he stays an untalented young man with no direction to go.
After that, Sedaris turns the focus away from himself and puts the spotlight on his brother, who was also not very successful in his young life. It seems as if David wanted to steer the reader‘s attention into another direction to give him/her hope that later in the book, something remarkable will happen in David‘s life too. Unfortunately it doesn‘t…
Also the next chapter isn‘t about David, but the dogs the Sedaris family possessed in their life. You also learn something about his parents, a typical american couple with a small bandwidth of ideas, but with the simple wish to be happy. Again, Sedaris shows great humor in that chapter with witty lines, but no talent to bring something to the point. You can‘t get rid of the feeling, that all the chapters are just created to press in all that jokes.
Finally, you learn more about how David‘s life goes on.
After he finished the School of the Art Institute in Chicago he was asked to teach a writing class. Again he failed and cared more about the picture the students have of him than what he can teach them. The students have no respect for him and are as unhappy with him as he is with them.
After telling about his poor teaching skills, Sedaris tries to cheer the reader up with a short anecdote about a funny situation involving him at a friend‘s house and his excrements. You are entertained, but there is always this empty feeling left behind that makes you ask yourself: And so what? The chapters are always lacking content, or anything remarkable David did or experienced in his life. It sounds very american to me.
Following is Sedaris‘ life in New York. Spending time in admiring other peoples lives and envy them, he is always looking for a job, eventually becoming a professional house cleaner or furniture packer. Again, funny anecdotes and little stories light up the chapter, but I couldn‘t figure out the real reason he wrote most of the things. Was his life really that boring? Funnily the chapter is called „The Great Leap Forward“.
It goes on with David‘s thoughts on expensive restaurants and a story about a friend of his sister, visiting him in New York. He is annoyed by her ignorance and her „american-countryside“ behavior, but I asked myself if he is better. His thoughts about France that come later in the book prove the opposite.
After a chapter about his father and one about his fear of computers, part two of the book, which is called „Deux“, begins. But it‘s not only called „Deux“ it‘s called „Deux*“ with a star indicating that the other star that stands in front of „*two“ belongs to it. It‘s nice to see how high Sedaris rates his reader‘s intelligence quotient.
The second part is a bit more interesting tough, showing Davids opinion of France and countries outside the US in general. While most of the writers are cosmopolitan, Sedaris does not seem to belong to that kind. He can‘t understand french culture at all and it takes him five years to expand his vocabulary to a level that he can communicate with french people. But first he has to write several pages of his opinion about the distinction of genders in french. He asks himself how the guy looked who sat in his office and gave the words genders and shows again the great ability of americans to understand different cultures or languages. He tells you deliberately that he isn‘t able and willing to learn the genders of things because he can‘t understand why. But his ignorance and stupidity seems funny to him so makes a bunch of good jokes about it.
Also the fact that the french people don‘t think that the US is the greatest country in the world seems so peculiar to him that he spends a whole page discussing this topic. Is that so unbelievable for an American? It always seems that Sedaris is feeling superior to the Frenchmen, that they‘re underdeveloped and that the things they do, especially their language, is ridiculous. Other authors write about different cultures too, but they usually don‘t seem to be as ignorant as Sedaris.
In part two Sedaris has the possibility to change my opinion once, but he fails here too. An american couple offends the french people loudly in the metro, thinking nobody can hear them. David stand right besides them, gets offended to, but can‘t bring a word out of his mouth the whole chapter. So he will never be the hero to me that defends france as an American.
Sedaris moves to Paris and attends an french class. He doesn‘t really learn anything, he is just fearing his teacher and being alone in the big city with no friends. All that is written very long and with a lot of humor, but the quintessence is his inability to learn french and his loneliness. At the beginning of the chapter I thought that the turning point will now come, the small-minded American in the city of love finding his true meaning in life, but it didn‘t happen. Sedaris hasn‘t got a job or a social life, just his tapes and the cinema, which he visits 6-7 a week. He has his partner Hugh, but strangely loses just a few words about him. I would have found that interesting, a homosexual relationship between two Americans in a foreign country, but again Sedaris misses the point.
Part two continues with various descriptions of that life in Paris, at a point where I didn‘t expect anything special to happen anymore. Sedaris is formulating his thoughts about the environment, about Hugh‘s life, which is much more interesting than his, and a visit to a festival. I asked myself how he would close the book now, after talking so much about quite boring things and with just a few pages left. It turned out that the penultimate chapter is about his sleeping problems and that he is inventing stories in the long hours before the next day dawns. He writes down a few of these stories, every one including him with a special talent or ability that makes him famous. It seems as if Sedaris has the urgent wish to be respected for something he is doing, to be admired for a certain skill. At least he can write entertaining books.
The last chapter is a hilarious anecdote about his father who likes to store food until it‘s rotten and to eat it then. The book ends with his father telling his family that he had just eaten a part of his old cap, because he thought that it was one of his year-old aliments. I found that funny, but maybe not adequate to release it in that book.
The problem that David has is probably his incapability to value his talents. Everything he does in life doesn‘t match with his real talents and so he gets insecure and lonely. He can‘t find the right job, he can‘t find a place to live and he can‘t find friends. You somehow wait for the moment when David discovers his real personality and finally finds his way, but it doesn‘t happen. He tingles between jobs and places to live and he is always unhappy. I thought that the end of the book would be a description of how he came to be a writer, but the book ends before that. The book is just not a success story, but a story of a man who failed so often that he can do nothing but make fun of it.
„When painting proved too difficult, I turned to tracing comic-book characters onto onionskin typing paper, telling myself I would have come up with Mr. Natural on my own had I been born a few years earlier.“
I think that this sentence indicates Davids problem very well. He starts to paint just to make his family admire him, because his sister does the same. But he can‘t see that he has no talent like his sister and yet he keeps trying, telling himself that he could have been better. He is wasting his time with things he‘s not good at instead of trying to discover his own special talents.
„The night before my first life-drawing class, I lay awake worrying that I might get physically excited be the nude models. Here would be this person (…) displaying his tanned and muscled body before an audience of students who, with the exception of me, would see him as nothing but an armature of skin and bones.“
That is the only paragraph of the book where Sedaris mentions his homosexuality. He leaves out the rest and you learn nothing about his first boyfriend or the outing in front of his parents. I would have found that worth mentioning too, but Sedaris seems to prefer more boring themes that aren‘t that deep going.
„My performing career effectively ended the day my drug dealer moved to Georgia to enter a treatment center.“
That phrase is showing how poor David is. Needing drugs to create anything that would interest people must be a horrible feeling. What can you rely on, if it‘s not your own brain? And what if that brain is not capable of anything remarkable without a certain substance? I can‘t imagine to live like that…
„…realizing that I was afraid of France. My fear had nothing to do with the actual French people. I didn‘t know any actual French people. What scared me was the idea of French people I‘d gotten from movies and situation comedies. When someone makes a spectacular ass of himself, it‘s always in a French restaurant, never a Japanese or Italian one. (…) My understanding was that, no matter how hard we tried, the French would never like us, and that‘s confusing to an American raised to believe that the citizens of Europe should be grateful for all the wonderful things we‘ve done.“
With that paragraph Sedaris reduced my respect for him drastically in just a third of a page. How ignorant can an American be? Fearing France because of a restaurant scene in some stupid sitcom? Being confused that the French don‘t thank America for the great things they‘ve done? When I read this, I considered that paragraph as the best summary of the problem Americans have with the world that‘s beyond the borders of the United States. Raised by TV and patriots the Americans are brought to believe that Europe is outside of their world, some retarded human beings that just don‘t understand America‘s brilliance. Some Americans are educated enough to know that America is a product of Europe, not the other way around. Sedaris does not seem to belong to that kind of people.
„I‘m often told that it‘s wasteful to live in Paris and spend all my time watching American movies, that it‘s like going to Cairo to eat cheeseburgers. „You could do that back home,“ people say. But they‘re wrong. I couldn‘t live like this in the United States. With very few exceptions, video killed the American revival house.“
This quote is showing how lonely David was in Paris. He does not only act like a spoiled American, who can‘t stand to live in another country without consuming American products, but he has also no social life and wastes his time alone in the cinema. I don‘t know why you should write a book about such an unremarkable life, but maybe he just did it to cheer people up, that are happier than him.
I chose that book, because I heard that it is incredibly funny. In fact it is, but there is nothing behind it. So it amazed me that the book has had so many good reactions. At the back seven of them are listed, but inside the book there are incredible five pages full of positive and enthusiastic comments on the book. Then I realized that all these critics were released by american magazines and that the content is almost always something like „Very witty and entertaining.“ Now I understood: The book is for Americans who just want to read a entertaining little story (the chapters are on average ten pages long) before going to bed. The book should entertain you and leave you with nothing behind but the thought: „How funny that David Sedaris is.“ You are not supposed to think about the things he wrote or be worried about that lonely poor man, you are just to laugh about the story and forget it.
For me Sedaris is just another ignorant American with no great talent and a weak personality. He is just able to find fun in his quite unspectacular life and entertain the people with it. There is chapter about his intelligence test he once made and his weak result. Unfortunately you note that while reading the book. He is no great thinker who wants to express something, the book is just a flat, unauthentic piece of work to make Americans laugh.
I would have found his thoughts on homosexuality and his greek derivation very interesting, but he seems to prefer subjects that are more superficial. I first thought it is a story about someone who works himself up, but it‘s just a quite unremarkable character living his life. I can‘t be mad at Sedaris because his life was that boring, but he could have just written something else.